Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne and Ivy)
Adam Schlesinger is a busy guy. As a founding member of two bands (Fountains of Wayne and Ivy) that are still going strong, he has blessed Veronica Mars with three songs so far—FoW's "Troubled Times" in "Credit Where Credit's Due," Ivy's "Edge of The Ocean" in "Meet John Smith" and Ivy's "Feel So Free" in "Clash of The Tritons" (all of which, interestingly enough, play over scenes that revolve around cars)—with a fourth, Ivy's "Ocean City Girl," on the show's soundtrack and therefore sure to come. As an instrumentalist and producer, he has worked with the Verve Pipe, Tahiti 80, James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins, and David Mead, and he has written material for fake bands like the Wonders, Josie and the Pussycats, and the Click Five (his failure to win the Oscar for "That Thing You Do!" is still one of life's unsolvable mysteries). And as an interview subject, he was equally overworked, as spacecitymarc found out when a simple phone interview for Mars Investigations and the September/October issue of Amplifier magazine turned into a three-state, five-part epic. Does an Oscar nominee manage to ditch a dogged interviewer? Read on and see.
TAKE 1 – Illinois
MI.net: I'll start out with a hypothetical question. If an incredibly lazy interviewer were to ask you how to describe your music, what would you say?
Adam: I don't know. Whenever anyone just asks me, in the world, just walking around, I just usually say it's pop music. I try not to get into sort of... [discusses directions with someone else] I'm sorry, we're a little bit lost.
MI.net: Where are you guys?
Adam: We're in Chicago. Yeah, I usually just say pop music, I don't really try to pinpoint it beyond that much more. I mean, pop music with guitars, I suppose. [more FoW gig-talkin']
MI.net: What are you guys in the middle of preparing for right now?
Adam: We're walking down the street trying to figure out where the hell we're supposed to play. And we're also carrying a giant road case because we run such a well-oiled machine here, such a tight ship.
MI.net: I feel like I'm distracting you somehow.
Adam: No, this actually is fine. As long as you don't mind being constantly interrupted by stupid interjections of me yelling at people.
MI.net: No, that's pretty much my daily routine.
Adam: [laughs] Yeah.
MI.net: What's your relationship with Virgin Records like?
Adam: Well, to be honest, we barely know anybody there, because we were signed to this label called S-Curve, which was another division of EMI. And we were signed by this guy named Steve Greenberg, who started S-Curve, and it was kind of a little imprint within the EMI corporation. So that's the label that actually worked on Welcome Interstate Managers, even though we had a Virgin logo on that record as well. And now, for this new B-sides thing, S-Curve doesn't exist anymore, so Virgin proper inherited the band, and we're just getting to know people there now. I mean, we've met a couple of people, but I've yet to meet the president of the label or various other people there.
MI.net: Was there ever any concern that you guys would be left by the side of the road when S-Curve ceased to exist?
Adam: Yeah, I mean, it was a bummer because the guys at S-Curve, Steve Greenberg and Steve Yegelwel in particular, were really big fans of ours and they knew the history of the band, and at least we sort of felt close to them. That's not to say that the people at Virgin aren't gonna ultimately become our friends. I mean, I hope they will, but we had a long relationship with the people at S-Curve, so we're kind of starting from scratch. But Steve Greenberg was named the president of Columbia Records recently and I could see why that might be a hard job to turn down.
MI.net: Do you guys feel any pressure to, like, perform at a certain level of success, like if you're not selling X number of records, then you start to get nervous?
Adam: There's not really pressure in that sense. I mean, I don't think we've ever been seen as like the band that everybody's counting on to make their numbers for a certain quarter. Originally we wanted to do this earlier, we wanted to do this record of non-album tracks and rare stuff, and Steve Greenberg was the one that said, "Why don't you put out a couple of new songs on there as well while you're doing it?" And we thought that was a good idea. So that's how these two new songs ended up on this record. It is kind of a B-sides thing for fans, but at least there's a couple of new singles that they can maybe take a shot with at radio and whatever.
MI.net: So before Steve left, he was involved in Out-Of-State Plates?
Adam: You wanna just try dialing me back? Because we I just can't hear you very well. I think we have a bad connection. Call me back, we might get lucky.
Adam: All right, thanks.
TAKE 2 – Illinois
MI.net: Hello, Adam. It's Marc again.
Adam: Hey, man.
MI.net: Hopefully this'll be a little bit better. Jumping back in, what do you guys get out of a major label that you wouldn't get out of a smaller one? Do you have any regrets over not signing with an independent label?
Adam: I think ultimately what you really want is a few people within any label that are into the band enough to really work on it every day for a long time and to actually try a little bit. But obviously, the major labels have more money to spend, so if they feel like spending it, they have bigger resources there when you need them. It doesn't always necessarily translate into them doing a better job for a band, but I think especially if you're playing the game of commercial radio and making videos and stuff like that, that's sort of an expensive proposition.
MI.net: What do you think has changed the most about Fountains of Wayne since your debut album?
Adam: Not a whole lot, really. I mean, we still kind of operate the same way. We still write songs the same way and we still get together and arrange them the same way. I guess we take more time than we did at the beginning for working on stuff, but we've always sort of been in our own little bubble, so not too much has changed in terms of the day-to-day way the band functions.
MI.net: Do you still treat Jody [Porter, guitarist for Fountains of Wayne] and Brian [Young, drummer for Fountains of Wayne] like the new kids?
Adam: No. No, I mean, it's coming up on ten years that we've all played together, so it's definitely very much a real band and has been for a long time.
MI.net: Is it easier or harder ten years down the road to be that band?
Adam: Yeah, well, just like everybody else, we have ups and downs. And we definitely have a need to get away from each other from time to time, but I think that's part of the reason that it's lasted this long, is that we've taken long healthy breaks and we've all done other things as well. I think that if we were operating on a twelve-month-a-year Fountains of Wayne schedule of just gigs and recording and everything with no break, we would not have lasted this long.
MI.net: Speaking of other projects, I know you've done a pretty good job in the past of juggling Ivy and Fountains of Wayne so that usually one is active while the other one is a little more dormant, but right now, that's not the case, because the new Ivy album came out a couple months ago, and now you've got this new Fountains of Wayne collection coming so soon after that. Is that causing sort of any friction? Any problems?
Adam: Well, it still kind of always works out. I can't really explain how, but, like, Ivy did about three and half, four weeks of U.S. dates, and that sort of got wrapped up right as the Fountains thing got released. And now we've got some scattered Fountains stuff for summer, Ivy may go and do a couple weeks in Europe later this fall, but it kind of all falls into place. There hasn't been a whole lot of conflict that I've had to untangle.
MI.net: Is there any tension between the two bands in general? Do you guys get along all fairly well?
Adam: Yeah, everybody's friends, and in fact, there's been some overlap. I mean, Brian played in Ivy for a couple of tours, during I think the tours for Apartment Life. Yeah, we're all friends. It's all fine.
MI.net: How do you know which songs to bring to which band? Have you ever written a song and then realized it should've gone to Ivy when you gave it to Fountains of Wayne?
Adam: No, if I'm writing something for one of the bands, I'm writing it for that band before I even start. It's not written in a vacuum. I don't decide, "Gee, I wonder if Dominique [Durand, singer for Ivy] or Chris [Collingwood, singer/guitarist and other songwriter for Fountains of Wayne] would do a better job delivering 'Bright Future In Sales.'"
MI.net: Do you ever just for kicks give it to Dominique to see what she does with it?
Adam: No. I mean, the only song that Dominique once said that she wished we had done with Ivy, which wouldn't have made any sense, but she really liked this song called "Sick Day" that was on the first Fountains of Wayne record. But it's still definitely a Fountains of Wayne song.
MI.net: According to the gold and platinum database on the RIAA website, the only sales award you guys have ever gotten was a gold record for the "Stacy's Mom" single. Was that weird at all to have the one song go gold but not the album that it's on?
Adam: Well, we also got some weird consolation gold thing for "Most Downloads" or something. Which is basically saying, "If everyone had bought this instead of downloading it, you'd probably have a triple platinum album," but these days, it doesn't always work like that. You know, whatever. We're not in this to win the prizes or something, and I think it's nice that that song became some sort of hit, but we're not really out here to compete with Mariah Carey or something.
