June 01, 2004

HAIR APPARENT

Fastball.jpg

Fastball returns with Keep Your Wig On

A new album and a new record label -- it's a new beginning of sorts for Fastball, the Austin, Texas-bred pop-rock trio best known for the hit singles "The Way" and "Out of My Head."

It's been about four years since Fastball -- singer-guitarist Miles Zuniga, singer-bassist Tony Scalzo and drummer Joey Shuffield -- released a new studio album. During that time, the band parted ways with Hollywood (which released four albums by the band from 1996 to 2002, including the platinum-certified All the Pain Money Can Buy), and Zuniga collaborated with various songwriters in Nashville, Tenn., where he lived for a while.

Zuniga took time out during the band's U.S. tour in May to talk about the new Fastball album, Keep Your Wig On (due June 8 on Rykodisc), and offer his perspective on the music scene in Austin.

Medleyville.us: Was the nearly four-year gap between new studio albums planned, or was it supposed to be shorter and did time just get away from the band?
Miles Zuniga: A little of both. We definitely wanted to have a break, and then what happened was we basically parted ways with Hollywood Records and sort of went looking for another record deal. But we probably didnít look as hard as we could have.

We've never really looked for a record deal. The first deal we got with Hollywood was with this guy Rob Seidenberg . . . and then Rob got another gig [and currently handles A&R for the band at Rykodisc]. So, we haven't really had to deal with labels the way a regular band would, where maybe you don't know the guy. With Rob, we know we've always got someone in our corner, and that provides a good deal of comfort, but that doesn't rule out that you might get screwed by the other parts of the machine.

The press release that accompanies Keep Your Wig On contains a quote from you about "pressures and expectations" that affected the band following the success of All the Pain Money Can Buy. What were some of those issues?
Zuniga: I just think that everybody was looking for another Latin-flavored song that Tony sings. [Hollywood's decision makers] never actually said that to us, but they went straight for it, like mice to cheese, as far as "Love Is Expensive and Free," which even Tony will tell you he didn't think was a single. None of us thought it was a single.

[Hollywood released] "You're an Ocean" [from the last studio album, The Harsh Light of Day], and right after that, [the label] said that "Love Is Expensive and Free" was the next single and we had no say-so in it. And to add insult to injury, they said, "We don't like the version on the record. That's the single, but you have to make it different." It was ridiculous.

How did you hook up with former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, and what was it like writing "Airstream" with him?
Zuniga: Oh, it was fantastic . . . One of the great things about Nashville is you get to write with all of these different people -- it's a writer's town. Even though some of these people are pretty legendary, they're still in this community where you write songs with all kinds of people. There's no real hierarchy. I got to write with Guy Clark, which to me was a huge deal, and I got to write with Big Al, and I thought that was also a big deal because I love NRBQ.

[Anderson] immediately set me at ease with his humor. He's totally deadpan, and when I walked in to write with him the first day, he said, "So, you moved to Nashville, huh?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Nashville sucks." I said, "Do you live here?" He goes, "No! I live in Connecticut! The best thing about Nashville is seeing it in your rearview mirror!" He just made me laugh and made me feel really at ease.

We started writing, and we actually wrote "Airstream" a couple of months into our little partnership. I wrote several songs with him, several songs that we still play in our set, even though they're not on records. [With "Airstream"], I had these weird chords that I had been fooling around with, and I didn't think anyone in country music would ever record a song with these weird chords, and I was right (laughs). I was looking in [Anderson's] condo in Nashville at a simple drawing of an Airstream trailer . . . I just said the word Airstream, and he started singing the melody [over the chords]. An hour later, we had the song.

"Someday" and "Red Light," which also are on the new album, were produced by Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger. What's he like behind the console?
Zuniga: For one thing, he never leaves the console. I've never seen anyone work as hard as he does. I'm serious -- the guy comes in and doesn't move. He sits down at the friggin' console and is there all friggin' day. You're, like, going out for lunch or dinner, [and he would say], "Just bring me something back." He just chain smokes and sits there and works on the music. That was impressive; his attention span is impressive -- he can just go and go and go.

