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For Fountains of Wayne singer, a liberating new musical landscape

Chris Collingwood is part of Songs & Stories at City Winery Tuesday.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

NORTHAMPTON — Not long ago, because winter in Western Massachusetts makes him restless, Chris Collingwood put his name in at a few temp agencies.

Collingwood was the lead singer and co-songwriter of Fountains of Wayne, the power-pop band best remembered for its 2003 hit “Stacy’s Mom.” He wasn’t sure whether to mention that to prospective employers, but not because of the racy, Rachel-Hunter-in-a-red-bikini video, which has more than 100 million views on YouTube.

“If they’ve heard you on the radio, people think there’s no way you could need the money,” Collingwood says. “But it’s weird to give somebody a resume with a 22-year hole, so I changed it to say ‘co-CEO of a company with worldwide engagements.’ ”


Formed in the mid ’90s by Collingwood and his erstwhile Williams College classmate Adam Schlesinger, Fountains of Wayne was much admired for its crystalline melodies and clever lyrics. The band made five albums and toured more or less constantly before exhaustion and acrimony took a predictable toll and the band drifted apart in 2013.

These days, there isn’t a lot Collingwood misses about his hectic former life. He and his wife, a physician recruiter at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, live just outside Northampton, and he has a new band, Look Park, whose stellar debut was produced by Mitchell Froom, renowned for his work with Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, and Crowded House.

Look Park members (from left) Scott Klass, Philip Price, and Chris Collingwood.Max Germer

At 51, Collingwood says his ambitions are modest. When he feels the urge, which isn’t often in the winter, he writes and records in a studio at his house. He also belongs to an informal fraternity of talented songwriters in the Pioneer Valley, a chummy group that includes Miracle Legion’s Mark Mulcahy, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis and Lou Barlow, and celebrated English songwriter Lloyd Cole.

“Chris is maybe the best rock/pop singer of his generation,” Cole, an occasional golfing buddy of Collingwood’s, said in an e-mail. “Melodies that Squeeze couldn’t stop from sounding cheesy, he can make them sound just right.”


Tuesday, Collingwood is performing at City Winery as part of a “Songs & Stories” tour organized by Everclear frontman Art Alexakis. As the title suggests, he and Alexakis, along with fellow ’90s artists Max Collins of Eve 6 and Marcy Playground’s John Wozniak, will each tell a few stories and sing a few songs.

On a recent weekday, Collingwood looked as much like an actuary as an indie rocker, wearing black-frame glasses and a V-neck sweater he picked up at Goodwill for $4. Wedged into a booth at the Miss Florence Diner, the durable greasy spoon 2 miles west of downtown Northampton, he was subdued as he talked about his career past and present. He said he’s often asked about a Fountains of Wayne reunion, and is never sure how to respond.

“I don’t even know where Adam lives now,” Collingwood says of his longtime songwriting partner. “I’m not ruling it out, but I really don’t know.”

Singer and songwriter Chris Collingwood in the Miss Florence Diner near Northampton. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Collingwood, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Sellersville, Pa., met and played music with Schlesinger in college. Afterward, Schlesinger moved to New York and formed the band Ivy, and Collingwood settled in Boston, playing in a country act called Mercy Buckets and supporting himself by working temp jobs at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Shawmut Bank.


“I was temp of the month twice in Boston,” he says with mock excitement. “Then one day, I woke up and realized I worked at a bank and said, ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here.’ ”

Decamping to New York, he reconnected with Schlesinger and hatched Fountains of Wayne, taking the name from a store in Wayne, N.J. — not far from Schlesinger’s hometown of Montclair — that sold lawn ornaments and quirky Christmas decorations. The band’s demo spurred a modest bidding war, and Atlantic Records, the eventual winner, released the group’s self-titled first album in 1996.

The record, produced by Collingwood and Schlesinger, was full of shimmery pop-rock, including the radio-ready single “Radiation Vibe.” The follow-up LP, “Utopia Parkway,” was more of the same, well-crafted songs with polished hooks, smart lyrics, and Collingwood’s winsome vocals. Some critics were smitten. The album “is a masterpiece homage to suburbia,” declared The New York Times in a profile of the band.

Then came “Stacy’s Mom,” a shameless paean to an attractive older woman. The song — the band’s highest-charting hit — kicks off with a sharp guitar riff that shrewdly echoes the Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” and the provocative video featuring curvy supermodel Hunter as the titular temptress was an instant sensation. Fifteen years later, “Stacy’s Mom” has still got it going on. The song is a karaoke favorite and the unofficial anthem of the Northeastern University Pep Band, which played it when the Huskies hockey team won the Beanpot championship at TD Garden in February.


“Almost every band’s most successful thing is not their best thing,” says Collingwood. “The song was a blessing and a curse. Our audience became split between soccer moms in T-shirts that said ‘I’m Stacy’s Mom’ and everyone else, and there was some bad blood between the two crowds.”

Fountains of Wayne. The group included Adam Schlesinger (top left), Chris Collingwood (top right), Jody Porter (bottom left), and Brian Young.Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe

Over time, Fountains of Wayne’s frantic touring schedule and Collingwood’s increasing alcohol consumption became a problem. In 2006, after a three-week sprint of shows across the United States, the band flew to Japan. Collingwood says he didn’t sleep for four days and began hallucinating. Unable to perform, he was prescribed a combination of anti-psychotics and tranquilizers, and put on a flight home.

“I had a breakdown,” he says quietly, staring into his coffee mug. “I completely lost it.”

