Ever wanted to know what made the artists in your music library tick? What albums inspired their own? Their own personal musical history? Wonder no more for Mytacism Music has got your Monday Inspiration to show you the albums that inspired the albums. Slow Runner are here this week to tell us why Fountains of Wayne and their album ‘Utopia Parkway’ inspired them to get into music.
What made you pick up the album?
I feel old just explaining this, but back in the day music stores had ‘listening walls’ where you could put on some headphones and listen to whatever new releases the record store was promoting that week. With no internet, and corporate radio already strangling originality on the airwaves, this was the best way to find new interesting music and it was part of my weekly routine. I spent hours in Tower Records and Millennium Music just trying out anything with remotely interesting cover art. ‘Utopia Parkway’ was on a listening wall in 1999 and I found it and barely made it through the 4th track before taking it to the counter to buy.
Where were you when you first heard the album in its entirety?
I was a broke, lonely English major at College of Charleston.
Where did the album take you on your first listen?
I had somehow missed Fountains of Wayne’s first record so this was my introduction to them and I was pretty blown away that anything could have such carefully balanced songcraft and raw noisy energy. It was nerdy and funny and playful, yet the guitars were all pissed off distortion. Lethal combo.
Why did it inspire your own work?
I originally came at songwriting from a lyrics-first, folk-inspired place. Grunge was a dark time for keyboard-based songwriters; As much as I loved Nirvana I never felt like I could musically relate to it because I just couldn’t really play it. Thank God for Tori Amos and Ben Folds, without them I might be selling insurance right now. Anyway instead of trying to force grunge into my identity I went in the opposite direction and gravitated towards what was happening in folk music at the time with songwriters like John Gorka and Gillian Welch. Still no piano in there but I learned a lot from these songwriters who made the music so simple that the lyrics had to be interesting enough to carry the whole thing. Fast forward to 1999 and Fountains of Wayne had somehow combined the best of both worlds; their lyrics were really smart but the melodies were so good it didn’t matter. AND they had synths all over the place, weird retro keyboards in wondrous harmony with loud guitars and doo-wop backing vocals. It was sophisticated and ironic and it planted seeds in my brain that would sprout years later as the basic formula for Slow Runner (casios/caveman drums/pretty songs about unattainable girls).
Are there any lyrics that stuck with you from the record?
At first listen I was taken with ‘Hat and Feet’, that somebody could take a cartoon image and use it in a sad-sack love song (‘I’m just a hat and feet / that’s all that’s left of me / a spot on the sidewalk, a mark on the street / I’m just a hat and feet’. I’m already in love with this because I’ve watched Looney Tunes. Then the second verse makes it kind of romantic: ‘You dropped a bomb on me / I didn’t even see / like a falling piano from out of a window / now I’m just a hat and feet.’ So cool. The whole record is full of songs like that, like they thought ‘I’ve got a great idea for a song,’ then purposefully composed the best possible realization of that great idea. I’m so envious of how great it must have felt to write those songs, to finish them and play them back and think ‘damn, that’s fucking GREAT.’
Do you have a favourite track?
It’s an ever-evolving list but a few current favorites are Denise, Troubled Times, Go, Hippie, and The Senator’s Daughter. The title track is also awesome and a devastatingly accurate depiction of the fragile self-confidence required for a band ‘trying to make it’.
Do you have any particular memories attached to the record?
Nothing particular, but this was college so all of my memories from that era are a bit hazy. I do remember that when I first got the record I wasn’t into ‘Troubled Times’ because I felt like it was too much of a pop song and I liked all the loud rocking stuff. Then as a year or two passed and I grew older and more comfortable with my own vulnerability I ended up falling deeply in love with it and its innate sweetness. And it taught me a valuable lesson about having an open mind and not judging any music based on fear or insecurity or whatever. You don’t have to love cheesy songs in an ironic way, you can just love them bravely like a boss. Thanks FoW.