MI.net: How did you guys end up with so many B-sides and unreleased songs? For a band that's only released three albums to be able to fill two more CDs with stuff that's just been released in the interim, that's a lot of stuff lying around.
Adam: Well, the funny thing is, when we first started doing singles, when they started asking us for B-sides, we didn't realize that you could just put total crap on the B-sides if you wanted to. So we actually sort of made an effort to make the B-sides, at least for a while. [laughs] [band starts warming up for soundcheck in the background] And the record company would just call you up and say, "Hey, we need two things by Tuesday for Japan and Europe or something." You know, as if there's just this stockpile of stuff. So in a way, sometimes it was good to be forced to come up with something. But, anyway, that's basically how we ended up with so much stuff. It's because every time we put out a single, they were always asking us to put something else on there.
MI.net: So were any of these in consideration for the albums, or were they all written after the fact for the singles?
Adam: There were a few songs that could've just as easily been on the albums, and it's just for whatever reason, we didn't think they fit, and so we didn't put 'em on there. I think part of the reason we wanted to do this compilation is 'cause some of these songs we're proud of and we really like a lot, and we didn't want them to just be only for collectors who spend, you know, 40 dollars on some import single or something. And there's other stuff that's kind of goofy and fun, but we thought that this was the right context for people to hear it and take it in the right spirit. Hopefully.
MI.net: There have been two Ivy songs and one Fountains of Wayne song used in episodes of Veronica Mars. How did that come about?
Adam: I don't know. I didn't have anything to do with it personally.
MI.net: Did you even know that it was happening?
Adam: I mean, we'll just get an email or something, somebody saying they wanna use the song, and we'll say, "Sure, sounds good." That's about the extent of it, really. You know, we might have to finish this later, 'cause they just started soundchecking, and now I really can't hear you at all. You wanna try to give me a call back in a couple hours and we can finish? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to schedule this so badly, but now they're like blasting guitars in my ear.
TAKE 3 – Illinois
TAKE 4 – Massachusetts
MI.net: Hi, Adam, this is Marc. I was calling to check to see if you had some time to finish our interview.
Adam: Oh, hey, man. How are you?
MI.net: I'm good, how are you?
Adam: Good, you know where I am right now? I'm at Fenway Park at a Yankees game. [laughs] Yankees/Red Sox.
MI.net: So who are you rooting for?
Adam: I'm rooting for the Yankees, but I have to keep that kind of quiet.
MI.net: What would be a good time to maybe try and finish this?
Adam: Shit, I'm sorry. I've been such an asshole about this whole thing. We can talk a little bit now, but we just might get interrupted by crowd noise every three seconds. Or we can do it tomorrow night. I'm going back to New York tomorrow afternoon, and tomorrow evening...
[crazy crowd screaming]
MI.net: Wow, something just happened.
MI.net: Yeah, I'm guessing tomorrow night's probably better.
TAKE 5 – New York
MI.net: Hello, may I please speak to Adam?
Adam: This is Adam.
MI.net: Adam, this is Marc again.
Adam: Hey, Marc. Okay, I'm not in a baseball stadium or at a soundcheck. I'm good to go.
MI.net: Excellent. I'm a little disappointed, actually. I was waiting to see what other crazy schemes you'd get up to next.
Adam: I was telling my friends, you must think that I have this sound effects machine. This is just my way of getting out of interviews. "I'm at a baseball game! I'm on a train! Listen: choo-choo!"
MI.net: Maybe next time.
MI.net: You've licensed some of your songs, both Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, to TV shows and movies. How important is that to the survival of either band?
Adam: If you're talking about financially speaking, I think with Ivy it's been especially important, because that's been really our main source of income since we started the band, is people using our songs in TV shows and in movies and occasionally in commercials. But for both bands, it's been a nice thing, and I think these days, it's kind of an important avenue of exposure, because it's so hard to get on the radio. You just always are trying to find ways for people to just hear your music. And you have to sort of pick and choose what you feel comfortable letting it be used for.
MI.net: How do you choose that?
Adam: Well, it's just a judgment call, you know? I mean, if it's for a commercial, for example, they'll usually tell you what the commercial's gonna be about, or they'll send you a little mock-up of it or something, and you can just decide whether you think it's too cheesy or whatever. But I think at this point especially, with TV shows and movies, we almost never say no to anything. Because I think that at this point, it's almost just like another radio station, you know? If somebody hears your song playing in the background on some television show, it's just like hearing it on the radio or something.
MI.net: Is there any noticeable increase in sales after a television show with your song on it airs?
Adam: Well, it depends. It always depends on what the use is and how prominent it is. But I don't know if it so much corresponds to a noticeable sales spike every time as much as it contributes to the growing awareness of the band.
MI.net: I mentioned Veronica Mars last time, but the soundcheck was in full swing by then. Has anybody in the band watched the show?
Adam: I've never seen it, actually. And I didn't really know that we had had a number of songs on there, to be honest. [laughs] I knew we'd had something on there, but I didn't really know what.
MI.net: Yeah, "Troubled Times" was used in one episode, "Edge of The Ocean" was used in another, and "Feel So Free" was actually in a fairly crucial climactic scene about a month and a half before In The Clear even came out.
Adam: Oh, that's cool. That's great. Yeah, I kind of remember the request coming for that, but I never actually got to see it.
MI.net: So you're not at a point in your career where, when you hear that your song's gonna be used in a TV show or movie, you immediately start saying, "We have to watch it"?
Adam: It's not like I'm so jaded that I don't want to, it's just that I never quite know when it's gonna be on, and I'm usually so busy that it's hard for me to remember and/or be available to watch it. But I'd still like to see it when I get the chance. At least try to get a copy of it later or something.
MI.net: Do you know in advance how your songs would be used?
Adam: Yeah, they'll usually tell you vaguely. Like they'll say, "We're gonna play it for a minute and a half. It's gonna be background behind dialogue." They'll kind of tell you beforehand what the use is, more or less.
MI.net: You have, both with bands and on your own, been fairly involved in a lot of soundtrack projects. How did you start in that particular area?
Adam: Well, I really haven't been involved in that much stuff. I've had a couple of things where I've written songs specifically for movies, but not a ton. But more often it's been things where people license songs just like what you're talking about for TV shows. The first thing was, I had that song in That Thing You Do!, which opened up a lot of doors and sort of led me to get other opportunities to at least try to do that stuff more. And so over the years it's been a lot of things that I've taken a stab at and haven't gotten or just been stuff that I've gotten but they weren't super-huge things or whatever.
MI.net: Were you a fan of That Thing You Do!?
Adam: Yeah, I thought it was really cute. I thought that they were very accurate about things, and that's always tough in a music-driven movie. It always drives me crazy as a musician when I watch a music movie and it's like, they're playing the wrong guitars and the wrong amps and you can tell that they can't actually play their instruments. And they actually went out of their way to make that stuff right. So it went a long way for me.
MI.net: For Josie and the Pussycats, would you say that it was similar or different? How would you compare your experiences with those two?
Adam: Yeah, that movie was a very different tone. It was a goofy cartoony kind of thing, and it wasn't meant to be as literal. They did, for that movie, have a little sort of training camp for music for the actresses so that they could at least look vaguely like they knew how to play when they played the songs.
MI.net: There was a rumor going around a couple of years ago that That Thing You Do! was being converted into a Broadway musical.
Adam: You know what, I heard that too, and I haven't heard anything more about it since. So maybe it's just one of the many projects that Tom Hanks's production company has on their back burner. I have no idea.
MI.net: But you're not involved, then, in that if it's happening?
Adam: Well, they called me and said that they were thinking about doing it and would I be interested in working on it, and I said of course and, you know, keep me posted, and that's the last I ever heard about it. So we shall see.
MI.net: I've seen both Fountains of Wayne and Ivy a bunch of times, and I know you sing backup on stage, but you've never sung lead vocals in either band. Why is that?
Adam: I just have never really been comfortable as a lead singer. I don't know. When I was in college and Chris and I played for the first time together, I used to sing my own songs. I mean, he's just better than I am, and early on, I think I just had to admit that we were gonna be a better band if he was just the singer. And he's also just more comfortable in that role. I've always been sort of comfortable as the side man. But it's not to say that I wouldn't attempt singing lead vocals occasionally here and there, but I've never really had the desire to be that guy.
MI.net: I know that you also, at least in Ivy, perform a bunch of different instruments on the albums, but in both bands, you're the bass player onstage. Is that the same sort of thing, that's where you feel more comfortable?
Adam: I don't really know why that happened, to be honest. I think in both bands, it was sort of a function of who we found to play with us at given times. With Fountains, originally I was gonna be the drummer. I played all the drums on the first record, and we thought maybe I would play drums live, but we just happened to find a really good drummer, and so I ended up playing bass. And with Ivy, there's actually been a couple of tours where I play keyboards and we don't really even have a bass player. Like, I was playing bass with my left hand. But I don't know, bass is just, for me, the most fun thing to play on stage, and it's kind of the most mindless, too. I don't really have to think about it too much.
MI.net: What do you get out of Fountains of Wayne that you don't get out of Ivy and vice versa?
Adam: Well, Fountains of Wayne is a bit more of a rock show, at least live. I mean, I think it's a bit more high energy. But Ivy sort of lets me sort of explore the more atmospheric side of songwriting and production and stuff and think less about maybe the literal meaning of words and more about just the atmosphere and the vibe.
MI.net: Does everybody in both bands write more or less individually, or is there collaboration?
Adam: I think the writing in Ivy is more collaborative. I mean, Andy [Chase, multi-instrumentalist and other songwriter in Ivy] and I write separately, but we also write together a lot. And we also tend to work on each other's half-finished ideas a lot. And especially with this last Ivy record, it was a very collaborative process. We really wrote the whole record more or less in the studio, so we kind of came in with nothing and just jammed on stuff and then tried to put it into songs from there. And Fountains of Wayne is pretty much non-collaborative at this point. Usually Chris and I write completely separately and we bring in songs that are 99% finished. It's just partly a function of geography, because we don't live in the same place, and just partly that's how we're more comfortable working at this point.
MI.net: Now you live in New York, where does he live?
Adam: He lives in Northampton, Mass.
MI.net: Does that cause difficulties, working as a band, being in separate cities like that?
Adam: It's not difficult. It makes it a little expensive, because every time we want to do something, everybody has to travel. But I think part of the reason the band has lasted a long time is because we have our lives away from each other, and so when we get back together, we can just sort of focus on the task at hand. But we've never been a band that just gets together and plays five nights a week just to do it. If we're not working on something specific, then we just disperse to opposite ends of the country, basically. [laughs] Because Brian, our drummer, lives in L.A. Jody lives in New York. I live in New York. I mean, we just go our separate ways.
MI.net: With Chris from Northampton and you from New York, does that mean that there were internal divisions at the Red Sox/Yankees game last night? Were you guys rooting for different teams?
Adam: Well, Chris is actually a Pirates fan, so he didn't really have an opinion on that game.
MI.net: Did they play any of your songs between innings?
Adam: Oh, no, not during the game itself. But there was this benefit concert after the game. We played on top of the dugout, and they had Red Sox players playing music, and this guy Theo Epstein, who's the general manager of the Red Sox, played with the guys from Buffalo Tom. And then they had a bunch of bands, so it was like, Juliana Hatfield and Kay Hanley and the Gentlemen and Ben Kweller played. It was actually pretty fun, I have to say. It was an unusual gig, but we had a good time.
MI.net: Other than the Red Sox game, do you usually get much time when you're touring to actually take advantage of the cities you go to, or is it just bus/hotel/show?
Adam: Yeah, it depends. I mean, for the most part, no. You're usually just working. You sort of travel and go do a soundcheck, maybe have a meal and then play and then leave. So you don't really get a lot of sightseeing in. I mean, we get days off here and there, but it's not really like going on vacation.
MI.net: I think that may actually be it for me. Thank you for taking the various times to talk to me.
Adam: Yeah, sorry this was so complicated, but we got it done. See, where there's a will, there's a way.