When it comes to Fastball, it’s easy to turn to baseball analogies: It’s the bottom of the ninth inning, and the underdog trio from Austin, Texas, has its back against the wall, down a run. They send in a pinch-hitter and – Holy cow! – they get a two-run homer for a come-from-behind victory.
Seriously, the picture is perfectly clear: Singer-guitarist Miles Zuniga, bassist-singer Tony Scalzo and drummer Joey Shuffield, all in their 30s, were under the gun after their first Hollywood Records album, “Make Your Mama Proud,” bombed in 1996.
“Because our first record stiffed so hard,” Zuniga said recently, “if the next record didn’t go, you know, we’d probably get dropped most likely and who knows what would’ve happened to the band.
“I’ve been through it before. I was in a band called Big Car and we got signed to a major label. Our record came out and it flopped, and the band broke up. It’s almost inevitable. It’s very hard to go from having a record deal to having no record deal again and still nobody knows who you are.”
It’s a whole new ballgame for Fastball after “The Way,” the exceedingly catchy first single off its second LP, “All the Pain Money Can Buy,” dominated Billboard’s modern rock tracks chart last spring. The album peaked at No. 29 on the pop chart and is only days away from approaching platinum status (sales of more than 1 million units).
“I’ve been doing this 10 years,” Zuniga said, “and I’ve gotten better and better at what I do, I’ve learned pretty much all the ins and outs of the business. I thought, ‘Goddamn, I wrote some good songs, and Tony wrote some good songs, and we got it down right.’ I thought if this thing doesn’t go, we should just quit.
“When we made our first record, I took it home and listened to it. I thought it was good, but I didn’t think it was great. Then I put on (Beck’s) ‘Odelay,’ and it just bummed me out. ‘Dammit, his record’s so much better than ours. It’s no wonder why our record doesn’t just kick you in the ass and grab you.’ When we finished ‘All the Pain Money Can Buy,’ I thought ‘We did it.’ Whether it sold one copy or a million copies, artistically we did it. If nobody didn’t like it, that would’ve been a big drag.”
The runaway success of ‘The Way’ and the album confirmed Zuniga’s instincts, that the band had what it takes to be a major player in the alternative-rock world. But Fastball faces another battle, avoiding the one-hit wonder tag. Zuniga said he and the others are determined to stick around.
“We have a lot to offer musically,” Zuniga said. “I would like people to check out the entire record. There might be some people who are sitting on the fence because they’ve only heard that one song and they kind of like it but they think of us as a band like Sugar Ray, where you’ve got that one song and apparently the rest of the record isn’t anything like it.
“I really feel we did it right this time, so I think there could maybe be two, three or four singles. And given the fact that we’re the biggest band on Hollywood (Records), we’re a total priority. It might be different if we had to fight for marketing money with Matchbox 20 or Madonna or whoever. It’s not like we have to worry about losing their attention. That makes a big, big difference.”
So far so good. The follow-up single, “Fire Escape,” is climbing the modern rock tracks chart.
To go from being a total unknown to MTV prominence in just six months is overwhelming, but Zuniga said their lives have been so one-dimensional lately that the enormity of it all hasn’t sunk in yet.
“I feel like a gymnast in the Olympics,” Zuniga said, “where all they think about is their little time on the rings or their routine. Those people train their entire life and then it all comes down to 10 minutes. I couldn’t imagine that, but this is more like a less severe version of that.
“I mean, your whole day is geared around the show. That’s it. That’s the be all to end all. If you have a good show, then everything’s great. If you don’t have a good show, then maybe things aren’t so great, but the point is that’s the main thing you’re doing. And then all the rest of it is superfluous. You have to squeeze in meetings, you have to eat and travel to the next place. That’s like the lion’s share of your day right there. And then there’s the promotional stuff, and then occasionally we have fun. Sometimes you have wild parties and stuff.
“I just love playing music, and it never really feels like work, so I’m really thankful I’m getting to do this. If people want my autograph or people wants pictures and we have to do a meet-and-greet, I feel totally indebted to the fact that this is happening and people are buying our records and making all this possible. I’m going to give them my time.”
It’s a one-in-a-million shot for everyone, Zuniga said, and there’s a lot of timing and luck involved. And that’s the beauty of it.
“If people knew the reasons and the ins and outs, there’d be a school by now,” Zuniga said. “They would train you just like air traffic controllers, so that you can do this job. That would ultimately be the death of what makes it so great in the first place. I love the fact that nobody knows what’s going to happen next, nobody knows what band is going to be big.
“Our first record sold 2,000 copies and now we’re on our way to 1 million with this one. Nobody ever thought Tracy Chapman’s first album was going to sell 8 million copies; a black folk singer, a woman, in 1988, when Guns ‘N Roses was on the radio? C’mon. You never know what’s going to happen.”
ON THE WEB: www.hollywoodrecords.com.