An EXCLUSIVE interview with CHRIS COLLINGWOOD
When an artist attempts to alter their musical direction in even the slightest way, the final results are scrutinized by critics and hardcore fans alike. One of the few bands that were able to expand their artistic vision without losing their fan base was The Beatles. Since then, very few artists have been able to mature and grow without being lambasted on the internet by fans who felt betrayed by their beloved musical idols. Remember when Bob Dylan went electric in late 1965? One man yelled “Judas!” and the world spun off its axis. By the way, Dylan’s career recovered quite nicely, thank you! Even The Stranglers, one of the UK’s most popular Punk bands, was skewered once they became a bona-fide Pop/Rock outfit by the middle of the ‘80s. It would seem that their fan base wanted them to remain the scruffy, crabby crew they grew to loathe a decade before. So, what is an artist to do? Stay the same and lose fans because they don’t alter the formula, or alter the formula and lose fans because they didn’t stay the same? Chris Collingwood, he of Fountains Of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom”) fame, has decided to do both – but with his new project, Look Park, he’s not in any danger of losing fans. At all.
Although it has been five years since Fountains Of Wayne released their last album, 2011’s SKY FULL OF HOLES, Collingwood has been working hard on mixing up his proven songwriting ‘formula’ and approaching the songs in new and more intimate ways. FOW bandmate Adam Schesinger has been busy with various projects, including the fab new Monkees album, but Chris has surprisingly kept a very low profile. One of the few times we’ve heard from him since 2011 was when he covered The Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town” for the excellent ‘80s ‘tribute’ album HERE COMES THE REIGN AGAIN released in 2014. All the while, he has been working on new material and finally went into the studio with producer Mitchell Froom and recorded the most excellent LOOK PARK album. This ‘debut’ album is a collection of well-crafted songs that retain the melodic charm of FOW but takes Chris in new and exciting directions. One of producer Froom’s earliest claims to fame was his work with Crowded House, and Look Park travels a similar musical path as those albums from the Kiwi band led by Neil Finn. The album is filled with great melodic hooks, yes, but the album is warm and intimate. These are songs you fall in love with, and like true love, the album only gets better with time. The production is lush yet intimate and Collingwood approaches each track with a tenderness that was not as apparent as on his work with FOW. “Stars Of New York,” “Breezy,” “Minor Is The Lonely Key,” “You Can Come Round If You Want To,” and “Crash That Piano” are absolutely lovely without being maudlin or too mellow (not that either of those are bad things). Surprisingly, there is very little electric guitar on the album – acoustic guitar, piano and mellotron create an atmosphere that is inviting and melancholic. In essence, LOOK PARK is a beautiful piece of work. It is Pop and it is powerful – it’s just not Power Pop. Don’t fear, FOW fans, Chris has delivered the goods and they are glorious.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat to Chris Collingwood about the making of the LOOK PARK album and much more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The self-titled Look Park album is about to be released. How are you feeling about your journey to make the album and the reaction to it so far?
CHRIS COLLINGWOOD: Most people are surprised that it doesn’t sound like a Power Pop album. My full intention was not to just make a Fountains of Wayne record, but to stray from that as far as possible. I like that it is its own thing and it’s very different from what I’ve done before. It was really difficult to get it to happen. I’d been demoing for quite a long time. I was with a different management company and, at one point, he asked me who I’d work with if I had my choice of any producer. I said, “Mitchell Froom,” and he said we couldn’t afford that. Don’t even bother. So my demos just sat around for a long time. I was thinking of going the crowd-funding route. What I ended up doing was calling Mitchell myself – I don’t know why it never occurred to me to do that before. But I did and he was into it. After that, it was a matter of getting on his schedule and finding some musicians who could come record with me. It was a long, arduous journey getting it finished. The record has been done since the fall of last year. It will be almost a year since the album was finished before I get to start touring.
SPAZ: Why did you choose to release the album under the Look Park moniker instead of releasing it as a solo album? Technically, it is a solo album…
CHRIS: Well, it is and it isn’t. I made it all with the same band. But if a guy has been in a band for fifteen years or so and decides to make a solo record, it is a license to ignore it if you call it a solo record (Laughs). It implies you’re going to go back to the band and that this is a side project – it implies all of these things that I wasn’t comfortable with. I hope to make more Look Park records. I just didn’t want to be ignored, I guess.
