Fastball: Daylight Breaks

One-hit-wonderitus is a syndrome that has destroyed countless bands. One minute they're high atop the charts, and the next they're under the gun to create something else that's just as enduring and popular. To further complicate matters, in many cases, the one-hit-wonders achieved stardom with mediocre and sometimes abysmal records. In school if you nail one answer out of ten on a test, the teacher slaps a big "F" in her gradebook and sends the student home with a warning note that has to be signed by his or her parents.

But in the recording industry, one killer track is all you need. As a result, many bands with platinum first albums are totally unprepared to create a successful follow-up.

Fortunately, none of this applies to Fastball -- Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Tony Scalzo (Vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards), and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Sure the band rocketed to stardom in 1998 with the propulsive single "The Way" from All the Pain Money Can Buy, but the record was the band's second, and at least half of the disc was certainly worth the money. Of course, that didn't make it easier for the group when it entered the studio to record its follow-up The Harsh Light of Day. But when all the empty beer bottles and guest musicians were cleared out of the room, Fastball was left with its catchiest, craftiest and most eclectic record yet. What were you shooting for on this album?

Tony Scalzo: We were trying to expand the sound, and make thing even more sophisticated than they were the last album. Our first album [Make Your Mama Proud (1996)] was a real stripped down rock 'n' roll record. So we wanted to expand our sound more with All the Pain Money Can Buy (1998), and I think we succeeded. This third album is even a bigger stretch. We're still anchored in the same place, but our reach is a little bit further musically. The story of our career is musical expansion and being able to do all those things that you get to do when there's money behind your project.

Miles Zuniga: I think our next one has to be a reduction or going in a completely different direction. I think maybe we're gonna start playing songs live on the road and get off the road and go straight into a studio and see how that works. Success is definitely a double-edged sword in the sense that, if we have another successful album, the pressure will be on to repeat the stuff that we did this time. But that's such a dead end. When we made "The Way" we didn't know what we were doing. We were just screwing around. And that song became big. But even though that song was a big song, I don't think it was the most important song. I think the most important songs are all the other ones - the ones that give credence to what we're doing and when people see us live all that gives credence to what we're doing.

Scalzo: We really made the most of the resources available to us. We wanted to get them across the best way we can. We exploited every resource to the point where we had to pull back. Every song was scrutinized to the finest detail. That's funny. It sound pretty organic.

Scalzo: It's a little of both. The basic tracks are not labored. They are us relaxed in a dim studio playing. But all the overdub stuff and all the dressing and ornamentation - that's where the labor comes in. You've got to try stuff and experiment. And sometimes stuff doesn't work. Sometimes it sounds downright silly. But you have to try. When you don't try, you don't get all that good stuff. What kind of experimentation did you do?

Scalzo: We used some crazy moog synthesizers to get that '70 sound. We used some steel guitar and any manner of keyboards. And we used keyboardists from all walks of life. We used guys from the LA Philharmonic and Billy Preston and all kinds of guitar players. Michael Ward from the Wallflowers played a couple of things on there. And we had some classical soloists as well. A guy played the English horn on "Vampires." He does a solo and it sounds like nothing I've heard on a rock album. You've got this classical solo running through a very dark, very Echo and the Bunnymen-ish type song. It's just a really involved record and we ran the gamut of who and what we could do. As indulgent as you were, it doesn't sound bloated or overblown.

Zuniga: We're lucky for that because that was my greatest fear. I just wanted to make sure the record was different. I want every record to be different from the last one or else there's no point in making it.

Scalzo: There's a lot of stuff out there right now that is so over the top. That's pretty much the MO of the record industry right now -- to put out stuff that is overblown with strings and synths and all kinds of hip-hop crap. Having some scratching in it just for the sake of it - for no reason other than it's hip. And that's ridiculous. That's not cool it's just attempting to cater to an audience that is into something else. I think when you go do down to the basic thing of making songs. And each song is an individual entity and you've got to do what's appropriate for that song. What were the influences at play this time?

Scalzo: I would definitely say the last record by Those Bastard Souls was a huge influence on my songwriting. I can't believe how much I listened to that record. There's also a lot of Dylan that's come into play lately. Over the last two years, I have definitely immersed myself in all phases of his career up until the present. He's fantastic and untouchable as a lyricist. Also Wyclef Jean is a genius. He's the bomb because he just stretches as far as the mind can go. He's into all kinds of music and he's really smart and he pulls it off with aplomb every time.

Zuniga: I was just trying to get away from my regular methods of songwriting, however I could do that. I played with a sampler for a while and tried to make songs out of other songs. I wanted to get away from what I normally do, but it's very hard to get away from what you normally do, you usually just end up arriving at it by different means. How did you approach guitar on this record?

Zuniga: I guess I'm becoming less and less of a fan of guitar in general. I like it, but so much has been said on the guitar. I used to get really excited when I'd hear Eddie Van Halen or Eric Clapton play a solo, but now that just seems to me like music from another time. I go, "Wow, look at these guys getting all excited and soloing forever." It's a story I've heard too many times. Technology's moved beyond that and the public has moved beyond that. How many real guitar virtuosos are out there right now that have mass appeal? I don't think there's even one. So I just tried to rock out without trying to be a guitar god. There is, as it turned out, a lot of guitar on the record, but it wasn't that thought out. I like parts that fit the songs. If the guitar's gonna say something it better say something good. There's a real '70s rock vibe to the record. At times it almost sounds reminiscent of the Eagles.

Zuniga: You know what? I have no problem equating our band with the Eagles. A lot of people would say, "No man, that's uncool," but in my mind there are some parallels. They were both about the song. The Eagles didn't have this great image or anything, yet they're the biggest selling artist of all time. Their Greatest Hits has sold more records than any other album ever made, so they have a real hold on the public psyche, but it's in a very relaxed manner. It's songs, and they just come to you over the radio and people really love them. And that's how I feel our band is. We don't wear thigh-high leather boots and we're not gonna be in the paper any time soon for pistol whipping somebody or any of the stuff that makes for a really good, rebellious rock 'n' roll stories.

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