Windows - Round Table With James Iha, Taylor Hanson & Adam Schlesinger
By Andrew Bruss
August 31, 2009
When you throw the term super group around, the tendency is to dwell on the star studded lineup that earned the group its “super” status, and Tinted Windows is no exception. The power pop quartet has been riding high upon the heels of their self-titled freshman debut, but on the surface, the group’s lineup makes for a much better story than the album.
With Taylor Hanson on vocals, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne on bass, Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos on drums, and guitar riffs from James Iha of both Smashing Pumpkins/A Perfect Circle Fame, drafting up a feature on these guys without paying tribute to their previous projects would boarder on journalistic malpractice. But for as much significance as the aforementioned groups have earned, the real story behind Tinted Windows is one of a handful of musicians, all renowned in their own right, who banded together to dish up simple-yet-driven pop tunes that stray from the formula’s their other projects work within. Whether it’s the chord progressions, the set lists, or the stage productions with Tinted Windows, there seems to be a deliberate emphasis placed on simplicity that speaks to the cathartic release this band seems to provide to its members.
After their sound check, prior to a performance at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, Iha sat down for a one-one-one interview with Glide that eventually roped in both Hanson and Schlesinger. It could have been expected that when interviewing artists who’ve been doing press for years, they could slip into a robotized answer mode that does no more than give the writer what he or she needs. But for a group with a background that almost ensures monotonous Q&A, they not only took the task on, but they even offered up some power-pop quotes to Glide.
I’m sure you’ve had to answer this question to every reporter you’ve spoken with, but how did this band come to be?
James Iha: I would expect nothing less. There are only so many questions you can ask this band because we’re so new. I’ve known Adam, [Schlesinger] who’s [the bassist for] Fountains of Wayne, for about ten or twelve years. His band used to play with my old band, the [Smashing] Pumpkins, and we have a studio together in New York, and have run a label together. We’ve worked on different projects before, and he’s been friends with Taylor [Hanson] for over ten years and they’ve always talked about working on something together, and then a couple of years ago Adam said, “I have this idea for a power-pop rock band with Taylor singing. Would you want to play guitar?” and I said “yes.” We said we wanted a Bun E. Carlos type of drummer, so we got Bun E Carlos.
When the group got together was it something you guys envisioned as a studio project or a live project?
Iha: It was more like a concept project where we wanted to make the record and then go out. [Tinted Windows is] not the kind of band where you jam. It’s more just [like] three-minute-pop-song based. Taylor, Adam, and I all wrote songs and brought them to the studio and made the record with Bun E. without having to play them live.
So when you guys wrote the songs for this album, did you each write material individually, or did you all work on material together?
Iha: [On] one song, Taylor and Adam collaborated. The first song, “Take Me Back.” [It’s] not the first song on the record but the first song the band wrote. Everything else, we all wrote on our own. I wrote a song I just brought to the studio.
Having played with other singers, most notably Billy Corgan [of Smashing Pumpkins], how does working with a singer like Taylor Hanson differ from working with a guy like Billy Corgan?
Playing with any band is different. Yeah, [Billy Corgan and Taylor Hanson] are very different people. But we’ve all played in other bands. I played in the Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle. And yeah, Taylor Hanson and Maynard [James Keenan of A Perfect Circle/Tool] are different. But the four of us have approached this band saying, “Lets just have fun.” It’s a cool, fun idea, and we enjoyed making the record and liked the way it came out. There’s no drama and we liked doing it.
Which of the bands that you guys come from would you say can be heard the most in Tinted Windows?
Iha: I would say Hanson is more Soul-based. So I’d say Tinted Windows is closest to Cheap Trick.
And of the different acts you guys come from, which one would you say is represented the most in a Tinted Windows crowd?
Iha: Hanson. Everybody has their own fans, but Hanson fans are definitely
dedicated. If you see the show tonight... you’ll see what I mean.
Iha: At the height of the Pumpkins [fame], I had to deal with that [type of fandom] but for the most part, it’s nothing I have to deal with.
How does playing guitar for Tinted Windows differ from playing guitar for Smashing Pumpkins or A Perfect Circle?
Iha: [Having] played in the Pumpkins, [and] in A Perfect Circle, now
playing [in Tinted Windows], this is by far the easiest [selection of]
songs I’ve played on technically. But I’ve also been learning
a lot. I’ve started memorizing the arrangements and how they flow.
