Chris Collingwood on His New Project, Look Park

Music Features
Chris Collingwood on His New Project, Look Park

Chris Collingwood has some good news and some bad news. First, the uplifting bulletin: fans of his elastic, charismatic singing voice—one of the warmest in modern rock—can now hear it outside of its usual confines in Fountains of Wayne, his brainy power-pop combo with longtime songwriting partner Adam Schlesinger. Under the sobriquet of Look Park, he has just issued an eponymous debut on Yep Roc, produced by Mitchell Froom and bristling with edgy, oblique takes on traditional Top 40 tropes, like “Breezy,” “Aeroplane,” “Shout Part 1,” and songs that practically examine their own construction, “Crash That Piano” and “Minor is the Lonely Key.” Call it thinking-man’s music—the hooks don’t reveal themselves in an obvious initial burst, only upon repeated reflective listens. And now, the down side: Fountains of Wayne’s last album, 2011’s Sky Full of Holes, will probably be the last time you hear Collingwood in that particular context again. He and Schlesinger have parted ways, and FOW—for the time being, at least—is no more. With not even the possibility of a greatest-hits reunion tour. “I mean, maybe if somebody offered me a hundred million dollars, I would do it,” he snickers. “I would never rule it out completely. But I don’t see it happening, the way things stand right now—I’ve got too much other stuff going on.”

Paste: Do you still collect clocks?
Chris Collingwood: I have a lot of clocks! I have clocks everywhere, like antique clocks. And there’s a new clock. It doesn’t work actually, but it has big gold tentacles that come out from the center. The clock faces is maybe about six inches in diameter, but the whole thing is about three feet in diameter. It’s incredibly tacky and awful—it looks like a prop from that Harry Hamlin film, Clash of the Titans, I think it was.

Paste: Are they all set to the correct time?
Collingwood: The clocks in the house? No. No, actually—most of them don’t work. There’s some that work, but the batteries died and I never changed them, so they’re just for decoration. But I haven’t thought about them in a while, because there’s so much other clutter in my house right now. We cleaned out the Fountains of Wayne storage place in New York City, so my studio is full of guitars and keyboards and drums and amps. So there are a lot of other visual distractions around. And there are golf clubs—I’ve got a lot of those. But not nice ones. I just pick them up at yard sales and stuff.

Paste: Do you golf?
Collingwood: I do. Very poorly. And where I live [Northampton, Mass.], the winters are so incredibly unbearable that I feel like when the weather’s nice, there’s an imperative to get out and enjoy it. And there’s a really beautiful course about two miles from my house, and it’s cheap—I don’t go to the expensive courses. I would never go anywhere where I couldn’t hit the ball and feel like I had to hit it straight, because most of them go into the woods. And it’s a good way to get exercise. As you get older, you can’t really jog 10 miles a day, or at least I can’t.

Paste: The last time we talked, you had been battling seasonal affective disorder, as well as a sleep disorder.
Collingwood: Yeah. I used to take anti-depressants during the winter, and I slowly tapered off of those. Now I have these seasonal affective disorder lamps, and they simulate whatever frequency your brain is used to getting from the sun. So you’re basically tricking some lizard part of your brain into thinking that the sun is still out. But sleep is still an issue for me, so I take a lot of sleeping pills every night.

Paste: And you were having some psychotic episodes that first started on tour in Japan.
Collingwood: Yeah. Back then it wasn’t just pills for SAD. When I first got out of the hospital, which was at the end of 2006, I was also taking anti-psychotics for a year and a half. And I slowly tapered off of them, too. So I’m much better now.

Paste: What effect did all of that have on your songwriting?
Collingwood: I don’t think it changed the way I approach writing songs. But what happened was, once I got more mental focus, I just worked harder at it. And there was a period right before that incident, where Fountains of Wayne put out that record called Traffic and Weather, which I didn’t contribute very much to. That was mostly Adam’s album, and that’s partly because I was just drinking a lot, and I’d kind of checked out of the whole idea of being in Fountains of Wayne. So after I got out of the hospital and I was better, I was in a better state of mind and more focused on writing songs, and when it came time to make the most recent Fountains of Wayne record, Sky Full of Holes, I was much more focused and I wrote a lot more for that record.

Paste: Ironically, Look Park features several songs about nature, the great outdoors, like “Breezy” and “Stars of New York.”
Collingwood: Yeah, I hope so. And there are some songs in there about travel, and that’s a thread that runs through our entire catalog, both me and Adam. But I think in terms of “Breezy,” it’s more like me trying to write a straightforward R&B song, which I’d never really tried to do before. But I definitely tried to have a different mental approach to the record—primarily just trying not to be funny, which I think was a signature element of Fountains of Wayne. When I was younger, I was interested in punchline and making jokes. But as I got older, it didn’t hold the same appeal to me. And sometimes when we were playing some of those old songs live, it was like telling a joke that everybody had heard a million times. So I just wanted to do more than make people chuckle. I wanted to give them something to think about, or evoke some emotional reaction that’s more than just “Oh, isn’t that cute!”

Paste: But it’s your long suit. Like in “Red Dragon Tattoo,” where the protagonist gets inked to impress a girl and you sing “Will you stop pretending I’ve never been born/ Now I look a little more like that guy from Korn.”
Collingwood: That’s actually one of my songs, and I like that song. But that line still bothers me. If I were writing it again, I would change that—I would put something there which is not quite as goofy.

Paste: So bringing Froom on board really twisted the pop plot?
Collingwood: Yeah. I sought him out. I wanted my manager to call Mitchell Froom, but at the time, my manager said, “We can’t afford him—are you crazy?” So I called him myself, basically, and he was into it. So we got the numbers to work out, and we started working together that month. But I’ve always been a huge fan of his, so it was like a dream come true to be able to work with that guy. And just on a personal level, I’m really glad I met him—I like him quite a bit. But I don’t have any interest in writing the same kind of songs that Fountains of Wayne got known for. Because it was a struggle, our last record, between me and Adam, and our goals and what we wanted to achieve. It was really hard to make that record because we couldn’t agree about anything. So it’s just arguments that I’m not interested in having anymore. So I’m not sure that I ever want to make another record with a co-writer, or share an artistic vision with somebody. Especially after 20 years of working together, when we had clearly drifted apart.

Paste: So FOW is truly over?
Collingwood: I don’t see it happening. I want to make another Look Park record. And it actually kind of bothers me—without even asking, I see a lot of mentions in the press, calling this a side project or a solo record. And right away, that relegates the album to being just something to do between Fountains of Wayne records. But I don’t view it that way at all, because that assumes that I’m going to go back to Fountains of Wayne, which is not in my plan right now.

Paste: But you’re pushing the envelope with Look Park. Just in the reflective track “Crash That Piano” alone.
Collingwood: It’s funny, because there are two ideas for that song. The original idea came from watching Billy Joel play one of the benefits on TV, and my friends were all making jokes about how they shouldn’t let Billy Joel drive a car—he’s going to crash it into a tree. So I thought, “Oh, my God! He’s going to crash that piano!” So that’s how the title came about. But the song itself ties into the idea that I really don’t like going to see performers who over-jazz their vocal performances. And Sting is a perfect example. We went to see The Police when they were doing their reunion tour, and Sting’s up there singing songs that everybody knows the melody to, except he’s syncopating all the words and singing the melody completely differently. And it just bothered the shit out of me. Like, “What are you doing? Why don’t you sing the song the way that it’s written, in the way that everybody knows it? Nobody’s interested in hearing your little jazz improvisations over ‘Message in a Bottle’ or whatever!”

Paste: If we follow this “shut up and play the hits” thinking, what will happen when a Look Park crowds calls out for you to play “Red Dragon Tattoo”?
Collingwood: Oh, I’ll play that! We actually played it last night! I’m not disowning the entire catalog. I’m just not interested in making funny music anymore, or being snarky. I don’t want to be a comedian.

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