Although his first musical prominence came as bassist for Ivy, and his commercial breakthrough occurred when wrote the obscenely catchy title cut for the Tom Hanks flick, "That Thing You Do," Adam Schlesinger's most high profile gig still remains his membership in Fountains of Wayne. But perhaps not for long. Earlier this year, Schlesinger also scored major plaudits for his contributions to the soundtrack of the Hugh Grant / Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, "Music & Lyrics." At the moment, however, he's best known for FOW, and they're dropping their first new album – Traffic and Weather – since conquering the charts in 2003 with "Stacy's Mom." We spoke with Schlesinger about all these things, as well as the band's near-immaculate cover of the Kinks' "Better Things" and why the awesome video for "Mexican Wine" didn't get much airplay.
Bullz-Eye: Hi, Adam.
Adam Schlesinger: Hey, how's it going?
BE: Pretty good. But if my voice drops to a lesser volume during the conversation, it's because I'm battling a sore throat and a case of the flu.
AS: Oh, OK. No problem.
BE: I actually met you guys a couple of years ago when you played the NorVa. You know, the place with the big hot tub backstage.
AS: Oh, yeah! Yep, I remember it well.
BE: I've been a big fan since the first album, but if you'd like, I can adopt the persona of someone who only discovered you with (2003's) Welcome Interstate Managers and start talking about how I don't hear another "Stacy's Mom."
AS: (laughs) That'd really be great. I'd appreciate that.
BE: Seriously, though, it seems to me that Traffic and Weather is the same album you guys would've made whether you'd had a hit off the last album or not. I mean, it's very Fountains of Wayne.
AS: Well, yeah, I mean, we sort of just do what we do, you know? I don't think we really changed our methods, particularly, based on anything from the last record.
BE: Although I do think there's a song on the album that has the potential to be the next "Stacy's Mom" -- "Hotel Majestic."
AS: Oh! Cool! Yeah, I like that one, too. I don't know if it's…who knows? Who knows what to expect? But I'm glad you like it.
BE: But I guess you've actually gone with "Someone to Love" as the first single.
BE: Was that a band decision or a label decision?
AS: Well, you know, I think it mostly comes down to the label and the management and everybody weighing in, but, who knows? (laughs)
BE: USA Today previewed the album, and they encapsulated your sound as "guitar-driven neo-psychedelia and retro-pop."
AS: (considers this) Um…that's okay. I don't mind that. I think it's definitely got guitars, and it's definitely got a lot of sort of retro influences, so I don't think that's…I'd rather have somebody say that than have someone say "nerd rock" or something crazy.
BE: I think Weezer's got that covered anyway, haven't they?
BE: "'92 Subaru" has got kind of a "Dream Police" riff running through it.
AS: I guess. I always sort of thought it was sort of Doobie Brothers, or even, like, Little Feat or somebody.
BE: Very ‘70s, anyway, though.
AS: Yeah, definitely very ‘70s.
BE: And, actually, the title cut reminds me a little bit of "Green River," by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
AS: (hesitates) Oh, I never thought of that. Yeah, I can kind of hear that. That's a little bit of a different thing for us, just because, basically, no chord changes, you know? It's just a guitar riff all the way through. We don't usually write like that.
BE: And "Strapped For Cash" is so all over the place that I can't even figure out everybody it sounds like.
AS: (laughs) Well, you don't have to. It's not a test.
BE: But it's got a Billy Joel reference (with a lyric that mentions a "heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack") in there. That was pretty cool.
AS: Yep. Gotta have at least one Billy Joel reference in there.
BE: Sure. And I swear that some of the music reminds me of the theme from "Taxi!"
AS: (laughs) All right. I'll go along with that.
BE: Mike Viola is on the album…
BE: …on "Fire on the Mountain." I know you've known him at least since "That Thing You Do!" (Viola handled the lead vocals on that song)
AS: Wait, it's "Fire in the Canyon." "Fire on the Mountain" is a Grateful Dead song!
