Fountains Of Wayne Frontman Wishes For Charisma Without Committee

The voice behind the pop group Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood, is a difficult man to locate for an interview. One attempt had his manager saying that he had no clue where he was. “I feel like I’m dealing with hip-hop,” his publicist said. On the third try, a very relaxed-sounding and amiable -- quite amiable, actually -- Collingwood made it to the phone to talk with DC Scene from his home in Northampton, Mass. It turns out a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder could have been to blame for his fussiness, and he was able to perk up for a bit to discuss his new album, “Traffic and Weather.” Like all of Fountains of Wayne’s records, Collingwood co-wrote the group’s already-acclaimed fourth LP with band co-founder and old friend Adam Schlesinger. After two 2004 Grammy nominations and “Stacy’s Mom,” a single that brought the group commercial success, Collingwood said he is waiting for a time when musicians can act weird again, without it having to be voted on first -- i.e. "American Idol."

But he still wants Sanjaya to win.

DC Scene: You and Adam (Schlesinger) met in college.
Collingwood: Indeed.

DC Scene: Both of you have done other things. Is there anything that keeps you two working together in particular?
Collingwood: That’s interesting. I’ve never got that question before. We’ve just known each other for so long, I think especially in the studio -- we write completely separately. I don’t live anywhere near him anymore. When we lived in New York we lived, like, a block from each other and I guess it was a little bit different then. But as soon as I got married and we put our first record out, I left New York and I think it’s just that we’ve known each other for so long and so we matured together as musicians. And we kind of have really, really similar instincts, which is kind of -- it’s a good thing, because we’re always on the same page when it comes to producing. Even if it’s somebody else’s song, it tends to work out.

DC Scene: I know “Stacy’s Mom,” the video, had a lot to do with the success of that song. Where do you think the music video fits in right now in the music industry? I mean you can rarely see a video anywhere right now, but that video was very popular.
Collingwood: Yeah, you know, I don’t even know anymore. Even when MTV has their TRL countdown or something they don’t even show the whole video. What about all the story-based ones where you need to get to the end and you don’t even know happened if they show a little band sequence? I don’t know. On the one hand, there’s some really exciting stuff, like OK Go. I’m sure you’ve seen the stuff they’ve been doing. They’re really exciting and that’s kind of the grass roots underground stuff that people have found because people still like seeing videos.

And that’s a really, really good idea, you know. If you’re in the position that they’re in or we’re in, rather than try to kowtow to MTV, sort of taking your own route. I think one of their sisters is a choreographer, is the story that I heard. And they had a video for the single from the last record that was also a dance. We did a tour with those guys a couple years ago and the singer’s leg was broken, so I didn’t realize he had all this dance talent.

DC Scene: So, let’s talk about your new album. Are there any songs on there that you personally like the most, or that you’re proud of?
Collingwood: Well, for starters, I didn’t write nearly as many songs on this record for various reasons. It’s kind of been that way since we started. The first record in ’96 was mostly mine and then “Utopia Parkway” was our second album and that was about half and half, and then “Welcome Interstate Managers” was the next one and that was a little bit more Adam than me, and this record is mostly Adam, to be honest, and that’s for various reasons. I’ve had a lot on my mind and I’ve kind of been battling depression and stuff.

The one of mine that I like the most that’s on this record is called the “Hotel Majestic” and we really were staying at a place called Hotel Majestic in New York when we were making this record. I don’t know. I really, really get down when winter is happening. I have another song on the last record called “Valley Winter Song.” It’s kind of the same theme, just getting down when it starts snowing. You know, I’m used to being away from home when we’re touring and stuff, but we kind of laid this whole record while living out of a hotel in New York. I actually wrote that (song) in the hotel room.

DC Scene: I read that you and Adam kind of formed your friendship at college out of love for Brit pop. In my opinion, the Brits are pretty good at turning out quality pop and it’s pretty popular over there. Do you think there’s a place for good, smart pop in American music right now?
Collingwood: Apparently not (Laughs). Um. I don’t know. Every time we put a record out we get the question like, “Do you think it’s finally time to (get good music) back on the radio?” We’ve been getting that question for a decade now. And it just doesn’t seem to happen. And every once in awhile there’s like one or two foot-in-the-door things that happen, but when was the last time there’s been guitar music on the radio? Like Peter Frampton, maybe?

It takes a bunch of people acting weird in exactly the same way for there to be a movement. It happened at CBGBs, too. Talking Heads. I don’t know. People are too cynical for sort-of post modern, like the Talking Heads.

I mean, we’re so cynical that we elect who we are going to like on television before we like them. It’s the weirdest thing. And there’s that guy that looks like he’s gonna win (on "American Idol"). Do you know anything about this? I’ve never even seen it. There’s some guy that looks like he’s gonna win or something. Or did he win already?

DC Scene: The hair guy?
Collingwood: Yeah.

DC Scene: Yeah. Sanjaya.
Collingwood: That’s his name. Did he win?

DC Scene: It’s not over yet. I think he’s still on. Which is --
Collingwood: Is it something like he’s really bad or something?

DC Scene: Yeah. He’s terrible.
Collingwood: And people are voting for him out of spite -- kind of like (saying), ‘Shut up, American Idol,” kind of thing.

DC Scene: Yeah.
Collingwood: I like that idea.

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