Show Us the Way

Tony Scalzo is unfazed by a few fastballs

As rock & roll rises from the ashes of mid-Nineties genre warfare, stalwart pop fans can spot the glowing phoenix. True, the rock charts are riddled with sludge-guitar angst and tripped-out trance, but the writing is already on the wall: melody and harmony are staging yet another comeback. Semisonic, Harvey Danger, the matured Green Day, and now Fastball, whose "The Way" is the country's No. 1 Modern Rock Track -- it was called "power pop" back in the days of Big Star and Seventies-era Cheap Trick, but this is the new style, informed by two decades of music history. Why this shift in popular tastes? How will it all end up? To phrase the question in a more appropriate manner, "Where were they going without ever knowing the way?" Tony Scalzo, one-half of Fastball's songwriting team, should be able to provide some answers.

"The Way" has been number 1 on Billboard's Modern Rock Charts for five weeks. How "modern" is your music?

That's interesting. Yeah, it's not very modern at all. It's not a rock song either, really. There's a couple rock songs on this album, but this ain't one of them, in my opinion.

You wouldn't call it rock & roll at all?

Not really. It's got a beat and all that; you can dance to it. They play it in rock clubs and I think we're all geared to rock now, now that the rock generation has finally taken over. So maybe, I guess, in that respect it's rock. However, it totally comes from something that's more classical twentieth-century music.

So it's harkening back to something before rock & roll?

The verses are sort of this Italian folk thing. Look, I just put together what I thought sounded cool. I wasn't trying to do anything, I swear! It's not like I was going, "Hmm, I could take something with a more baroque feel and throw it in the mix with nineteenth-century Italian music." It was the side of the brain that's thinking of how good it feels when you hear it.

Do you think that your sound is the future? Do you think we're going to find more and more bands sounding like you guys?

I hope. 'Cause I like the way we sound.

A lot of people are saying you sound like Elvis Costello. Do you? Is it an apt comparison?

It's probably the sound of my voice, the way I pronounce words and sing. I listened to tons of Elvis Costello when I was growing up. When I was like thirteen, My Aim Is True came out, and that was like the first guy that I picked up from his first album and I took all the way until now. Damn, that guy's put out a lot of records! When I write music, I think, "How can I do it a little bit less like Elvis." It's about finding who me is, as far as music goes. What do I sound like? What is my voice? I think people take a long time to learn what their voice is. Look at Bob Dylan. He was trying to be Woody Guthrie when he started out. Then everyone tried to be him.

Fastball's hometown, Austin, Texas, is legendary for its local music. How much are you guys a product of that scene?

Well, the people who work in the sort of local music in Austin -- and I'm talking about those guys you rent space from to rehearse, or you rent the PA from to play the frat house. That, to me, is my Austin scene. The clubs ... you know, it's a scene, but I've seen that same scene in lots of other towns all across the country. The thing is, I'm from Los Angeles. Miles [Zuniga] and Joey [Shuffield] are from Texas, and I think that has a lot to do with the sound not being easily attached to where we're from.

What do you think of some of the other bands who will be with you on the H.O.R.D.E. tour this summer?

I like Ben Harper; I admire him and his band. And I think Blues Traveler is awesome. John Popper's a really great guy. I actually got to meet him a couple weeks ago and he brought some things about "The Way" to my attention. The sort of baroque feel of the chorus and all that.

Is it weird at all to have so many young kids at your shows?

I'm totally loving it. I had no idea that I would love it like that. I'd always thought that I wanted to be more about my peers and my own sort of age group. And to have all these kids -- down to ten years old -- is rad to me. I get to see these kids and they totally love me. I used to be nervous around kids, because of their unpredictability and their fickleness and not knowing how they would react. But now I sort of know that kids really respond when you're not like "Hey, Sport, how's it going?" and when you don't totally patronize them. I see some bad kids, kids who are hurting other kids. This poor kid, she got hit with a bottle from the back in the crowd, and there was blood all over her shirt. After the show, she had a huge bandage on her head, so I'm all "What happened? I saw you throughout the whole show and nothing was wrong with you all the way through the last song." She goes "I know, and I got hit on my favorite song." That sucks!

Last question: where are you planning to be on December 31, 1999?

Oh, I'm going to be home with my baby. I got a five-year-old daughter and I have another baby on the way now. So maybe all of this is just good training.

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