By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa Editor/Correspondent
Rock At Night had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Scalzo of Fastball, which released Step Into Light on May 19, 2017. Rock At Night reviewed the album, and you can read the review HERE. You can check out Rock At Night’s interview below, as Scalzo discusses what happened to Fastball after their record-breaking album All the Pain that Money Can Buy, which produced hits like “Outtamyhead”, “Fire Escape”, and “The Way”; the roots of the band; the new album; and many interesting stories of being in the business for years.
Members of Fastball: Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, guitar), Joey Shuffield (drums), and Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar)
Rock At Night: I did a review of Step Into Light and I was hoping to speak about the album and the future. I notice a lot of the interviews with Fastball rehash the past. I do have to admit the CD All the Pain Money Can Buy got worn out in my CD player, I played it so much. The CD really meant a lot to me. What always kind of bothered me is I wish more singles had come out of it. Every song is good!
Tony Scalzo: I guess there were three singles out of it—we probably could have worked a couple of more. I don’t know why? We went into the studio doing Harsh Light of Day. I guess because we were on the road? I don’t even know? I guess they wanted to run with what they had at the time. Who knows record companies? So I don’t have to deal with them anymore. We are going to try to put as many out as singles (on this record) as we can.
Rock At Night: I’m glad you guys are doing your own thing. Reflecting on the song “Outtamyhead”, I always wished there was another verse in there. I loved it so much that I was sad when it ended.
Tony Scalzo: I think that is one of the tricks of that song. If it were any longer it might get bothersome, like a little tedious.
Rock At Night: No! It just leaves you wanting more…like that craving!
So where did Fastball go?
Rock At Night: After the Millennium arrived I used to look on the internet frequently and think, “What happened to Fastball?”
Tony Scalzo: We really didn’t have much of a presence on the internet. Up until about 2015 our presence on the internet was limited. We had a non-existent website. What we really needed to do was get a presence going. It took us a long time to figure out what to do. I think we are running on all cylinders now, especially with the way the industry is now, it has finally come into a user-friendly era. So, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s the best to what is available now.
It’s funny to look back at record companies and how they used to operate—mainly they just provided capital—and then reigned over you, control-wise. All of the services they provided were in-house, and that includes the promotion and publicity. They had a Publicity Department and you got prioritized. Let’s say, there were a couple of acts that were bigger or doing better than you at that time, then they would focus more of their resources and energy on those acts. And so, it’s not really fair, right?
Now, if you can come up with enough capital, which, by the way, is a fraction of what the record companies used to spend (e.g., hiring people who sat in an office and did the job of publicists), you can go to a publicity company yourself. The band can directly pay that publicity company on a monthly basis for as long as the project is supposed to last—and you’ve got control over what they do! I have control over the interviews that I do. To have control over these interviews is the reason I am able to speak with you.
Rock At Night Well, then the publicity company is totally devoted to you!
Tony Scalzo: Yeah, we are the priority. We have two or three people focus on us during this project. Like I said it’s a fraction of what the record companies used to spend and you’d end up paying for it anyway because it would become part of your money, your advance.
We just didn’t know how to do this kind of stuff five or 10 years ago. It was a mystery.
All you have to do is go to your fans! Offer them cool things, give a little of your time to them, pay attention to what they want—and they’ll provide the funds.
And this is how things work in the music industry. We are taking advantage of it and trying to get as many people as we can to hear our record or hear us play.
Here and now….
Rock At Night: I wish you guys would come to Florida, honestly!
Tony Scalzo: Well, I’m sure we will. We are just getting started. The record has only been out since May. And, that’s another thing. We don’t have to worry about how long the record has been out. It’s gonna’ take awhile given this method that we have chosen to use to promote it. It’s going to take awhile for a lot of people to hear it, but we believe people will.
We’ve been out for two months with Everclear and Vertical Horizon, playing songs off of it, selling it at the shows, playing in front of big audiences that wouldn’t normally come just to see Fastball. (They might not know) who is Fastball and what songs do they play…People know “Outtamyhead”, “Fire Escape”, and “The Way” but they don’t really know it is Fastball. They don’t really make that connection so it takes awhile.
We just got off of Everclear and we’re getting ready to go out there another three weeks. I’m sorry the farthest south we’ll be going is Atlanta. We’re going to do a little Southeast thing…in Tennessee…and up in Ohio…and then the northeast coast. We’re working on stuff for Fall and then next year. We have a great booking agent now who is lining up stuff now into next summer. I assume we will get down to your part of the country. We’ve played Tampa a few times and we’d very happy to come back!
A new CD!
Rock At Night: I mean, I have been consciously seeking you guys on the internet all these years because of the one CD that I always loved. When I heard you had a new CD coming out I was totally psyched! The new CD is now my favorite CD of the summer right now. It’s really happy music.
Yeah, it’s supposed to be. We’ve done some dark things but even those come out hooky and melodic. The title is really appropriate.
Rock At Night: What is dark and haunting is the song “Behind the Sun”.
Tony Scalzo: Oh, sure, sure…
Rock At Night:I wrote down (in my review) that I could picture Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young writing a song like that, especially the way you guys harmonize.
Tony Scalzo: Thank you! I’m a fan of them so that means a lot to me!
Rock At Night: Some of the songs had a distinct 60s Brit sound. I’m thinking you guys probably grew up with that?
Tony Scalzo: Yeah.
Rock At Night: Was this subconscious or conscious?
Deep in the heart of Texas
Tony Scalzo: I think what we really grew up with is what was around. I’ll talk about our background right now and I can speak for Miles because I know him so well. He grew up in Laredo, Texas and not a lot of bands go through there—but some did. He got to see The Clash and The Police. And I believe he got to see U2 when they went through there, right? So, his influences are big bands—real major acts. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks—and a lot of it is British, I guess. Look! The guy’s name is Miles, right?
Rock At Night: That’s true (laughing).
Tony Scalzo: You think that’s his real name?
Rock At Night: Yes, I would assume it is. Is it?
Tony Scalzo: Nah, it’s not his real name. His real name is Alfredo.
Rock At Night: Are you serious? (laughing) A deep dark secret there!
Tony Scalzo: I would call him a bit of an Anglophile!
Rock At Night: I had no idea!
Tony Scalzo: And for me, Miles is better. That’s a great name for him. And he’s been “Miles” for over half his life anyways, since he was about 18, I think.
My thing was that I grew up in what I think was a richer rock & roll area. I grew up in Southern California. For me, I got to grow up with bands that were great and never really made it. Obscure bands. I also had the punk scene to draw from which also spawned a lot of offshoot-genre music. Then there were a lot of bands lopped into that. If it wasn’t long-haired hippie music or metal then it’s got to be punk, right? There’s rockabilly music, early shots of techno music, and a little bit of Goth. There were also retro or British-type garage bands, psychedelia…There was so much going on and then things started turning into Alternative music. By the late-80s and early-90s I was all into super underground American and British music, but mainly American. I was into bands like Sonic Youth,Pussy Galore, Hole, Nirvana, Mudhoney, The Melvins, and a band from L.A. called “The Muffs” that I loved because they were so hooky and high energy. It was heavy, loud, but also hooky.
So that is where Fastball really started. When I moved here in ’93 and I met Miles and Joey, we started playing three-piece power pop punk. Green Day was just out. We started saying, “Hey, that’s stuff that we do.” It’s kind of faster than it needed to be, a little more distorted than it needed to be, because I was going for that kind of sound. So that’s why our first record Make My Mama Proud which came out in ’95 is sorta’ like that. (Later on) we started backing off on the Marshall’s and giant bass amp, we started getting smaller stuff and incorporated keyboards to our music, expanding our sound in the studio. With Julian Raymond producing, we had a more Beatlesque type of environment. We recorded in a historic studio in Hollywood (A&M Records) where they recorded amazing music (like the Herb Albert stuff, all The Carpenters). They even did “We Are the World” there and shot videos there—and we really felt [their presence] on All the Pain Money Can Buy. We even had great orchestration and stuff and started working with people we would later work with on Harsh Light of Day.
