"Cool kids don't form rock bands," laughs Fastball vocalist/guitarist Miles Zuniga. "Cool kids end up married with a real job and a mid-life crisis. Rock bands are formed by guys like me - guys that want to take revenge on the whole world for treating them like crap." With All The Pain Money Can Buy, Zuniga is finally having the last laugh. As leadoff single "The Way" continues to skyrocket up the charts, the Austin trio (Zuniga, bassist/vocalist Tony Scalzo and drummer Joey Shuffield) known as Fastball is emerging as a brilliant new voice in a gray rock world. The band formed after Austin native and ex-Wild Seeds drummer Shuffield introduced Zuniga to Scalzo, an expatriate from Orange County, CA's punk scene. Calling themselves Magneto USA, they caused a sensation in the Texas region and landed a deal with Hollywood Records, changing their name to Fastball shortly before releasing their 1996 debut album, Make Your Mama Proud. As the follow-up to the caffeinated pop of that album, All The Pain Money Can Buy shows the depth of Fastball's compositional talents with thirteen immaculate pop songs - each possessing memorable melodies and powerful hooks. In other words, there's not a bad song in the bunch.
Says Zuniga, "We're a rock & roll band like they used to make, but they don't make anymore. We like rhythm and blues, country music, bluegrass and disco, but we're a rock band so we can play a little bit of everything. We're not too cool to say, "We don't like the Bee Gees or Abba or ZZ Top, 'cause we do. We know a lot about music and we like having a sense of tradition in our sound. This is a record that offers something for everyone." With that in mind, we spoke to songwriting partners Zuniga and Scalzo about the many pleasures of Pain.
How do you think this album differs from your first one?
Miles: Well, this might sound like a cliche, but I think this record comes more from the heart. Don't get me wrong - the last record did too, but it was like we were trying to make noise and beat people over the head. This one was more about letting people inside. It's a lot easier to play an album like the first one than it is to play slow songs, but eventually we got to the level where we could pull it off. We didn't want the songs to be hokey or mushy, we wanted them to be mellow but still have tension. We wanted them to have all the qualities that suck you right in and make you fall in love with the song and it's not that easy to do. It takes time - it took me ten years to be able to write like this.
Let's run through some of the songs on the album, starting with "The Way." Where did this one come from?
Tony: I came up with the idea for the song after reading a newspaper article about an elderly couple that had been reported missing. According to the story, they were expected at a family gathering only a few miles from home but they never showed up. It really drew me in, and I found myself coming up with all these reasons as to why they disappeared. So I started writing this song about a retired couple who were ready to start life over. They pack up their car with a few things and hit the road to try and rekindle the romance they once shared. Their destination is a place where "it's always summer/ they'll never get cold/they'll never get hungry/they'll never get old and gray." And while I hoped for a happier ending, the sad and tragic truth is that, in reality, the couple got lost and their car was found at the bottom of a canyon.
What happens to them in your song?
Tony: In the song, naturally, they live on happily together forever -- as it should be.
In "Fire Escape," you say, "I don't wanna make you mad/I don't wanna meet your dad/I don't wanna be your dream come true." Was this song inspired by anyone in particular?
Miles: (laughs) It was inspired by pretty much every girl I meet. This is a song that basically says, "I like you, I like going out with you, but don't look to me to solve all your problems or be the man in your life that's going to sweep you away to your castle. That's too much pressure.
So instead, you'll just be ...
Miles: Well, "I'll be the rain on your fire escape," which means "I'll help you as best I can." Let's say a fire broke out and the flames were on you. If you had to go down the fire escape, you'd be happy there was rain falling on it 'cause the rain might help put it out.
It would have to be a helluva heavy rainfall to put out flames.
Miles: Well, it's not a fire hose or anything like that, it would be just a drizzle that might dampen the flames. I guess I'm saying that's the best I can do for you. (laughs)
Is it true that "Warm Fuzzy Feeling" was written about the band Radish?
Tony: Yeah. I was laying in bed one night watching television and their video came on and (Radish vocalist) Ben was wearing a Fastball t-shirt and I thought that was really cool. That's where the line "I've got a warm fuzzy feeling/When I saw you on TV/You were wearing a piece of me" came from.
What's the song about?
Tony: Well, there was all this hype about them back home in Texas and the fact that they were coming to town. A backlash started building up and people were saying things like, "Oh, I think they're gonna suck," and this and that. And I realized that no one was gonna give the band a chance and that they were gonna lambast them as soon as they hit the stage. When I saw them, I thought they were great.
Did you play the song for them?
Tony: Yeah, Ben and I were hanging out in a van and I played it for him on acoustic guitar and he said, "Wow, that's cool, man. You wrote a song for me." And I said, "Don't get carried away. (laughs) "I wrote a song ABOUT you, not FOR you." (laughs)
Who are you apologizing to in "Out of My Head"?
