It's debatable who lucked-out more — the hook-heavy power-pop band Fountains of Wayne for grabbing hold of talented rock guitarist and Charleston native Jody Porter 10 years ago, or Porter himself, for falling into such an ideal situation.
One of the more sincere (and least "rock god-like") American alternative rock bands of recent years, Fountains Of Wayne return to Charleston for a gig at the Music Farm on Mon. June 18 in support of a long-awaited, 14-song fourth album titled Traffic and Weather.
The Fountains may be best known among recent fans for their ultra-catchy 2004 radio hit "Stacy's Mom," off the Grammy-nominated Welcome Interstate Managers, but the arranging and lyrical talents of the songwriting duo of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are for real.
"We joke about it and just say we play 'classic rock,' but, of course, it's all-original," says Porter. "This single that we put out is getting some play now finally, because the video just got passed in last week ... so we'll see. I don't know if there's another 'Stacy's Mom' in there, per se, but there's certainly enough to keep us out there, keep our fans content, and maybe a make a few new ones."
Porter sounds relaxed after a recent 10-day jaunt to Europe with the band. They headed out to Canada last week, making the trip down to Charleston this Monday before leaving for Japan later this month.
"It was a really good reception in Europe and the UK," the guitarist says. "I think they've had the record a little longer than fans here, so they were singing along to the whole Fountains of Wayne catalog, as it were. It was cool. I spent three years in London with Belltower [a band he formed in the early '90s with singer/bassist Britta Phillips], so it was really cool. I got to see a lot of old mates from the days of yore and I shoulda stayed longer, but I have a dog now, so I had to come home and feed him [laughs]."
With crafty mix of classic guitar pop and analog rockstuff drawn from the finest albums of the 1960s, '70s, and early '80s, Traffic and Weather is probably the band's most creative collection of tunes since their self-titled 1996 debut on Atlantic records. Dry but polished, straightforward but dense with smart instrumentation, it's a strong effort. The opening track and lead radio single "Someone to Love" (featuring Hole/Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur on backing vocals), demonstrates their careful balance of vintage and modern styles.
"We booked some time up in Bearsville, N.Y., at Todd Rundgren's studio and got in there and sort of jammed for two or three days and rolled tape," remembers Porter. "The song 'Strapped for Cash,' which is almost entirely live, came out of there like that. So that was cool. Most of the songs were brought in by Adam and some by Chris, much in the Fountains tradition. The way it started was just to get us all back together in a room and see what happened."
While the typical "power pop" stylings of Cheap Trick, The Cars, and Oasis float in the mix, unexpected bits of riffs and phrases that resemble the best of Thin Lizzy, the James Gang, and Kiss (seriously) add to an updated "rock" sound on the album, perhaps from loose experimentation and brainstorming. Porter's greatest strengths lie in his ability to collaborate and add melodic and harmonic counterpoint to basic song ideas. Plus, he can rip an appropriate solo as well as any.
"I think I get a bit more leeway to trial-and-error stuff as a guitarist as time goes on," says Porter. "On this record, it was primarily me and Adam working on finishing the record after the basic tracks were down. I felt like we had a lot more time for two reasons: one, because the two of us were there every day, and secondly, because Adam co-owns the studio, so there was less pressure to get things done. We had more opportunities to experiment."
Despite stories of a nasty band break-up or a hostile hiatus from a few years ago, the guitarist assures that things happen at the natural pace for the band at every step forward.
"It's always been the same guys," he says. "We came off tour for two years after that last record. It's kind of the way of our work ethic to take some time off like this between records because everyone's doing something in-between. Adam has another band called Ivy and Chris was doing his country thing up in Mass., and I have my thing here in N.Y."
What should the faithful Fountains fans expect from the quartet this week at the big gig?
"People playing the record might be surprised by the sound of the band live," says Porter. "Some find it to be heavier on stage. Hopefully, we'll bring the best of both sides to the Music Farm."