Back in Western Massachusetts, where he and his wife had lived for a decade by then, Collingwood’s condition deteriorated. Still not sleeping, he started to see “shadow people,” a phenomenon experienced by the severely sleep-deprived, including college students and methamphetamine addicts. (Collingwood says he’s never used meth.) Pillows on a chair took on a human form; afternoon shadows became home invaders.

“I was convinced I could see someone around the door,” he says. “But when I followed them, they weren’t there.”

Collingwood was admitted to Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, where he remained for two weeks.

The episode was scary and sobering. He stopped drinking, and his songwriting turned more serious. He no longer wanted to pen funny lyrics — a hallmark of Fountains of Wayne songs — and that caused friction with Schlesinger, who valued wry wordplay. While making the final Fountains of Wayne album, the pair squabbled over “A Road Song,” a lovely, country-tinged tune that includes the lyric: “. . . between the stops at the Cracker Barrel/And forty movies with Will Ferrell.


“I love that song. It’s bordering on a classic, but Adam couldn’t help himself from throwing in that line about Will Ferrell,” says Collingwood. “I didn’t want to sing that, but he insisted. Being funny didn’t appeal to me anymore.

“Once you start having those sorts of disagreements, it turns into a who’s-in-control thing,” he says. “It was a power struggle getting that last record finished, which is such a cliché.”

Despite the difficulties, Collingwood says 2011’s “Sky Full of Holes” is his favorite Fountains of Wayne album.

“But that’s the same thing Mick Jagger says every time he puts out a [expletive] solo record,” he says. “Never ask a musician what the best thing they did was. They’ll always say the most recent.”

Fountains of Wayne didn’t break up as much as dissolve. Collingwood is still in touch with guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young; Schlesinger moved to Los Angeles and became executive music producer of the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

“I’m very proud of all of the records we made as Fountains of Wayne,” Schlesinger said in an e-mail. “For a number of reasons, the band never functioned very smoothly, but in retrospect I don’t think ‘creative differences’ were our biggest problem. I think Chris and I had great musical chemistry, and I miss that. But I’m glad he got to make the solo record he had wanted to make for many years.”

Reached in New York, Porter says that the band grew up, and maybe a little apart, over two decades together.

“You have to consider that this band formed during a happy hour at Radio Bar on Hudson Street,” he says, referring to the unpretentious watering hole in the West Village. “The whole thing was just having fun for the first two touring cycles, and then when you’re professional musicians all of a sudden, I guess the vibe changes. It’s not all fun and games and a party anymore.”

Collingwood resumed his life in Northampton, writing songs, performing with friends — he and Cole briefly played in a cover band called The Gay Potatoes — and driving for Uber.

“It’s a good way to meet people,” he says. “I’d still be doing it, but my car’s too old.”

The ride-hailing service requires its drivers’ vehicles to be less than 15 years old, and Collingwood says he isn’t willing to junk his 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee just to give Smith College students a ride to the bus station.

As he began to think about recording new music, Collingwood fantasized about working with Mitchell Froom, whom he’d admired for years. Friends told him he couldn’t possibly afford a producer whose credits include records by Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam, but Collingwood reached out anyway.

“I found him on LinkedIn and sent him a note,” says Collingwood.

Froom had heard of Fountains of Wayne, but didn’t know much about the band. He listened to a few of Collingwood’s new songs, and the two began talking every day.

“I look at my job kind of like the clothes the songs are wearing,” says Froom. “I’m taking what’s unique to an artist and seeing where I’m needed, where I can be helpful in developing or arranging ideas.

“Chris is a smart and funny guy,” he says. “In general, I find that people who are good are easy to work with, and Chris is good.”

Collingwood was adamant that Look Park — the name comes from a municipal park near his house — shouldn’t sound like Fountains of Wayne, so he shelved any songs that did. While his voice is unmistakable, and the melodies have a familiar Fountains of Wayne sweetness, the arrangements on the Look Park record are grander, with occasional Mellotron reminiscent of early Moody Blues.

“My hope was to distill a bunch of influences into something that’s uniquely mine,” he says.

“I’m not sure, as a songwriter, Chris was trying to do anything radically different, but the production is definitely more soulful,” says Philip Price, who plays guitar in Look Park. “Ever since I met him, Chris had been looking for an escape hatch from Fountains of Wayne.”

“It’s very similar to where we kind of left off,” observes Porter, the Fountains of Wayne guitarist. “The songs are a little more complicated, structurally.”

In the end, Collingwood decided not to get that temp job because a better offer came along. Alexakis invited him to join the “Songs & Stories” tour, a string of 30 dates that kicked off in Walla Walla, Wash., earlier this month. Alexakis had been a big Fountains of Wayne fan, but he didn’t know Collingwood.

“I wore out that first record. I saw them a lot, but I’m not the kind of person who goes backstage and is, like, ‘Hey, I’m the guy from Everclear,’ ” says Alexakis, whose band had a handful of hits in the ’90s. “Chris’s voice is so — what’s the word? — plaintive. It’s genuine, and the words are genuine. He tells stories, whether humorous or sad. He’s just a great songwriter.”

For his part, Collingwood says he’s looking forward to playing new songs on this tour, but he also knows some in the audience — OK, most in the audience — will want him to revisit his older material, including, of course, “Stacy’s Mom.” And he’s fine with that.

“Everything came at us so fast back then. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to think about anything,” he says. “I’ve got freedom to do what I want now.”


With Art Alexakis, Chris Collingwood, Max Collins, and John Wozniak. At City Winery, May 28 at 8 p.m., citywinery.com/boston

Mark Shanahan can be reached at Shanahan@Globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan