Fastball's "The Way" was one of the inescapable singles of 1998. It became a top ten hit on Billboard's Hot 100 charts and earned attention in markets such as Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Australia. All The Money That Pain Can Buy, the album that spawned the single, sold over a million copies and earned the trio two Grammy nominations. Co-founder Tony Scalzo says that where some bands might have been frightened by the prospect of not sustaining its standing in the charts, Fastball has no such concerns.
“The dangerous part of that kind of success is that you don’t have that trepidation,” he says. “You say, ‘Well, we made it. This album sold a million copies, the next one will definitely sell three million.’ The standards raise, you start wanting first class flights and all this dumb stuff that just depletes your money.
“We didn’t see the precipice on the horizon. Maybe we should have been a little bit wiser about stuff and try to focus on our live act and try to invest time, money and effort on whatever the next project was going to be.”
The group followed All The Money That Pain Can Buy up with 2000’s The Harsh Light of Day, an album that failed to capture an audience the way its predecessor had.
“It was a good album but it was an introspective, musical landscape kind of record. A bit darker than what we were getting known for,” Scalzo says. “Also, we had two frontmen who sound different, look different and weren’t on the same page, really, at the time.”
The record didn’t only create confusion among the Fastball fan base, it proved a difficult sell for the outfit’s label as well.
“They said, ‘We don’t really know what to do with these guys,'” Scalzo says. “The record sold well enough, but it didn’t do the kind of numbers that were considered a success.”
The group left its then-label, Hollywood Records, and signed with Rykodisc, an imprint that had had some success with the band Sugar earlier in the 1990s. Fastball’s arrival coincided with the company’s decision to jettison its attempts to launch new bands and focus instead on reissues. The album that Scalzo and his bandmates recorded there, Keep Your Wig On (2004), sank without much notice. That didn’t stop Fastball from continuing to tour on a regular basis with 2016, according to Scalzo, serving as the unit’s slowest road year.
If the group was absent from concert halls for much of the year, there was still time spent on the band, namely on preparing for the release of Step Into Light, the outfit’s first effort since 2009. Scalzo says that he and partner Miles Zuniga invested as much time and attention as possible into the project and that it will please old fans as well as attract new ones to the fold. He’s also hopeful that it will come to represent the positive attitude the group holds onto today.
“Twenty years down the line we’re not young men by any stretch,” he says. “We’re late-middle-aged dudes, and we’re out here trying to rock. It’s not as easy as it was, physically, but it’s definitely more rewarding. It’s fun. We’re excited to be here. And grateful.”
Step Into Light has been met with positive reviews and renewed interest in the band among radio and press. It also arrives at a time when many veteran acts are questioning the wisdom of releasing new music to audiences obsessed with hits. Scalzo points out that he sees no reason to stop creating, even if some of his peers are afraid to continue.
“I make music, I write songs,” he says. “I’m not going to just stop playing new songs. We’re playing songs that haven’t even been recorded yet. We’re hoping to go into the studio before summer 2018. People give up, I guess.”
Fastball plays at The Cotillion Ballroom Sunday night with Everclear and Vertical Horizon.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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