“We just agreed many years ago that if we were to have a band we’d just split the songwriting to avoid having a conversation every time we tried to finish a song,” Schlesinger adds. “But we really haven’t collaborated as writers in years. And that’s kind of intentional too because we didn’t want it to turn into a thing where people would say, ‘Adam’s songs are like this…’ We wanted the band to have an identity more than we wanted each of us to have an identity in the band.”
If that approach is a little frustrating for fans looking to determine who wrote what-something that is masked by the fact that Chris sings all of the songs-Collingwood and Schlesinger couldn’t give a shit. “We like the anonymity in sharing the credit,” Adam continues. “A band doesn’t need to be dissected that way. I could decide to write something that’s really atypical of me and something that’s really more typical of Chris, but if I could pull it off and he likes it, then we can just do it. When it comes down to writing songs for a new record, we just always say, ‘Write whatever you feel like writing.’ We try not to map it out or talk about it in advance at all, and that way, whatever mood you wake up in, you can write something.”
It’s an interesting approach, considering that Utopia Parkway and Welcome Interstate Managers both have strong thematic identities. “That sort of happens by accident to be honest,” says Schlesinger. “We don’t sit down with a chalkboard and try to figure it all out. But what will happen is if we go in with a batch of 20 songs and 14 of them thematically relate to each other, we might throw out the other six, partly because it feels like they don’t fit. But we won’t really plan it beforehand like that.”
In working through material, Collingwood says that most songs get delivered in an acoustic format and the band fleshes it out and arranges it together. “Sometimes if I get mealy-mouthed on a lyric, I might change it on the spot,” he says. “Or other stuff changes, too. Sometimes we change a chord, but the basic spirit of the song is retained.”
“And I’d say like, 95% of the time, we agree on which ones are good and which ones aren’t,” Schelsinger says. “There have been a couple of cases where one of us has been fighting for our own songs and the other guy is like, ‘Dude, I’m not into it.’ But that’s pretty rare. I think both of us look at songs as a crossword puzzle. If all the lines fit and the idea is clear and you execute it right, then it works.”
As for Fountains of Wayne’s wry lyrical style, which has chronicled a “dumb ape reading Playboy ” (“Radiation Vibe”), a travel agent that drives “a lavender Lexus” (“Denise”) and a mean boss with a “bad toupee and a soup-stained tie” (“Hey Julie”), the duo recognizes there is a thin line between being amusing and being over the top.
“It’s a touchy subject as far as how much of a sense of humor you should have,” Schlesinger acknowledges. “We always get lumped in with comedians, you know. And that’s not really the point. We’re not trying to be Weird Al [Yankovic] or Ween. But I do think humor is part of real life, and part of reflecting who we are is sometimes writing songs that make you smile a little bit. At the same time, songs don’t [necessarily] need meaningful lyrics. I think “Radiation Vibe,” which Chris wrote and was our first single, is one of the best songs ever, and it doesn’t make any fucking sense. And that’s part of what I love about it is that it is sort of anthemic, but when you stop to think about what you’re saying, it’s hilarious. We used to lie in interviews and say it was about Phoebe Cates and her struggle in Hollywood when she first got there and her big break with Fast Times At Ridgemont High. But it had nothing to do with that [laughs].”