Tinted Windows brings together established rockers (from left to right) James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Taylor Hanson (Hanson) Schlesinger, and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick).
Fountains of Wayne: UTOPIA PARKWAY (1999); WELCOME INTERSTATE MANAGERS (2003)
Ivy: APARTMENT LIFE (1997); GUESTROOM (2002); IN THE CLEAR (2005)
Tinted Windows: TINTED WINDOWS (2009)
Adam Schlesinger is one of those rare musicians who can thrive in different musical environments while maintaining the stylistic integrity of each one. His last 15 years have included a steady regimen of overlapping projects, and while he's had success in individual assignments producing artists like They Might be Giants and Motion City Soundtrack; penning hit songs for films like the Academy Award-nominated "That Thing You Do"; add writing for other artists, including teen idols the Jonas BrothersSchlesinger is also a consummate band member. We asked him how he adapts his working methods when shifting from critically acclaimed indie-pop trio Ivy to G RAMMY -nominated power-pop outfit Fountains of Wayne to his most recent unit, Tinted Windows, where he joins forces with established rockers from several generations.
Do you write on a schedule?
I am not very regimented unless I have to be. I wish I was someone that could just write every day, but I tend to work on specific projects for a specific period of time and then stop. Either I need an assignment with a strict deadlinelike something for a movie or a TV show or whateveror else I need to create a made-up deadline for myself for my own records. Otherwise, I don't write anything. Also, I almost never write songs in a vacuum without knowing who's going to be singing the song.
How do new songs evolve?
I normally write on acoustic guitar, although piano is the instrument that I actually studied. Occasionally, I'll write on the piano or sometimes with no instrument at all. I generally prefer to come in to the studio with a fully written song and then work on the arrangement with the band. Sometimes even the arrangements are pretty much already worked out in my head, but other times we experiment. Fountains of Wayne usually comes up with arrangements in an hour or two and then we cut the track right away. With Tinted Windows, the process was similara couple of hours of experimenting to get a basic feel and structure, and then we just cut the song. With Ivy, we have occasionally done a bit more jamming in the studio without having finished pieces, and then we develop our musical ideas into finished songs. Sometimes it works well for me to work like that, but other times it's very painstaking and frustrating. It certainly makes the recording process faster if you start with a song that's already written.
How does your approach change from project to project?
With Tinted Windows, we wanted to write songs which were very high-energy and were intentionally straightforward from a lyrical perspective. We were going for a slightly retro or power-pop approach in terms of the spirit of the music, but with more modern-sounding loud guitars. Lyrically, it was refreshing to me to just write a batch of songs about girls, etc.
Fountains of Wayne songs tend to be more specific lyrically. Sometimes they're little stories or character sketchesor they're about slightly stranger subjects. Fountains lyrics usually take a while to finish, even if the basic idea for the song comes quickly. And musically, Fountains of Wayne tends to genre-hop a lot: We have some stuff that's very current-sounding, and other songs that sound like they're from various earlier eras of pop and rock music.
Ivy songs are really more about the mood and the atmosphere...and we consider the vocals and the lyrics in Ivy to be almost another instrument in the track. Overall, in Ivy we like a sense of melancholy, with some sort of bittersweet quality as well.
Is there a formula for writing a great hook?
I don't really know how to define a great hook, but you know it when you hear it. I do think that repetition is the key to hookiness and almost anything can become a hook if you repeat it enough times. When I'm working on a song, sometimes I think, "What part of this song would someone sing to someone else if they were asking them if they knew it?" That part is the hook.