SPAZ: Who else plays on the album?
CHRIS: I did quite a lot of pre-production with Mitchell. He played all the keyboards on the record. I might have played some of the keyboards because we kept some from the demos I made. The bass player is Davey Faragher, who has played with Elvis Costello and a whole bunch of other people. The drummer is Michael Urbano – he was in Smash Mouth and he’s done a whole lot of session work. Both of those guys are out of my league so I was lucky! (Laughs)
SPAZ: The album has a warm and intimate sound with plenty of breathing room. There are a lot of keyboards and acoustic guitar but surprisingly little electric guitar. I’m assuming that was intentional?
CHRIS: I demoed a lot of songs at home – I was sitting around a lot for years trying to get a record made. I finally called Mitchell and then things seemed to happen pretty easy after that. I demoed a lot of stuff at home and the ones that sounded like Fountains Of Wayne songs, I just threw them out the window. I still enjoy playing loud guitar but I just wanted to make an album that was more introspective and not so immediate.
SPAZ: The album has a real late ‘60s/early ‘70s East Cost Folk/Pop vibe to it…much like Neil Diamond’s recordings from that period and even Carole King. Was that the kind of vibe you were searching for?
CHRIS: I wasn’t going for a specific time period. Both of those artists are big influences, though. It was important to me – even before hooking up with Mitchell – to get somebody else to get me out of the way I’ve been thinking for the last fifteen years. When I was writing a Fountains Of Wayne song, it’s pretty clear that everyone has the same exact instincts in the band – the guitar solo goes here, the louder guitar part goes there…it got to be really formulaic. I knew that if I went into the studio on my own without anybody else, it would end up sounding like a Fountains Of Wayne record because I have this bag of tricks and it’s been the same thing for a long time. Mitchell and I spent a lot of time on the phone – weeks and weeks, actually – before we even met face to face. We were sending demos back and forth by e-mail and during that discussion, we realized we both loved The Moody Blues and he said, “How do you feel about the mellotron?” I said, “Fuck, yeah!” so that’s why there is a lot of mellotron on the record. (Laughs)
SPAZ: So, did you pull from a batch of songs you had already written or did you decide on the direction of the album, and then finish writing a few more to fit into the vision you had conceived?
CHRIS: I had a bunch of songs. It takes a while to get out of writing for Fountains Of Wayne and just get my head in a different space. I was forcing myself to take them in directions that were uncomfortable for me. There are some different approaches there, too – ‘Stars Of New York” was the first time I’d ever written a song around the bassline. It was part of that attempt to get out of the way that I was thinking for so long.
SPAZ: I enjoy Fountains Of Wayne, but this record is really a great step in an unexpected direction.
CHRIS: I’m wondering what percentage of Fountains Of Wayne fans are going to feel betrayed (Laughs). But you can’t spend a whole lot of time thinking of that. I hope there are a whole lot of people who will like it for reasons completely unrelated to Fountains Of Wayne.
SPAZ: Power Pop seems to be a dirty word sometimes – some artists stick to a lovable yet predictable formula, while others take the genre and paint it in broader strokes…
CHRIS: Most of the Power Pop musicians that I know don’t like the term. There are great Power Pop bands but most Power Pop musicians would rather NOT be pigeonholed that way. Power Pop is more descriptive of the production – the hallmark jangle, the tambourines and backing vocals and superficial stuff. Most people who have been successful at it, it’s because they are good songwriters and not because they applied these superficial elements. No one called The Beatles Power Pop, did they? Revolver is a Power Pop record but then it isn’t called that because they are The Beatles and you don’t use that expression to describe it because it implies that it’s only got those superficial elements.
SPAZ: What’s next for Look Park?
CHRIS: Hitting the road. These past few days, I’ve been talking about different ways to start touring. Probably some shows with myself and a couple of friends – acoustic guitar and piano. Eventually, we’ll do some bigger shows with a full band.
SPAZ: What is the status of Fountains Of Wayne at the moment?
CHRIS: There’s no status. Maybe we’ll make a record way down the road. I won’t discount the possibility of that but at the moment, I’m not thinking about it at all. I’d like to get on the road and support this album and then see where I am after that.
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, Dave Rayburn and Nick Kominitsky