Harry Shearer Talks Spinal Tap, Simpsons, and Why Fountains of Wayne Had to Be the Cornerstone of His New Album
When Harry Shearer—of Spinal Tap and Simpsons fame—decided to bring in some vocal support for an album of satirical songs, he picked guest singers ranging from Dr. John to Jane Lynch. But for the leadoff track, "Celebrity Booze Endorser," he had no choice but to call the Fountains of Wayne hotline.
As some will recall, some years back the singer Robbie Fulks actually had a song titled "Fountains of Wayne Hotline," dedicated to the idea that there might be a number a songwriter could call when in doubt about what kind of key change to employ in a well-crafted rock tune. Shearer had already composed "Celebrity Booze Endorser" by the time he got around to dialing up FOW, but their power-pop presence still loomed over the song's creation as well as recording.
"The bands that I listen to for just pleasure and rock & roll excitement at this point in time tend to be them and XTC," says Shearer. "I wrote it with them in mind. I had been driving around in my car listening to Welcome Interstate Managers by these guys. So when we came to making the record, I emailed Adam and Chris and said 'You inspired it, so you have to play on it.'"
He imported Fountains of Wayne to the west coast last week to play with him on Conan O'Brien's show, as well as at a special showcase at downtown L.A.'s Grammy Museum, where he performed that and a number of songs from the new album, Can't Take a Hint. You can see Shearer's and FOW's Conan performance above, or scroll down to find a music video for the song that features images of some of the superstar alcohol pitchmen who inspired him to write rhymes like "If you were a god, you couldn't look Norser/…celebrity booze endorser."
"I'm old enough to remember the time when people went into rock & roll because they didn't want to engage in the corporate lifestyle," Shearer said at the Grammy Museum event. "I guess I was one of the last people reading Variety a while back, and there was a story about Madonna making a deal to pitch a brand of vodka. The headline was what really caught my attention: 'Madonna Joins Ranks of Celebrity Booze Endorsers.' Back in my high school days, at career day, why didn't they tell me about that job? I could have trained for that."
Madonna had an even greater inspiration on the song that Jane Lynch—his pal from the Christopher Guest ensemble movies—performs on the album, "Like a Charity." This broadside was provoked by the kind of celebrity charitable foundation that may do more for bringing attention to Kabbalah than actually helping out impoverished unfortunates in distant lands. (Sample lyric: "Helping poor girls go to school/All we ever built was the pool.")