Tony: Well, it's like that talk you're having with your partner, saying, "I'm sorry for doing this or that." What's funny is that after I wrote it, I realized it's almost the same chords as "Over the Rainbow."
Is the meaning of "Nowhere Road" as literal as it seems?
Tony: I still don't know if this song is finished.
Tony: It sounds unfinished lyrically. I was thinking about roads with dead ends and how the way we choose to live our lives is sometimes not right, and we need to stop. It could be a reference to drugs or something like that -- something that leads nowhere. People think it's a song about life on the road, but it's actually about the things you think about while you're on the road. That situation lends itself to a lot of introspection.
"Slow Drag" is unusual in that it has this huge, infectious chorus, but the lyrics are really dark: "All the world is sleeping like a baby tonight/I wanna see you dead/Laying in the muddy ground."
Miles: That song was kicking around in me for a long time and I was finally able to finish it. I was going out with someone for a long time and I started getting really into it, and then things went horribly awry because she lied to me. We had an open relationship, so it didn't matter who she slept with, or if she slept with someone else, but she lied to me about it and it was humiliating to be lied to when we had an open relationship.
Who's the girl in "Damaged Goods?"
Miles: I wrote that about a girl that I used to go out with who referred to herself as "damaged goods" because she had so many problems. I always romanticized our relationship and have all this nostalgia for it, but in reality I should just leave it alone because it's over and done with. That was my way of trying to get her out of my system. We went out for three years and I was totally in love with her and I think that was the only time I was ever in love with someone.
"Sweetwater Texas" has a great opening line: "It ain't as easy as it looks/ To grow flowers in the dirt/All of my friends are living underground." What place are you talking about here?
Miles: That song is about feeling trapped in a small town where everyone knows who you are and what your business is. It's about a small town where I grew up, where they hold you up to tear you down. The line you mentioned is about my friends back home that have talent and potential, but they're underground -- like seeds that haven't come up.
"Which Way to the Top" sort of touches upon a similar subject, doesn't it?
Miles: That one's about wanting to get away and succeed but feeling like a loser. Like the line, "In the bar we sit like blackbirds/with our broken wings/like clocks without their springs" -- because you sit in the bar talking about it, but you don't do anything about it, except talk. I got the title after browsing around in a New York City record store. I saw a magazine and it had a story called "Which Way to the Top" and it totally hit me.
Considering the moodiness of some of the stuff you've written on the record, it's surprising that you penned something as upbeat as "Sooner or Later."
Miles: (laughs) We had finished recording the record and I was on my way back to Texas by myself. I had been listening to "Hot Rocks" by the Stones the entire way down and I thought, I wanna write something like "Let's Spend the Night Together," something simple, some "I want to screw you"-type of song. All of a sudden, this song started coming to me and it felt good. So I got home, made a demo of the song with a friend of mine, called up producer Julian Raymond and said, "You should hear this new song that I wrote." So I held the mouthpiece of the phone up against the headphones and played it and he said, "F**k, that's amazing, you have to record that song." The opening line of the song is "I'm gonna get under your skin/Sooner or later" -- BUT, the original line was "Get your Texas out of my 'T' -- 'T', is for Texas," but I wound up changing it 'cause I knew Tony would never sing anything as hokey as "T is for Texas." (laughs)
How do you think you and Tony differ as songwriters?
Miles: Tony likes instant gratification. If it doesn't feel like it's coming together right then and there, Tony isn't going to wait for it. I, on the other hand, know that if a song isn't good today or tomorrow, it could be great next month. I'm willing to wait for it. And sometimes there's a struggle for control, but that's what makes the music great.
Tony: My songs tend to be way more chord-oriented, and I'm much more of a technical writer. I'm a weaver and Miles is a little more of an architect. (laughs)
Was there any particular performer that you saw as a kid that made you say, "Yeah, that's what I want to do?"
Miles: My mother went out and bought me a copy of the Beatles' "Let It Be." At the time, all I listened to was stuff like Kiss, so I looked at "Let It Be" and I said, "I don't want this record, these guys are a bunch of hippies." So she said, "Fine, I'll give it to your brother," and I thought, "well, it is a free record, I'll try it out." So I put it on and I couldn't believe what I heard. It was like a whole new world. I remember thinking "Where has this been my entire life?" The Beatles just blew my f***ing mind. And then I went out and bought every Beatles album there was and I was amazed to find that there was not a bad song in the bunch -- everything they did was amazing.
Tony, did you have any experience like that?
Tony: Well, I saw the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and I thought, that's how bands really are: you become a cartoon character and then you see giant blue gloves flying through the air.
So is it like that?
Tony: (laughs) Yes, that's exactly how it is.
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