The Fountains of Wayne camp has a term for casual fans most familiar with the group for its 2003 smash single "Stacy's Mom," which peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Our manager calls them 'drive-bys,'" lead singer/co-songwriter Chris Collingwood says with a laugh. "I'm not sure [those fans] even know what the band's name is."
But Fountains of Wayne didn't start and stop with "Stacy's Mom," which has sold 888,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and earned the band a Grammy Award nod, and "drive-bys" haven't stopped FOW from continuing to build on its power-pop legacy. On Aug. 2, the New York-based quartet steps out with its excellent new album Sky Full of Holes, its fifth full-length release and its first for North Carolina-based Yep Roc. The new effort finds Collingwood, bassist Adam Schlesinger (the group's other songwriter), guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young (formerly of the Posies) exploring a new minimal sound with a poppy, folk-leaning flair, a shift Collingwood says was a takeaway of touring acoustically throughout 2009.
"We sort of tried to get energy in different ways," Schlesinger says. "We made an effort to leave more space in the mixes, and there's a little more of an emphasis on acoustic instruments." Songs like the country-inflected "Richie and Ruben" and "A Road Song" further display Fountains of Wayne's uncanny knack for capturing the quotidian, building songs on tales of unsuccessful businesses and life on the road.
Collingwood and Schlesinger's unique brand of storytelling (Schlesinger was nominated for an Oscar in 1996 for writing the title song for the film "That Thing You Do!") and their penchant for memorable hooks have been the duo's calling card since the band's first self-titled release in 1996. Subsequent albums, including 1999's "Utopia Parkway" and 2003's "Welcome Interstate Managers", which featured "Stacy's Mom," found Fountains of Wayne reaching new audiences bolstered by the success of the single. Their most recent release, 2007's "Traffic and Weather", peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard 200 but quickly slipped, and it wasn't long before the band parted ways with EMI.
The band spent the better part of two years recording "Sky Full of Holes" and shopped it through its lawyer before deciding to go with Yep Roc.
"They were really enthusiastic," Schlesinger says of the label. "We felt like we made sense on their roster." "We're trying to get interest in the independent aspect of it," Collingwood says. "When you're on a major, they throw so much money to get videos on MTV. That certainly worked for us with 'Stacy's Mom,' but I don't think that approach is appropriate for a band like us anymore." Yep Roc GM Billy Maupin says there has been a strong push to re-energize the band's core fan base by releasing album details online and via social networking.
The album has received early positive nods in the press, with a pre-release feature in New York Magazine and inclusion in Spin's "Summer Albums that Matter Most" preview. The band members' side projects have also helped expose potential new fans to the group, especially Schlesinger's involvement in the pop-rock group Tinted Windows, where he plays alongside singer Taylor Hanson, former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos.
"Fountains of Wayne are unique in that they don't release albums very often," Maupin says. "So when they do, it carries weight; it's important."