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Fastball: Just a Rock 'n' Roll Band

Fastball, a three-piece band from Austin, Texas and Los Angeles has, if you'll pardon the expression, really thrown us a curve with their new album, All The Pain Money Can Buy. Those of us who heard their first Hollywood Records release, Make Your Mama Proud, saw them as a straightforward, punky pop band, although songs like the should-be-power-pop-classic, "Are You Ready For The Fallout" and the sweet "Altamont" were departures from the formula. Having said that, nobody was ready for the new album, which combines a gutsy rock 'n roll backbone with some impressively innovative arrangements and amazingly catchy pop melodies, not even revealing a hint of the rawness that had been extant on their debut.

I caught up with guitarist Miles Zuniga, a recent L.A. transplant who was in town getting ready for the impending arrival of the rest of the band, soon after which they will make a video and head out for an extended tour. Make sure to catch them at the location nearest you!

First of all, I wanted to say I really love the record. How did you get the name Fastball?

We had a name called Magneto USA, and there was a band called Magneto and some lawyer told us that if we ever did anything they would sue us! So we had to come up with a name pretty fast and we just decided on Fastball. We thought it was a good euphemism for sex (chuckles). Writers, on the other hand, used about every analogy for sex in the book in describing our last record, like "Fastball powers one over the fence." That's alright! You know, our name really fit our first record, but maybe doesn't obviously fit our new one.

Yes, the new one was definitely a departure, but I'll get to that. When did you guys form? Were you always a three-piece, same three guys?

Yeah, it's always been the same three guys. The way we came about was I used to play with Joey, our drummer, in the band Big Car. We got a record deal and then everything went horribly awry from there. Then I moved to Berkeley and right around that time Tony (Scalzo, Fastball's bass player) moved to Austin to play in a band with a guy named Beaver Nelson, who was making a record. Pretty soon they got Joey on board, and that's how Tony and Joey met. Then they had a parting of the ways with Beaver Nelson, and a year or two later I came back (to Austin) from California. Then nobody was doing anything, but I called up Joey and said "What's going on, let's get together and play" and he said, "yeah, I know this bass player named Tony, and we ought to get together". I remember clearly going to Tony's house and meeting him. We talked for hours, we both had a love for all kinds of music. That pretty much got us off to a good start. Then we rehearsed for three hours one day, and the very next day we had our first gig!

I wanted to ask you about the first record because to my mind Make Your Mama Proud sounds a lot like Cockeyed Ghost. I mention them because they've said that they're big fans of yours. Do you know that band?

Yeah, I do! They're really cool! We met them in Kansas, and we played a show with them.

Do you sing lead on everything?

No, it depends on who writes the songs. We don't write songs together…at all (laughs). We collaborate once the song is written, though. Like for instance on "The Way" (the first song on All the Pain Money Can Buy), the guitar solo is mine, and a lot of the production ideas are mine, but the song is all Tony's.

Make Your Mama Proud, to my mind, has a lot of punky pop songs but, I'll use a baseball term here…MO< Get it in!

You guys threw us a curve with "Are You Ready For The Fallout?" which is to me almost the ultimate in great power pop! The melodies are dripping from it, and it has the energy, the whole thing! "Altamont" also is a lot softer and sweeter sounding than the rest of the record. Are those both yours?

No, "Altamont" is mine and "Fallout" is Tony's. We were rehearsing "Fallout", but we weren't going to record it. I don't know what happened, but a few months later the guys said "you know, it's such a great song-we've got to put it on the record". We then went back out to L.A. to do that song. I don't know what was going through our heads to make us not do it the first time. On the new record, a similar experience happened in that I wrote "Sooner Or Later" after we were done, and our A&R guy was really excited about it and said "why don't you record that", so we did. On both records they were really good editions, but to me "Fallout" is definitely the standout track on the first record.

You look at the new record, and it's such a strong departure from Make Your Mama Proud. I mean, the sophistication level is really increased, and so many different styles of music have been gleaned here. What caused the change?

I think it was playing all the songs from Make Your Mama Proud night after night, and starting to get bored with the aggression. Also, I got very depresseed (laughs)! I just felt like I could really express myself better this time around if the songs were slower. That's the mood I was in. I had a four-track, and rather than bring songs to the band I just started four-tracking, not caring whether the band would like them, not caring whether the record company would like them, not caring whether anybody would like them. I started recording them for my own pleasure and/or therapy, just to hear it, to listen to it, and to be able to go "there, it's finished!" There wasn't that much going on, Hollywood (Records) didn't promote the first record, we weren't even sure we were going to get to make another one, really. I was living in Austin, and things were looking really bleak for me, but one thing I did have was the four-track songs, and I just thought they were really strong, but I had no way to know. Then I sent them to the label and they freaked out, they liked them a lot, but the question remained whether the band would like them and want to do them. But Tony also had a four-track, and he played me "Out Of My Head", and I was blown away! We hadn't even talked about making a record! Once I heard "Out Of My Head", I had confidence that we could make a great record!

You know, L.A. has a really consistent pop scene happening…

Yeah, I saw Cockeyed Ghost on the cover of LA Weekly, and then only two weeks later I saw The Negro Problem on the cover of BAM and I thought "God, they really do pay attention to their pop bands out here".

Do you consider Fastball to be a pop band or do you not like the label? Would you like to be known as something else?

Well, you know the term I really like is "rock 'n roll band", and no one ever uses that term anymore to describe anyone. I can't figure that out, I don't know what happened to just rock 'n roll band. The Beatles were a rock 'n roll band, The Rolling Stones were a rock 'n roll band, Big Star was even a rock 'n roll band. What I think pop music is, Poptopia aside, is The Spice Girls. It's pop music, it appeals to 12 year old kids, to the masses, and it's sugary. I think that's what gives pop a dirty name, when you start calling bands that have a totally different agenda a pop band, in most parts of the country it's a huge disservice to them. People will think "these are candy ass guys who just wanna get on the radio". So even though I love pop music in the sense that it's defined by people who love Poptopia, I myself would prefer to be called rock 'n roll music, even if that's totally old fashioned sounding!

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