There’s much to be said about any artist or band that has been able to survive the ‘musical explosion’ of the 80’s-90’s without obliteration, as many did, still maintaining a status quo in the industry, and a loyal fan base. Recently, Jason Wilber interviewed multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Tony Scalzo, cofounder of the Austin based band Fastball, best known for cranking out the acclaimed Grammy nominated hit, ‘The Way’.
I’ve come to assume that most musicians that are 30+ will make reference to some influence by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones-its almost a given. Tony Scalzo takes it a few steps further to include his fascination and interest with: Pop, Rock, British Wave, Alt Rock, New Wave and Punk Rock. LA was alive with an influx of new music in the 80’s and what regenerated his spirit and determination to craft his musical talents was punk rock genre. He does make an earlier reference of getting caught up in the “drug culture”, wallowing in self indulgence, and being forced to take a hiatus from music for a couple of years while he cleaned up his act. Interestingly for some like Tony Scalzo, music and drugs are synonymous for leading you into a dark and dirty hole yet becoming your “salvation.” The hiatus from the mad circuit was what he needed to become serious about music, and to begin writing his own songs.
The one thing you can’t do with musicians is cement their feet in one place and this artist was no stranger to taking risks. The sensational success of the grunge band Nirvana in a short period of time became the impetus for him to succeed, and the craving for fame became a personal affirmation, not an unrealistic dream. He left behind the polluted musical wannabe culture of southern California and planted himself in Austin, Texas, ‘The Live Music Capital of the World”, joining the “Beaver Nelson Band” which in turn fired him. Through a series of events, and playing in different bands, Scalzo already friends with drummer Joey Shuffield, was introduced to guitarist/vocalist Miles Zuniga, and eventually the trio formed their own band. Fortunately, after journeying their way through 6th Street gigs and enduring “several names changes”, they were ‘discovered by Hollywood Records and signed’. In 1994 the wandering trio became officially known as Fastball.
In 1998, Fastball’s dream of fame became a reality as the group released their second album, ‘All The Pain Money Can Buy’ and the celebrated hit, ‘The Way’, would become permanently etched as their signature song, and slotted in at #94 on VHI’s Top 100 Songs of the 90’s. This portion of the interview was the highlight for me as Tony Scalzo shares with Jason Wilber the inspiration that led him to pen this lyrical gem.
“They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?”
His inspiration came from reading a newspaper article about an elderly couple, Lela and Raymond Howard who had disappeared, only to be found two weeks later dead in their vehicle at the bottom of a ravine, hundreds of miles away from their intended destination. He chose to take the initial story of the missing couple and pen lyrics with a romanticized appeal – “an elderly couple taking off together leaving behind everything and those they had been responsible for.” It was later he would learn of the actual tragedy that took place and made a personal obligation out of respect to meet and interview the family. I’ve included an Associated Press clip about the incident at the end of this entry for further reading.
Although Fastball has maintained a presence in the music scene for almost two decades, releasing a total of 5 albums, there has been repeated speculation and rumors that the band has broken up, but Scalzo disputes this claiming they are still together and have been working on ‘individual projects’, and for him it’s been recording his debut solo album, ‘My Favorite Year’. The album was partially funded through Kickstarter, ‘produced by Stephen Belans, engineered by the notable Joe Blaney’, and will be available for purchase online this month and publically in June. Coinciding with this release, Fastball’s web site also shows they will begin their Under The Sun Tour beginning July, 2013 so there’s lots of activity and opportunity for diehards to catch the band in action.
Throughout this episode of In Search of a Song, we’ve had the opportunity to hear a compilation of songs from Scalzo’s, ‘My Favorite Year’. I find the songs to be interesting, catchy and an easy listen with a sense of that 80’s college pop appeal. It’s a great start for a debut solo but the music is never the same when an artist steps away from the original band so fans shouldn’t expect the same lyrical/musical wizardry of Fastball. Maybe, before judging, we need to take into consideration Tony Scalzo’s words on what makes a great song “leave out all the bells and whistles that aren’t needed, and let the melody do it’s job”.
Salado Couple -Associated Press