It’s different playing for sure.
Iha: I’d like to think we’re going to do another record. We haven’t planned on it, but we’ve all had fun so I don’t see why not. We don’t have a second album written yet.
Do you guys get bothered by the fact that the press always needs to mention the fact that you all hail from other famous bands?
Iha: It’s part of the fun of this band. Everyone has been in another band and brings their own thing to it, so we expect the press to pay attention to our history. It would be stupid to get pissed off when it’s what we’re known for.
Do you feel like when you do interviews, the press tries to dwell on Billy [Corgan] drama?
Iha: Not really. If you’re going to interview a new band about a new record, you don’t ask them about a band they were in ten years ago, or ask to “Tell us about Maynard,” [a reference] to a band you were in four years ago. You ask one question about it, but you interview a band about the work they’re doing.
How would you describe the new album?
Iha: It’s a good [selection of] pop rock songs with a great singer.
And how would you describe the new album Mr. Hanson?
Taylor Hanson: [Glaring up from behind a MacBook from across the dressing room] I wasn’t trying to ignore you. I just thought this was James’ interview.
It’s all good. It was just going to be James and I, but while you’re here, would you care to describe your new album?
Hanson: It’s a record that’s going to remind them of what made classic rock and roll albums good. It has the core elements of good songs, good guitar. It’s not a pretentious project. It’s something people can enjoy for what it is. It feels good going down.
I asked James how playing with you is different from playing with a singer like Billy Corgan or Maynard James Keenan. How is working with James Iha and Bun E. Carlos different from working with your brothers in Hanson?
Hanson: Obviously it’s different. Playing with brothers isn’t that un-similar to playing with guys you grow up with. You develop a demeanor and a language within your band because you share so many experiences. That in and itself changes things, but Adam and James are great. Everyone has done this forever, and we try to be pros about it. We keep our dirty laundry out of the situation and just make music.
[Adam Schlesinger walks into the dressing room]
Hanson: Speak of the devil! Well, not the devil…
Mr. Schlesinger, I’m interviewing your band mates here and thought you might be down for some Q&A?
Schlesinger: Sure, ask away
Do you feel like people have been expecting Fountains of Wayne covers, or Hanson covers when you guys play as Tinted Windows? Are people calling out “MMMBop,” or “Stacy’s Mom,” during the shows?
Hanson: Actually, the shows have been completely void of that.
Schlesinger: We would never do that. We don’t want to become a cover band.
I asked James earlier what he thought about the fact that people pay a lot of attention to your individual history as recording artists prior to Tinted Windows. What do you two think about that?
Hanson: There are people, like yourself, as a journalist, who bring up our background because it’s where we come from, which is inevitable. We’ve all dedicated a great part of our lives to our [other] bands, and it would be strange if people didn’t mention them. We’re all proud of what we’ve done aside from this band.
So with this record under the belt, how do you guys see yourselves following up? Do you want to make another album?
Hanson: We’re not really thinking about the next record… yet.
Iha: Not yet, but why not?
Schlesinger: We’ve already accomplished what we’d hope for, which was to make a record and play some shows.
So what role does Tinted Windows [LP] stand to play in the greater scheme of the Taylor Hanson discography, or the James Iha discography…or the Adam Schlesinger discography for that matter?
Hanson: I honestly hope people get past the fact [that] this record was formed by people from different bands and [just] talk about the record. We wanted this band to have its own identity and sound and I don’t think it sounds like anything else we’ve done. I want people to say, “I have that record. It’s a good record and a cool band.” That’s my only ambition for it. There were these bands that were super bands at the time, like Cream and Traffic, that were amalgams of different groups, but maybe somewhere in there, you slip into being a band that was good at what it was, and not who it was made of.
Schlesinger: That stuff can happen, especially if you have one big song. They don’t need to know anything about you or who did it.
[Following their performance, in the same dressing room]
You guys are still in the process of developing the live dynamic. After each show do you feel like the chemistry onstage is improving?
Hanson: We’ve played about 15 shows. I’ve played hundreds of shows with Hanson and still, the live thing is always changing, it’s part of the process. So for sure [our dynamic is changing]. Our gel… our dynamic, our ability to go with the flow, [it] totally changes as we go. And we’re having more fun with it the more comfortable we get.