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Fountains of Wayne Talk Dark New Disc

Band confronts war, middle age on 'Sky Full of Holes'

June 17, 2011 12:20 PM ET
Fountains of Wayne Talk Dark New Disc
Violeta Alvarez

The skies are darkening over suburbia.

That certainly seems to be the dominant, ominous vibe on Fountains of Wayne’s new album Sky Full Of Holes, due August 2nd. A middle-aged dad loses his shit and takes a stress test in "Action Figure." Dudes blow their savings by investing it with clueless entrepreneurs, "Richie And Ruben." There’s even a song set in a cemetery, where a military service unfolds at a funereal pace.

Still, this is one beautiful bummer of an album, full of FoW’s trademark tunefulness, clever wordplay and pop smarts. Rolling Stone talked to the band’s two songwriters, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, about mid-life laments, Tony Awards surprises – and Katy Perry. They chose to speak separately, just as they write.

The Tony Award opener ["It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore," which Schlesinger wrote] was a hilarious surprise. How did it happen?
AS: [Former Daily Show executive producer] David Javerbaum called and asked me if I wanted to do it with him. He and I worked together on the Broadway show Crybaby. And a Christmas special for Stephen Colbert, called The Greatest Gift Of All. With this Tony thing, DJ had this idea for the song. And I thought, "Oh yeah, he nailed it." It’s basically a sales pitch for people to come see Broadway theatre.

There’s a real feeling of middle-aged letdown throughout the record, especially on "Action Figure." How conscious was that?
I can see that, now that you mention it. I don’t think we ever plan to have a theme for a record. Chris and I each write songs, but we write separately, even though we share the credit. Sometimes we hit on a theme or through-line by accident. The whole chorus came last [on "Action Figure"]. I had the idea of this guy sitting at a restaurant with his family and all this chaos is happening around him.

There's definitely a little bit of a sense of melancholy in certain places.

The record certainly isn’t without its chuckles, though. "Richie and Ruben" are these two idiot entrepreneurs. Everything they touch turns to shit. Ever know anyone like that?
Yes. But believe it or not, that is strictly a work of the imagination. Well, mostly. Maybe that’s all I should say.

This seems to be a good time for pop music again, like Katy Perry. Think that will affect your sales?
I don’t think at this point we’re really thinking in those terms at all. We’re just trying to do stuff we like and that our fans will like. You know, Katy actually covered a Fountains of Wayne song. She does a version of "Hackensack" on an MTV Unplugged record. We talked about doing some writing for her recent record, but then she got in with (songwriting partner) Dr. Luke. And they also got into writing a string of Number One hits. I don’t think they needed any help.

Chris, do you find this is a sadder, wiser Fountains of Wayne album?
CC: You mean, are there fewer songs on the record that make people giggle? Yeah. I don’t think it was intentional, but there’s a sense that the reckless, drunken time you had in your youth is probably over. Sorry.

Certainly your tune "Cemetery Guns," about a military funeral, is unlike any song you guys have done. What inspired it?
I can’t remember when it was, but a TV reporter said, "Has the war affected your writing at all?" The war in Iraq has been going on so long, I can’t remember when he asked me. But it prompted the song. So I wrote a little ‘short story’ set at a graveyard. Strangely enough, not long afterwards, my uncle – who’d fought in Korea – died, and he had a military funeral. Eerie. Did you know they don’t really give you a 21 gun salute? It’s, like, seven guys who each fire three shots. It’s really 21 shells. And they have so many funerals to do now – they do them quickly and they’re off to the next one.

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