Fountains of Wayne (FoW) is back with Sky Full of Holes, an album which it recorded in New York City-based Stratosphere Sound, which is co-owned by FoW’s bassist and founder Adam Schlesinger. The album harkens to its earlier power-pop material, but also demonstrates versatility with acoustic driven ballads like “The Summer Place” and “Richie and Ruben.” While principal writer and band leader Schlesinger prefers to retain production control, FoW regularly draws from a variety of engineering talent, including Geoff Sanoff and John Holbrook, among others.
For this album, Sanoff handled engineering duties, while Holbrook mixed the record in his home studio in upstate New York. Pro Sound News spoke with Schlesinger on what makes FoW a “production-oriented” band and the challenges that exist straddling the roles of band leader and commercial studio owner.
ON WRITING CYCLES:
We always work in fits and starts; we’re not one of those bands that goes in and books out six or eight weeks in a studio and does the whole thing. Each record is kind of a long and broken-up process for us. We probably started doing some recording as far back as the end of 2008 or early 2009, and we went in sporadically over the next couple of years.
At a certain point, we usually have a batch of songs and, for the most part, I think Chris and I are both hesitant to say, “It’s done.” We always think there’s another batch coming that’s going to be even cooler. But at some point, when you have enough songs in the can, you think, “Let’s maybe put something out now.”
I like to have writing assignments, so sometimes it’s easier for me if I get hired to do something—if there is a need for a specific song. The problem with writing for a band is that you have to invent the assignment yourself; there is nobody breathing down your back and nobody telling you what they really want. So, the first part is deciding what you want to do for yourself.
ON WORKING AT STRATOSPHERE:
It is a great-sounding room, and we certainly have access to a lot of fantastic gear. Also, it is a big enough space for us all to play together, which is important. But these days, having access to such a great studio is not such a big deal compared to what it was like 20 years ago. Now it is much easier for almost any band to have a recording setup that is decent, and there are many different ways that people can make records in their own space. We love Stratosphere and we are used to it, but it used to be that without a big recording studio like that, you couldn’t really do anything, and that’s not really the case anymore.
ON OWNING A COMMERCIAL FACILITY:
Between the three of us owners—James Iha [Smashing Pumpkins], Andy Chase [Ivy] and me—we already had so much gear. Apart from having a big console, we had many of the pieces of equipment that were needed. Also, Andy had already been in the studio business for a long time. So when James and I got involved, we just decided that we wanted to buy a Neve console. I think our original motivation in becoming studio owners was to have a place to work in, but we were also tired of pouring money into other studios. The other thing for us is that we didn’t build it with the idea that we would be able to make a living solely from owning a recording studio.
ON LEAVING IT TO THE EXPERTS:
To be honest, I am really not much of an engineer. I’ve gotten really good at Pro Tools, but in terms of the hard engineering, which includes things like setting up mics and recording through the Neve and all that, I leave that entirely up to the engineers that we are working with. In Fountains of Wayne’s case, it is primarily Geoff Sanoff, the chief engineer at Stratosphere, who I’ve worked with on a million things. I prefer to be in the role of artist/producer and sit back and let Geoff do his thing. We trust him to get great sounds, especially with drums. I like to be very hands-on with the editing, and sometimes I will do a little pre-mixing in Pro Tools.
ON WORKING WITH JOHN HOLBROOK:
John has mixed tons of stuff for Fountains of Wayne. On this record, we literally sent him the drive, gave him notes and he mixed it at his home studio. He is not just an engineer; he is also a great musician, so he understands us musically. I also think he has a “less is more” approach— his attitude is not to hype everything to death in the mixing phase. He tends to let everything breathe and give all the parts their space. His philosophy is: Don’t do anything if you don’t have to do anything. In general, he is just an easygoing guy and really easy to work with.
ON THE THRILL OF RECORDING:
I never get tired of that feeling of that feeling of excitement when you’ve written a song and you start to hear it come to life as a full-blown recording. You can never really predict how it’s going to come out or where you’re going to end up going with it. That’s the magic part of it. You can think you hear it all in your head and that you know exactly what you want to do with it in the studio, but when you actually get there, it’s often totally different from what you’ve imagined. That part never really gets old for me.
Jeff Touzeau is a regular contributor to Pro Sound News and author of five books, including Sound Ideas for a Sound Planet: The Green Musician’s Guide (Cengage).