Chris Collingwood thinks he made a deal with the devil. Adam Schlesinger thinks he finally caught a break. What Collingwood and Schlesinger--co-founders and co-songwriters of the band Fountains Of Wayne--actually did was this: they recorded a song about wanting to sleep with a friend's mother. Then they made a video with Rachel Hunter, the ex-Mrs. Rod Stewart, playing a modern Mrs. Robinson in a bikini. Naturally, Stacy's Mom became a top 10 hit--the most downloaded song on iTunes--and earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. "People are watching the video and downloading the single, but they don't know us or our record at all. It's kind of disappointing. It's a novelty song," says Collingwood. Says Schlesinger, who wrote the song: "There are a lot of videos with hot models. I happen to think it's a really good song."
What drove Fountains of Wayne to Stacy's Mom was the usual soul-killing nightmare of the music industry. Schlesinger and Collingwood, both 36, met as undergraduates at Williams College and soon after started Fountains of Wayne (named after a lawn-ornament store near Schlesinger's New Jersey home), adding bassist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young along the way. They signed a major-label deal with Atlantic Records in 1996 and were promptly buried by everything else on the radio. "There's this expression, Bo-Now music," says Collingwood. "It's that whole genre where singers just scream, Bo-Nowwww!!!! in that really angry language that isn't even human. Unfortunately, Bo-Now ruled the airwaves for a very long time."
Fountains of Wayne's first two albums (Grammy nominations for Best New Artist are given out only when the Grammy people are good and ready) were full of great, Kinks-inspired guitar-pop songs about contemporary suburban characters like themselves. "When we first started writing songs," says Schlesinger, "we felt like we needed to write about grand, universal themes like 'I am the King of Pain.' I remember thinking, Jesus Christ, how do you write something like that, especially if you're from New Jersey?" So instead they wrote Red Dragon Tattoo, about an exuberant moron who gets inked to impress a girl, and Utopia Parkway, which described guys a shade too old to be posting flyers for their band. The songs were ironic without being distant, and catchy without being Creed. And they didn't sell at all.
Atlantic dropped Fountains of Wayne in 2000, and the band had to figure out whether it still wanted to exist. Collingwood spent a year tending his garden, while Schlesinger turned to a lucrative career producing albums and writing songs for movies and television. (Schlesinger got an Oscar nomination for the song That Thing You Do. He also writes occasional sketch music for Saturday Night Live.) Eventually the band regrouped and signed with tiny SCurve records. They wrote more great, weird songs for their third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, including All Kinds of Time, about a high school quarterback at his life's bittersweet peak, and Valley Winter Song, which may be the first-ever rock song about seasonal affective disorder.