[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, Mar. 24.]
Whether he likes it or not, Fastball frontman Miles Zuniga found his way into
And it's all happened pretty fast.
"Things are going really well," acknowledged guitarist/singer/co-songwriter
Miles Zuniga during a tour layover in San Francisco. Ironically, that's mostly
thanks to his energetic rock trio's first big hit,
Way"(RealAudio excerpt), the first single off the band's sophomore
disc, All The Pain Money Can Buy, which currently is #3 on the Billboard
Modern Rock Chart.
And the album has been out for less than a month.
According to Zuniga, 31, and the rest of his Austin, Texas-based band, the
haunting, yet uplifting song that evokes the rambling musical ruminations of
folkie Tom Waits is based on the true story of a wayward couple headed to a
family reunion that they never reach. But it's only one example of the varied,
dynamic sounds found on All The Pain....
A certain maturity informs the album's 13 pop-wise songs. From the spartan
acoustic strains of "Sweetwater, Texas" and the raucous, Chicago-like horn
arrangement on "G.O.D. (Good Old Days)" to the fuzz-laden keyboards on
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Fastball/Which_Way_To_The_Top.ram">" Which Way to the Top?"
Which Way to the Top?"(RealAudio excerpt), it's obvious that the band
took its time exploring the subtle nuances and possibilities in each song.
With the pop-music pendulum swinging back toward frothier sounds, it'd be
easy to lump Fastball in with that trend. Their songs don't try to tackle serious
issues or point fingers. Still, beneath their shiny exterior lies some serious
"In society, you're constantly bombarded with messages: 'Make this much
money'; 'Get this car and everything's going to be great.' That's bullshit," Zuniga
declared. "Underneath it all, there's a fundamental human problem, an aching
for God, love, belonging, whatever. And that shit ain't on tap. Life's a rough
So Fastball don't try to toss any curves. Rather, they seek to serve up a brief,
glimmering respite from the drudgery and longing.
They've even got some help along the way from a new friend, rock diva Poe,
who appears on their album. "She was recording in a studio next to us," Zuniga
explained, "and we invited her in to sing backup on 'Which Way to the Top?.'
She added her own ideas. It was great."
The songwriting credits are split pretty much in half between Zuniga and
bassist/singer Tony Scalzo, 33. "Tony and I like a little competition," Zuniga
said, laughing. "We try and out-write each other. May the best song win."
Rounding out the band is drummer Joey Shuffield, 35.
Not many bands could survive such a competitive situation, let alone reach the
upper echelons of the charts. Consider the possibility of bruised egos. But egos
are kept well in check within Fastball's ranks, Zuniga said.
"Tony and I aren't attached to any one sound," he explained. "We just want
it to be cohesive. If I feel that a song he's written will sound better if we do it a
little differently, I'll say something. As will he, with one of my songs."
Producer Julian Raymond was brought in to work the controls on this album
after a successful collaboration with the band on a track for the Lounge-a-
palooza compilation. He confirmed the group's service to the album.
"When these guys went into the studio to record their first album [1995's
Make Your Mama Proud, on which Raymond served as an A&R
representative], they were a club band, and they went into the studio and
just banged out the songs, with little interaction," Raymond said. "They wanted
them to be exactly like they sounded live: short, power pop/punk songs. Now,
however, it's a unique situation where they totally trust one another and just
wrote songs, not caring what they'll sound like live."
"I was in a bar with some friends before we recorded All the Pain...,"
Zuniga recalled. "And a Led Zeppelin song came on. I'm a huge Zeppelin fan,
and I asked all my friends if they'd ever seen the band live. None of them had,
but we were all huge fans. It made me realize that it's all about the
record; we had to focus on the record."
That said, Fastball thrive on live shows as well. They recently had a successful
homecoming at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, and they are
preparing to embark on another tour with rising folk-rockers Whiskeytown.
"It's just all about the sound; you trust your heart and let it happen," Zuniga said.