Fastball’s musical life in the fast lane
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of the official publicity biography
With nearly 20 years of musical explorations and milestones under its belt, Fastball remains one of the most consistent and continuously celebrated rock bands on the road these days. After rising to prominence in 1996 with the debut disc Make Your Mama Proud, the Austin, Texas-based trio exploded into a household name come 1998’s breakthrough project All the Pain Money Can Buy, joining the likes of fellow artfully spun acts like The Wallflowers, Matthew Sweet, The Jayhawks, Cracker and the Ryan Adams-fronted Whiskeytown on the charts.
“At first the success felt weird because it happened so fast,” shares drummer Joey Shuffield. “We were playing constantly, sometimes multiple shows per day, but the big game changer for me was when we pulled up at a festival in Atlanta in our little van and parked alongside the Foo Fighters’ bus. We couldn’t really see the audience from backstage, but when we walked to the stage, there were about 20,000 people out there ready to hear all the day’s music. All of a sudden I realized it was going to be way bigger than I ever thought it was going to be and it was a huge lifting of the veil.”
Thanks in part to the chart-topping hit “The Way,” the top five tune “Out Of My Head” and the top twenty favorite “Fire Escape,” the record skyrocketed to platinum-plus sales in a mere six months, sending the guys on a whirlwind tour of the world. Along the way, Fastball scored a pair of coveted Grammy nominations, an MTV Music Award nomination and regular rotation on the late night talk show circuit (Conan, Letterman and Leno to name a few).
“There was Japan, Italy, Mexico, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and it was all a blast,” recalls co-vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/co-songwriter Tony Scalzo. “We went to Peru with Mike Peters from The Alarm and Cy Curnin from The Fixx for a concert on a mountain top that was 20,000 feet high and played on ‘Top of the Pops’ with Boy George and the reunited Culture Club. Afterwards he invited us to a bar where he was spinning records, and when we got there, we found Bjork, Liam Gallagher from Oasis and The Chemical Brothers hanging out- the whole thing you’d expect from a London night out in the rock n’ roll world!”
That momentum continued into the next decade, starting with 2000’s The Harsh Light of Day, which not only spawned the equally infectious single “You’re An Ocean,” but also a cavalcade of guest stars like the late great legend Billy Preston, Stray Cats singer Brian Setzer and former Wallflowers guitarist Michael Ward. Come 2002, Painting the Corners: The Best of Fastball summed up the gang’s vast accomplishments until that point, while also turning the page towards an entirely new critically acclaimed chapter.
“I will say from what I read on our message boards, The Harsh Light of Day is one of the fans’ favorite albums, even though I think artistically we’ve gotten a lot better with time,” observes co-vocalist/guitarist/co-songwriter Miles Zuniga. “What’s really cool now is we’ll meet a 17 or 18-year-old kid who’ll say ‘do you realize you guys have a legacy?’ I never know how to answer that, but what I will say is we’ve gotten way better as songwriters. I now know how to tell a story in three minutes and how to really stick the knife in! Our records are just better with maturity, but we still know how to rock, so it’s all there.”
Come 2004’s Keep Your Wig On, which was produced by Spoon collaborator Mike McCarthy and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, Fastball hit a true stride. The album boasted influences as diverse as the British Invasion to the power pop and roots rock worlds, in turn, expanding upon its radio-ready identity for some of its most astute songwriting to date.
“There was a break between new Fastball albums when we were all working on other projects and some people might have assumed we broke up, but we were always playing shows in some format, whether they be full bands shows, acoustically or at conferences for songwriters,” explains Scalzo. “There’s never been a time when Fastball’s broken up and every year on the road attests to the fact we’ve been playing regularly since back in day.”
By 2009, the trio turned in Little White Lies entirely on its own terms, which didn’t just earn the veterans the best reviews of their career, but also multiple appearances at the annual tastemakers’ haven South By Southwest. Between those recent tunes and a celebrated catalogue chock full of timeless rock n’ roll that always exudes a clever pop sensibility, Fastball’s future on the road is certainly poised to provide yet another storied chapter.
“I think we’ve grown into a really good rock n’ roll band that’s way better than we’ve ever been,” reinforces Zuniga. “I think of myself as a lifer, a journeymen, who really enjoys the whole process. We have an audience that’s stuck with us the whole time and playing shows never feels like work because it’s a ton of fun. We know people want to hear the hits and we definitely have those in there, but we try to play something off every record, have some improvisational moments without turning into a jam band, and half the time, I start calling out the set list as we go. It all depends on the night and the barometric pressure of the audience.”
Adds Shuffield: “Our overall vibe depends on the room. If we’re playing a big festival, we like to rock out and make it as exciting as possible, but we’re also known to vibe a bit more if we’re in a smaller, more intimate setting. We always mix it up so things never get stale, plus these days we all communicate way better than before and there’s a greater musical depth as a group. Those are the things I really cherish and value after being in a band for 18 years.”
# # #