So we went in to do Harsh Light of Day and it was almost the same situation except we were definitely more broody, frustrated…it was a dark time…and we realized that no matter what we do, that record is not going to do as good as the one we had just done. We really didn’t care because we were going for what we were going for. So that record came out of dark and the record company did whatever they could to inject some pizazz into it. It just kind of remained, in my opinion, under the “flat line” or under the excitement line. We even had people like Brian Setzer and Billy Preston come in and play—but the music the way it was just sucked people into that vibe. I still think it is a great record but it’s just not….They picked one single and it is “You’re an Ocean” because it was upbeat and had that kind of summertime vibe.
We could tell the advances were fading as the excitement was dropping off. We were able to leave the label before we got dropped. We just parted ways amicably. We went on to do one of our best records, I think, which is Keep Your Wig On, which was done here in Austin at a really fabulous studio. It was done by Mike McCarthy and we did it on Ryko thinking, “Well, this is a great record company that has all of these great artists like Elvis Costello, David Bowie, and Zappa.” But it turns out that’s all catalog stuff and they were trying to become a current label with new bands. After we completed that record and started to release it, everything went back to becoming a catalog label so we had no support on that record from anybody. We didn’t know how to utilize the internet at that time, focus on our fans, and try to find our audience. Things just started falling apart.
Miles and I went out acoustically and did pretty well, but it just didn’t have the impact that we needed. So, we made another record called Little White Lies. This was another good record and I think this is closer to what Step Into Light is. It was kind of upbeat and high energy. Again, there was no way for us to really let people know it was out. We did some sad ass touring, which really didn’t amount to much, because we were on the road with Sugar Ray, and we were only doing 25 minute sets [with all the singles]. We also didn’t have a manager that really did anything for us. So we had to re-arrange….
STEP INTO LIGHT
Rock At Night: You have albums named Step Into Light, Harsh Light of Day…what does this theme mean?
Tony Scalzo: I wish I could tell you that I had any kind of intentional [meaning]. Miles wrote “Step Into Light” and it became the title track. Sometimes a title and the song surrounding it, it just works, you know…
I’ve been listening to music all my life and listen to songs over and over and not even intellectualize the song. It happened recently where I was listening to a Bob Dylan song, and I finally listened to the lyrics for the first time. I mean, really getting the lyrics and saying “Oh my gosh!” I didn’t know it said that!
People process music so differently (each person). I think mostly what they get is “a hook”, especially with pop music. What is the thing that brings them in? Sometimes it’s a lyric and the way it is said or sung…but a lot of the time I think it is music itself. It’s the melody and something attached to it like a harmony that might hook somebody in. And then the rest of it is all the architecture that supports those hooks.
Rock At Night: I tend to agree. There’s sometimes a keyboard riff…and I get an ear worm for songs, like for weeks.
Tony Scalzo: And you couldn’t sing the whole song but you know that little bit.
I’d say with this record it’s a real “power punch” of that kind of thing. There’s not a ton of extra stuff to embellish it because maybe the hooks aren’t there—but they are there so we didn’t need to overdo it. We didn’t have to go add strings, which is good, because we really can’t afford that stuff anyway. It’s about the best way to keep things minimal and have the most impact. I think we pulled this off with this record.
Rock At Night: I’d say most definitely!
Tony Scalzo: We could try to make another record next year and won’t be able to do it. It’s just way it goes.
Rock At Night: The song “Best Friend” definitely has a keyboard and guitar riff that really go through my mind a lot. There’s harmonies. Now the song “Tanzania”….
Tony Scalzo: Yes, instrumental…
Rock At Night: Definitely has a Dick Dale influence, kind of Middle Eastern…I described it as “a gypsy-like melody.” It is surf rock, gypsy-like, has minor chords…I thought you were paying homage to Dick Dale.
Tony Scalzo: You know, that’s a Miles song and I bet he would agree with you. If not Dick Dale, maybe Duane Eddy or Dick Ray…It’s our first and only instrumental. We love to open up with it right now. It gets people energized and lets us feel out our amp levels on stage. So it has an actual functional purpose.
Rock At Night: Since you said you were into the California New Wave scene, I thought “Secret Agent Love” was definitely New Wavey. Infectious melody, fast “machine gun” drum beat…It’s funny, to me, New Wave is 60s and 80s together.
