According to Chris, his introduction to Adam was pretty unspectacular. “Our story isn’t that great,” he confesses. “It might be more interesting if we met in the Chicago blues clubs or rehab or something. Unfortunately none of that applies. Williams is a really, really small school. And basically every musician on campus knew each other pretty quickly. We first got together and started doing covers and wound up living in the same dormitory.”
By the early ‘90s, the pair-having already operated under monikers like Are You My Mother? and Three Men Who When Standing Side By Side Have a Wing Span of Over Twelve Feet-relocated to New York City and had their first taste of the music business. “We were signed to a label called Pipeline and dropped before the album ever came out,” Chris remembers. “I don’t know if they ever put any records out. They started as a distribution company and we were their Guinea pigs. God, it seems so long ago. Like 1991 or something.”
“Chris and I had a band which was the precursor to Fountains of Wayne [known as The Wallflowers until Jakob Dylan paid the duo a minute sum to stop using the name] although basically it was the same thing,” says Adam. “But we signed with this little start-up indie label. We made this record for them and it’s a long boring story, but we got in a fight with them. They put us with a producer we didn’t like, we got in a fight with him, which turned into a fight with the label, and the whole thing kind of imploded. Then we ended up in this legal purgatory where we couldn’t get off the label and they wouldn’t let us do anything or release our record or let us go work for anybody else. It was kind of a nightmare for two years. We were so depressed at that point. We felt, ‘We’re only 24-years-old and we’ve totally fucked ourselves.'”
In 1994, by the time Pipeline ruptured, Schlesinger had started Ivy with multi-instrumentalist Andy Chase and Parisian born vocalist Domenique Durand. They soon signed to Seed Records. “Seed was really Atlantic Records,” he says. “This was at the time when it was super cool to be on an indie and super un-cool to be on a major, so all the majors were starting ‘fake indies.’ And Seed was kind of the worst of both worlds because it didn’t really have any credibility and it didn’t really have any money.” But the arrangement wasn’t a total loss, however, as Schlesinger befriended Steve Yegelwel, who wound up being Fountains of Wayne’s A&R guy at S-Curve, the boutique label at Virgin Records that gave Welcome Interstate Managers a proper home in 2003.
“So Ivy kind of got in there first and by the time Fountains of Wayne came along, I knew some people at Atlantic and they dug the music, so for a brief period both bands were actually signed to Atlantic,” Adam explains. “And while neither band was a massive commercial success, we made some good relationships and the good thing I can say about Atlantic in hindsight is that they never meddled with us creatively. They left us to our own devices, which is far different from what I’ve heard about the Clive Davis school of thought, where they mold you and turn you into something else. We were what we were, for better or worse.”
At the time the FoW signed to Atlantic in late 1995, Collingwood was working as a computer programmer at American Express in the World Financial Building. Through Ivy, Schlesinger had already landed a publishing deal at Polygram with the help of a woman named Holly Greene. “She was a big champion of Ivy and Fountains of Wayne,” Adam says. “I was signed as a writer and as part of both bands and actually that deal just ended a couple of years ago, and now I don’t have a publishing company-I just do it myself. But that was a great experience for me because I was really interested in trying to write, not just for the band, but for other stuff. If you’re vocal about doing that kind of thing, a publishing company can be a great resource for hooking you up with these kinds of opportunities.”
Through the arrangement, Adam wound up writing the theme song for the 1996 Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do! which earned him an Oscar nomination. Now that he’s established, Schlesinger touts the benefits of handling his own publishing. “Basically, you get to keep all the money,” he laughs. “That’s really the bottom line. But the other benefit is when you get offers from people who want to do something with your song, you don’t have to consult with a million people…you can kind of decide for yourself what you want to do.”
By the time the initial Fountains of Wayne project got underway, the duo had come to the realization that splitting the credit for songs a la Lennon/McCartney was the best way to sustain the partnership, even though they most often wrote apart and then regrouped to arrange their songs. Collingwood says, “We decided early on, it’s better to not have arguments that some bands have where someone might say, ‘I wrote 15% of that song,’ and try to figure out those numbers. It just seems ridiculous.”