AS: But, yes, we've known him for years, and it was nice to get him on one of our records. He happened to be in town. Well, he actually lives in town, but he happened to be free, so he just came by and did it.
BE: How long have you known him? Did you know him prior to "That Thing You Do?"
AS: Yeah, I mean, actually, we met when we all lived in Boston. He's from Boston, and Chris and I lived in Boston in the early ‘90s, and Chris is actually the one who discovered him. He got some record and said, "You've got to check this guy out, he's amazing!" And we became friends in Boston. And eventually, we all moved to New York. And, later, Chris moved back to Massachusetts.
BE: So the album was mixed by Michael Brauer, who's got a pretty solid resume, to say the least. (Brauer has worked on Coldplay's X & Y, the Pet Shop Boys' Release, Aimee Mann's Lost in Space and Ben Folds' Songs for Silverman.)
AS: Yeah, he actually only did two tracks. The rest of it was mixed by a guy named John Holbrook. But, yeah, Michael Brauer was a lot of fun to work with. He's a very talented guy. Very expensive, too, unfortunately. That's probably why he didn't do more!
BE: What tracks did he do mixes for?
AS: He did the first two.
BE: So "Stacy's Mom" was in that Dr. Pepper commercial.
BE: Did they back a truckload of money up to your house, or were your rates surprisingly reasonable?
AS: In fact, I'm sitting in a big wheelbarrow full of money right now.
BE: (hesitates) You're not naked, are you?
AS: I'm naked, and I'm surrounded by hundreds.
BE: Awesome. So what was the deal with the post-"Stacy's Mom" singles getting so little promotion? Because I've got a DVD with the video for "Mexican Wine" on it, and I just thought that was awesomely over the top, but, did "the kids" just not get it?
AS: I don't know. Y'know, it's, like, I never expected lightning to strike twice like that. I think "Stacy's Mom" was a fluke thing where it was the right song and the right video, and you kind of had the novelty factor, and all that stuff. And you can't really make that happen again. I think "Mexican Wine" was a little bit more abstract or something, and it just didn't quite connect the same way.
BE: I'd read that people were up in arms about the fact that there were kids in the video who were singing about drinking Mexican wine. But, honestly, I wouldn't think it got enough play to inspire anyone to get up in arms!
AS: Yeah, I mean, it wasn't really that people were up in arms. It was MTV. At the time, they were under a lot of heat for the whole Super Bowl thing with Janet Jackson, so they suddenly got very conservative.
BE: As far as the cover songs you guys have done, I guess "Baby Hit Me One More Time" got more publicity than maybe ya'll really wanted, but "Better Things" has gotta be one of a handful of definitive Kinks covers.
AS: Oh, thanks. You know, what's funny is that I got a call from Al Franken yesterday, and he may use that as the campaign theme for his Senate race.
BE: Oh, wow.
AS: That's really cool.
BE: When they were putting together that tribute album (This Is Where I Belong: Songs of Ray Davies and the Kinks), was that ya'll's pick, or was it handed to you?
AS: Yeah, we picked that one. And then it ended up being used in that movie, "The Manchurian Candidate," as well, so that cover has had a life of its own.
BE: So thanks to your having worked with him on "Music & Lyrics," Hugh Grant has really been talking you guys up lately.
AS: (sheepishly) I know!
BE: He had "Radiation Vibe" on his Celebrity Playlist for iTunes.
AS: I saw that. That's really funny. That's nice of him.
BE: And I guess you've been getting some mileage out of the song and the video from the film that they've been passing around the internet ("Pop! Goes My Heart").
AS: Oh, yeah, yeah. It was a good project. The director, Marc Lawrence, is a big Fountains fan, and that's how we met originally. So I'm glad that worked out.
BE: Do you enjoy going retro and delving into other songwriting styles like that?
AS: Yeah, but, actually, I only wrote three of them. There were a lot of songwriters on it. I wrote one of the retro ones, and the other two I wrote were not quite as '80s. They were more straightforward ones.
BE: I guess you guys are more or less on the American festival circuit, since you're doing both Bonnaroo and Coachella.
AS: Yeah, and I think we're going to do the V Festival, too, which is the one near Baltimore. So, yeah, we're going to be out playing as much as we can. We've got shows starting in April, and then we'll probably be going through the summer, at least.
BE: So you're doing a proper U.S. tour right after the album's released?
AS: Well, we've got a week of shows on the East Coast in April, we've got a couple of West Coast things after Coachella, and then we're gonna come back and do some Midwest dates in June, and then we're sort of filling in in-between right now. We're trying to figure out how to get to Europe for a minute. I don't know. It all just sort of gets pieced together.
BE: Do you have specific expectations for this album? Or, as much, I guess I'm wondering if you have them, or if the label has them?
AS: I don't think anybody has them. I think that, at this point, we've been doing it long enough to not really have any expectations except to just go out there, do what we do, and hope for the best. We're not really expecting to be conquering the charts, but I don't know that that's necessarily our goal, either, so…
BE: And the label doesn't have unrealistic expectations? Because I know you guys have more or less written off "Stacy's Mom" as a semi-fluke.
AS: Well, I think – unfortunately – that they probably see it that way, too! (laughs) Hopefully, they can prove themselves and us wrong!
BE: I mentioned "That Thing You Do!" a minute ago. I know there's a special edition of the movie coming to DVD soon. Were you called upon to contribute anything to that?
AS: I did some interviews for it, actually. And I think they are including a couple of songs that I gave them that were buried in the background somewhere.
BE: And is Ivy still a going concern for you?
AS: It is, although right now we're all kind of distracted with other stuff. But I'm sure we'll get back into it again at some point soon.
BE: I saw you guys in Virginia Beach a long time ago; I think you were touring behind Apartment Life at the time.
AS: Oh, wow. That was a long time. But that was a good tour.
BE: I'm not sure which release of Apartment Life you were touring behind, though.
AS: Yeah, right. That had a couple of releases. That was a weird one.
BE: So are you prepared to do the talk show circuit to promote Traffic and Weather?
AS: I think we have a tentative "Conan O'Brien" booked again, and offers from a couple of others, so, we'll do what we can, sure.
BE: Do you have any particular favorite songs on the album, or are they all like your children, as they say?
AS: You know, I'm kind of too close to it at this point to have favorites. The thing I'm happy about in general with this record is that I just think that, sonically, it came out really good. I like how it sounds. I like the sort of warmth to it. But in terms of favorites, it'd be hard for me to say.
BE: Are you prepared for the inevitable anthologizing of Fountains of Wayne music within the next couple of years? Four albums is plenty to warrant a best-of.
AS: I'd be happy if there was enough interest to demand one. Sure, it's okay with me.
BE: And are you still doing songwriting outside of Fountains of Wayne? I mean, obviously, there was "Music and Lyrics," but was that a one-off?
AS: Here and there. Right now, the band is definitely my main focus, but when something comes up, I try to squeeze it in if I can. It's just hard to do both, especially if we're out traveling.
BE: Do you find the tag "power pop" to be the kiss of death?
AS: You know, I think we're at a point where I guess it should bug us – it does commercially have a sort of negative spin to it – but I don't mind it. I like power pop!
BE: And did the album intentionally have a theme of transportation running through it, or did the title come about coincidentally?
AS: Well, we had the song before we decided to call the album that, but there is so much traveling and transportation and stuff on the record that it seemed to fit. I don't think the album's really a concept record. There are a lot of thematic similarities, but it's not really something that has a story threading through it.
BE: All right, well, I think I've got everything I need, so I'll keep you on schedule.
AS: Cool, man, well, thank you for doing this, and say "hey" if we're down in your area again. I know that we'll be, I'm sure, in D.C. at some point, at least, if not Virginia Beach.
BE: Yeah, and the V Festival is also a possibility for me, too, since it's only about three and a half hours. It's worth a weekend trip for that show.
AS: Oh, cool. Well, again, thanks for doing this.
BE: No problem. Thank you!