Fastball's a Slow Sensation

No more labelling Fastball an "overnight sensation," please.

The rapid ascent of The Way -- the tremendously catchy first single off the Austin, Texas, trio's second album, All the Pain Money Can Buy -- to the top of the rock-radio and video charts has led many a pundit to drag out that cliche, but bassist, vocalist and co-songwriter Tony Scalzo prefers to think Fastball has simply made a slow, steady climb to prominence.

"It's so boring," he says of the band's story. "We started, we started working out material and about four days later we started getting gigs and it's just been going well ever since.

"As far as I'm concerned, it had been paying off the whole time ... We took off right away and started touring and started getting good press wherever we went, and I've always felt like we've been succeeding."

Still, concedes Scalzo (who wrote the vaguely Squeeze-ish hit single), all the attention being accorded The Way -- already destined to be one of the identifying songs of the summer of 1998 -- and its accompanying album is "pretty strange and new, it's a trip." Especially given the relative lack of commercial response that greeted Fastball's fuzzier 1996 debut, Make Your Mama Proud.

The song will likely be the major drawing card when the band wanders into Barrymore's tonight for a gig with hometown openers Punchbuggy.

"It's weird," says Scalzo. "I don't sit there and go 'Wow, hey!' and gloat when (The Way) comes on. But there's a certain amount of coolness attached to it.

"There's a couple of times I recall being in a cab in New York City and hearing it playing in the radio, and the cabbie has turned it up without realizing who we were. That was pretty cool."

The Way's appeal -- and, indeed, the appeal of All The Pain Money Can Buy in general -- lies in Scalzo and guitarist/singer Miles Zuniga's clever way with lyrics and their undeniably sharp ears for melody.

"Melody is important to me, and it's what I look for in most styles of music," says Scalzo, who's been playing music since he took up classical piano as a kid. "I look for it first -- even in jazz or crazy stuff like Sun Ra or Sonic Youth. In the midst of all this cacophony, there's this melody that just jumps out and grabs you."

At this juncture, the dry-humored Scalzo launches into a heartfelt appreciation of one of the tunes he picked up on a recent second-hand-cassette shopping binge: Ace of Base's cheesy Swede-pop hit, The Sign.

"I think it's brilliant -- a lot of great melodies on that record," he enthuses. "Nobody's going to admit that, but it's great. I've wanted to cover The Sign for a long time."

By the same token, Scalzo doesn't buy the musician's line that the quest for the perfect pop melody is a difficult one.

"As far as coming up with songs or song ideas, I've got all the tools I need right in my head," he says. "I'm not writing a symphony -- it's just a pop song. It's pretty simple."

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