We are sitting in James Iha's disturbingly clean room at New York City's Four Seasons hotel. Chris Collingwood is the lead singer for Scratchie recording artists Fountains of Wayne. Besides being the other half od this duo, Schlesinger is also one-third of another band, Ivy, and one-sixth of the Scratchie Records boardroom. Since Ivy is on Atlantic, Fountains of Wayne doesn't get to be part of Scratchie's deal with Mercury. "I'm not sure of all the semantics of it," Iha says, "but it's easier that he's with Atlantic."
Iha has written out several pages of questions for his boys, which they answer with the same relaxed, cheerful, slightly sarcastic attitude that fills their insanely catchy songs. D'Arcy stops by later, loaded down with bags from Barnery's: she's been picking out clothes for tomorrow afternoon's cover shoot.
James: The lead track and feel-good song of the alternative fall '96 is "Radiation Vibe." What are you proposing here?
Chris: God, why do people keep asking us this question? I think it's pretty obvious. It's about this guy who plays pinball, but he's deaf, dumb, and blind.
James: Yeah, that sounds kind of familiar -
Adam: We're actually thinking of expanding it into a musical at some point, but it will probably just be called "Radiation!" with an exclamation point. But the song's gotta catch at first.
James: The Fountains of Wayne are great exponents of the perfect pop song, when times were simpler and music was good. Has Grease, the movie and soundtrack, influenced your work?
Adam: I think mostly "Hopeless Devoted," probably. I think we can throw out the rest of the Grease work, but -
James: Is it that worth of longing, forlorn quality in the song?
Adam: Actually, somebody did tell us that a lot of our songs have this "cheer up, loser" quality. I guess maybe there's a little bit of that element.
James: The underdog element. On a more intellectualized not, much like Nathaniel Hawthorne, your lyrics seem to be probing the depths of our common nature, like the coffee-and-cream girl working the dead-end job in "Sick day." We can al relate to her loneliness, her alienation, and yet she retains her identity in an absurd and illogical society. Is this a dystopian view or an indictment of some of that you hold?
Adam: (laughs) That song wasn't intended to be as depressing as it ended up being. The first verse I wrote very consciousness, and it was just a series of images about going to work and being stuck in traffic jam and listening to bad talk radio, and I was too lazy to finish it, basically. So I got up to the chorus and Chris took over from there and wrote the second verse.
James: And turned it into a sappy Chris song.
Adam: (laughs) As he wont to do.
James: So I guess, uh, here's my other question: Has anything weird or strange ever happened to you?
Chris: What kind of question is that? In fact, a story does come to mind...When I was a baby, I was laying in the grass and a plane crashed into my neighbor.
James: Not into your neighbor's house or car - but into your neighbor?
Chris: Well, and then her house, but into her first. My mother was doing laundry and talking to this other woman. I was out in the yard, and my mother left me in the grass while she went to get more laundry to hang up and this plane flew right over my head - it's not a really funny story - flew right over my head, chopped this woman into bits and then blew up the house, killed her husband inside.
James: Let's try to steer the interview away from death and explosion-grief.
Chris: Yeah, there's not a whole lot of that in our work....
James: Okay, tell me about some of the key instruments in the making of this fine record.
Adam: Um, for the most part of resources were sort of limited to what we had in the stupid the week we went in there. It was around Christmas, so no one was really around to borrow stuff from so we had our trusty Orgeton Keyboard which made several appearances on the record; that's a $3 organ that I bought at a flea market, which sounds great but costs $12 to keep its batteries fresh, so it's a little bit of a burden. You can actually hear the batteries dying as the song goes on...it's nice and strong in the first verse, then by the third verse it's sort of sounding a little tired and sad.
James: Kind of wheezing away unmelodically in the background.
James: Hmmm, alright. Adam, in your mercurial WASP formative years, you saw .38 Special, Todd Rungren, and Ozzy Osbourne is three consecutive days. How has this shaped you as a person.
Adam: I think that my exposures to all facets of rock as a youth definitely shaped my broad-minded musical horizons. My grandparents were the rock-promotion kinds of Syracuse, New York and when I was like 11, 12, and 13 I used to go up there in the summer and work at the box office or sell T-shirts. I'd be the only 11-year-old at the Jerry Garcia Band show that night.
James: (chuckling) Jerry Garcia Band...How do you thin people react and list to Fountains of Wayne? Will they slit their wrists, barbecue and play frisbee, or drive their Aerostars to work? How will they listen to Fountains of Wayne?
Chris: Is it a multiple choice? We have to pick one of those?
James: Either one or make up your own scenario. I picture people that listen to Steve Miller playing frisbee outside and drinking beer. Someone listening to nine inch nails is probably slashing themselves.
Adam: Yeah, it would be heard to be a depressed, suicidal teen-ager and listen to Fountains of Wayne. That's just not gonna work.
Chris: Sniff glue and -
Adam: Either it will cheer you up and ruin your whole image or else you'll get so upset by it you'll actually kill yourself, but you won't just be able to wallow in your misery and listen to our record.
Chris: Yeah, I that think people will be depressed, but on because they're not us. (laughs)