Would you say he's a hands-on or hands-off producer?
Zuniga: He's pretty hands-on. The way his songs are, like "Stacy's Mom" -- he tries to get every song to be that airtight and have these catchy little things. Sometimes you have to fight him off -- like, "Adam, we don't really want it to sound that commercial." But he was great. He was very hard-working. He was a genius on "Red Light." We had already recorded it once, and as far as I was concerned, had a definitive version. The only problem was we had recorded it in some studio and it came out very low-fi, and it was probably not going to be released, but the actual performance and charm were amazing. And he talked us into trying it again, and his main contribution was he grabbed a lot of those little things from the demo and time-stretched them and made them fit into the newer thing. Just his vision for seeing that it could be a mix of the two versions was pretty cool.

Austin, Texas, becomes the center of the music industry for about a week every March, thanks to the South by Southwest festival. What is Austin's music scene like the rest of the year?
Zuniga: It's nothing like that (laughs). Everybody thinks there's music in the streets and you can flag a cab [anytime] -- but that's all for one week only. And when everyone [who's in town just for the music festival] leaves, it really, really, really calms down.

It's very insular and I think very mellow and very cool. There's a lot of cross-pollination. Most musicians who don't have a day job, and all they do is music, play in like 20 bands. These guys all carry around a calendar, and they're always looking for work -- "Oh yeah, I can fit you in on Sunday, after my 6 o'clock gig. We'll do the 9 o'clock at the Continental." It's like that.

There's a whole bunch of people who do that, and then there's a bunch of really young bands and cool bands. There's always a new wave of young bands -- kids trying to get it together and get a record deal. But not all of them are as dedicated; not all of them make it. Three or four years later, most of the bands have broken up.

Regarding the popular slogan claiming that Austin is the "live music capital of the world" -- do you agree or disagree with it?
Zuniga: I would totally have to disagree with that (laughs). Well, I don't know what the slogan means. If they're talking about bands per capita -- maybe. But if you go to New York, there's music everywhere. Every little building, there's someone legendary playing or someone brand new that you're dying to see. You can't compare Austin with New York City or Los Angeles or London. New York City, on any given night, you can't make a decision -- there's 80 million choices. "Should I go see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Should I go see some group from England that I've been dying to see? Should I go see Buddy Guy?" It's all there.

Austin is pretty good for its size, I guess . . . When I first got to Austin [around 1984], it was very easy to make a living as a musician. Rent was $200 a month, and you could literally make your monthly nut at about $800. That was everything -- food, drinks, rent, etc. It was very affordable, and there were tons of great shows coming through -- Husker Du, The Replacements, etc. You could see all these bands, and Austin was a mellow enough vibe that you could probably meet most of the bands and get to hang out with them and talk to them. Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos showed me this blues chord that I could never figure out.

And that's the kind of town it was. In L.A., you never get to meet these people because too many other people wanted to meet them. But in Austin, it was just mellow enough that you could have access to your heroes. That was pretty important because it made you feel like you could be doing the same thing. Once you met enough of them, you realized they're normal people like everyone else.

The problem I have with that slogan -- for a visitor, I wouldn't say it's the live music capital of the world at all. But for a musician, maybe it is -- the fact that it's so user-friendly makes it a great place to be.

If you were to wear a wig all the time, what look or looks would you go for?
Zuniga: Well, it would probably be hot and uncomfortable, but I would go for the [Eric] Clapton look from when he was in Cream -- sort of the Afro. I've always wanted to try that look at least once, but I don't like the way wig Afros look -- they look really phony. I've thought about really growing my hair long and just going for it, like perming it out. It could be a dreadful mistake, but so what? And get some big sunglasses, too -- just go for the whole Lenny Kravitz, guitar-player guy sort of thing.

How much money would it take for Fastball to participate in a one-time-only concert with other bands that have baseball-themed names, such as The Outfield, The Louisville Sluggers and The Mendoza Line?
Zuniga: Wow -- I think you're in the six figures there. Unfortunately, I only know who The Outfield is. I think they drove up the price for everybody else.

The Louisville Sluggers are from Australia, and the swing-ska band's first album, released in May, is called 'Bout Time.
Zuniga: They're probably good.

The Mendoza Line is a New York band. Legend has it that during his playing days, Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett came up with the phrase "the Mendoza line," which refers to batters hitting below .200 -- a dubious feat former light-hitting infielder Mario Mendoza achieved over the course of a full season a few times in his major league career.
Zuniga: That's a cool name. They're sort of on the opposite end of where we are. We never wanted any baseball associations. We were just a little slow to come up with our name.

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior


Official Fastball site:
www.fastballmusic.com

Posted by medleyville at June 1, 2004 04:29 PM
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