Tony Scalzo: I noticed you both wrote Lillian Gish.
I don’t know why? I guess he [Miles] had seen a photo of her. Her filmography, in a way, is tainted, to me. She was in “Birth of a Nation”, you know that D.W. Griffith, “super racist”…It shouldn’t be a reflection of her but it just happens to be those movies she was in, unfortunately, but she is also so striking, so beautiful, and to see her in sepia, it’s amazing. She can pull it off like no other.
My description of “Lillian Gish” is a kind of a Brit-pop, Sergeant Pepper-ish sound…you’ve got the cellos there and the piano…very Beatlesque, avant garde…
Rock At Night: Tell me about “Frenchie and the Punk”…Don’t you have a friend named “Frenchie”?
Tony Scalzo: Actually the guy who co-produced the record…we call him “Frenchie”. He’s not French. Miles wrote the song and it was inspired by his French girlfriend he was with for awhile. She was very, very…well…French!
Lots of laughter!
Tony Scalzo: She liked to smoke cigarettes all day long…just smoke and drink…She didn’t care that much and wasn’t impressed by much.
Rock At Night: The song has a real nostalgic feel. It’s almost “waltz-like”.
Rock At Night: One of the burning questions I had when I rediscovered you was, “My God! It’s the original crew! How could they still be together?” Also, you guys are real song writers. It’s almost like you are McCartney and Miles is Lennon. I feel your songs are a little more optimistic and upbeat and his are a little darker.
Tony Scalzo: I don’t think about it much. It might be the way it stacks up.
Rock At Night: How do you all combine your songs, tastes, and talent?
Tony Scalzo: We take the best songs and we do it democratically. We decide what sounds the best when we play it together. As you know, some of the songs are co-written and some are written individually. Lately, Miles has been writing songs for me to sing, which I think is great.
Rock At Night: Like “Behind the Sun” where you guys harmonize? You guys use real harmonies and not effect pedals like Top 40 radio does.
Tony Scalzo: The problem is when something is big then there are a million imitators and then everything sounds the same. That’s what you get when you get into pop culture.
Rock At Night: I’ve heard that re-make of “Outtamyhead” by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello called “Bad Things”. When I first heard it I thought, “She has a real pretty voice” and then I actually listened to the words which sound like some kind of S&M relationship. It is really violent and I’m thinking “And the chorus sounds so pretty!”
Tony Scalzo: I’m going to defend it because I’ve been listening to some of the Top 40 stuff and hip hop music because my son is so into it. Man, that Machine Gun Kelly track is Rated G compared to some of the stuff I hear. At least she is OK with it all—and they do it to each other. It’s not like Rihanna’s song “Love On the Brain”.
Rock At Night: Is there anything you’d like to say about the album or music? To be honest, I love the new album. I think it sounds just as fresh as anything you could have done 20 years ago.
Tony Scalzo: Well, good! I’m glad you feel that way!
Rock At Night: Yes, I call it a “Summer Album” because it’s not just the time it was released but that uplifting feel. You know when a song comes out you think, “That was the Summer of ‘77” well this album represents the “Summer of 2017”. You can put it in the car when you are driving on vacation or something…
Tony Scalzo: I thought the album is comparable to All the Pain Money Can Buy…even the engineering of it.
We’ve done three videos and they are all available for anybody to see. I’ll speak about the video thing before we go. Nigel did a short piece on us which hasn’t really surfaced yet. We’d like to release a tiny documentary (about how “The Way”) was made. It’s just a bunch of interview stuff with creative film making.
Rock At Night: Thanks so much for the interview!
Editor’s Note…Nigel Dick did a lot of classic music videos in the 1980s and 1990s (G&R’s “Welcome to the Jungle”, Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, a bunch of Def Leppard videos, Oasis’ “Wonderwall”). Fastball asked Nigel to kindly direct a video for the band at a “budget rate” and Nigel actually offered to do three videos for the band if they’d be open to what he was proposing. According to Tony, “Nigel had three different treatments for three different songs and he picked the songs. We shot all three videos in three days!”
I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse