Q&A: New "Megagroup" Tinted Windows

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Tinted Windows: James Iha, Taylor Hanson, Adam Schlesinger, Bun E. Carlos
WRITTEN BY
William Goodman

Don't call 'em a supergroup -- or Taylor Hanson will correct you. "We prefer megagroup," the "MmmBop" heartthrob joked with SPIN.com before the debut performance of his new band, Tinted Windows.

The quartet -- also featuring ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger, and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos -- delivered an impressive first show at Austin's South by Southwest festival. "[Tinted Windows] plowed through the joyous retro power pop of their debut album with verve and wit," SPIN editor Doug Brod wrote of their set.

And why not? The quartet has serious chops: Schlesinger co-writes Fountains' pop gems and earned an Oscar for his title song from Tom Hanks' 1996 flick That Thing You Do; Iha riffed on many Pumpkins hits, including "1979"; Carlos powered Cheap Trick's virtual invention of the power pop genre; and Hanson, well, "MmmBop" hit No. 1 in 27 countries -- and his boyish good looks made even straight guys think twice.

To find out more about Tinted Windows, we sat down with Schlesinger, the band's main songwriter:

SPIN: The most surprising part of Tinted Windows is the odd mix of musicians -- especially Taylor Hanson. How long have the two of you known each other?

Adam Schlesinger: We met in '96 when Hanson was working on their Middle of Nowhere record, and I hung out with those guys for an afternoon. We didn't end up writing anything. But we stayed in touch over the years, and we always talked about trying to do something. Taylor and his brothers have a songwriter's retreat/workshop that they do at their place in Tulsa every year. A few years ago I went out there for a couple days. Taylor and I had been talking again about trying to write some stuff and maybe do something with James, and I went out there and we wrote. And that was the beginning of Tinted Windows.

SPIN: Were you a fan of Hanson?

AS: I always liked their music and I always liked them personally. Taylor and I have a lot of similar tastes in music; he has a really broad knowledge of a lot of different kinds of music.

SPIN: After meeting in Tulsa when did you guys decide to actually do the band, to record an album and play live shows?

AS: Two years ago we recorded rough versions of three songs, and that was really when we decided we were going to try to make a whole album. It wasn't until last year that we focused and started working. The bulk of the album was recorded last spring.

SPIN: You're certainly no stranger to the power-pop sound. But have you ever tried branching out to new sounds?

AS: On a certain level, it's not a conscious decision to write power pop -- I just write the way I write. And if I pick up a guitar, it sort of comes out a certain way even if I try to write something that I think is really different than what I've done before. I can't avoid it [laughs].

SPIN: But was Tinted Windows a more asserted effort at power-pop songwriting?

AS: I think it was conscious that we wanted to do something with some loud guitars that was rockin'. But I don't think we ever said let's make it power-pop trademark [laughs]. I think we just wanted to do something that was exciting and energetic.

SPIN: What's the writing process in Tinted Windows? Is it more collaborative?

AS: For the most part, the writing process wasn't collaborative. The songs are either mine or James' or Taylor's. But there's "Take Me Back," the song that Taylor and I wrote together [at the Tulsa retreat] that made the record. Most I just wrote on my own. James brought in a couple and Taylor actually wrote one in the studio when we were recording. He sat down at the piano for a couple hours while we were working and later came in with a song.

SPIN: What's the process when writing for Taylor? Is there anything specific you keep in mind?

AS: He's got a really high range, so I'm thinking about something that can have a really high vocal. In fact, with some of the songs I wrote, I would put them as high as I could sing them myself and in most cases we ended up transposing them even higher. But really, it's just about a vibe. I think about the person that's going to sing what I'm writing, and it puts me in this certain frame of mind. And Taylor's voice just has so much energy and authority to it. Taylor's just such a natural frontman; he's been fronting a band for his whole life already. And I think he really got the whole spirit of this band instantly.

SPIN: How did Bun E. Carlos get involved?

AS: We were trying to think of drummers we could approach, and obviously, we all know a lot of drummers. And we were saying to each other, 'Well, who can play in that Bun Carlos style?' We kept using that as a reference because that's the kind of drumming we heard in our heads. And at some point we thought, 'Well, maybe we should ask the real Bun E. Carlos and see if he's interested.'

BG: Did you just cold call him?

AS: James and I have met him. Fountains of Wayne had played with Cheap Trick and I think the Pumpkins have played with Cheap Trick even more. But none of us were friends with him per se; more like acquaintances. But we got in touch to see if he had any general interest and if we could send him tunes we were working on . He was into it, so we sent him everything and he learned the songs. Then he flew in to New York and did the drum tracks in a couple of days.

SPIN: Are you going on tour?

AS: We're planning it now. We have a few club shows we're booking and we're trying to work around everybody's schedules. Cheap Trick will be touring heavily this summer, so part of it is dictated by their schedule. I think that starts around Memorial Day, and we're going to do as much as we can before then. And then we'll grab Bun E. whenever we can over the summer and maybe pick it up again in the fall.

SPIN: Is Tinted Windows a one-off project or something you plan to keep coming back to?

AS: It's hard to say right now, but I would love to keep doing this stuff if it's something everyone enjoys. I had a lot of fun writing and recording these songs, and at least so far, everyone's getting along really well.

SPIN: You're now splitting your time between both Tinted Windows and Fountains of Wayne. Do you imagine Fountains will put out a new record soon?

AS: It's in the process. We're wrapping up an acoustic tour and then we're going back to the studio to keep working. We've got eight songs that are more or less finished in terms of recording. But I would like to write more. There's "The Summer Place," "Cemetery Gun," and "A Road Song." There's also one called "Cold Comfort Flowers." We're pretty slow, but I'm hoping we can get the next record out later this year.

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