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'The Way' to Fans' Hearts

August 26, 1998|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fastball. Talk about your unlikely success story.

The Austin-based rock band's 1996 debut release, "Make Your Mama Proud," offered a worthy slice of punk rock that nevertheless has been ignored, selling only about 3,000 copies during its first year of release. At the time, the trio's future--along with its troubled label, Disney-owned Hollywood Records--looked shaky.

Until the public found "The Way," that is. That hummable, Latin-tinged tune--found on Fastball's follow-up LP, "All the Pain Money Can Buy"--has been one of the most-played songs on the radio, peaking at No. 1 on modern rock charts in March.

The single propelled "All the Pain Money Can Buy" to No. 29 on Billboard's Top 200, with LP sales of 666,466, according to SoundScan. (Since the new album was released, "Make Your Mama Proud" has sold 3,500 more copies.)

The band--featuring singer-guitarist Miles Zuniga, drummer Joey Shuffield and bassist-singer Tony Scalzo--recently landed a coveted slot on the nationwide H.O.R.D.E. tour, with a local stopover Thursday at Irvine Meadows. Reached recently by telephone at his Austin home, a few hours before a H.O.R.D.E. appearance there, Scalzo reflected on the group's recent success, the changes it has brought and his Orange County roots.

"I didn't realize I was ever gonna be a part of something this huge," said Scalzo, 34, who wrote and sings "The Way," a wistful tune offering a romanticized version of a real-life tragedy involving the disappearance and death of an elderly Texas couple.

"The buzz might just be [over] this one song. I hope not," he said, "but it could very well be just a case of that 'lucky song syndrome.' "

Band members hope to take the spotlight in stride.

"It's crucial right now for us to establish our own identity and maintain some originality," Scalzo said. "We just have to be natural and present ourselves without trying to put up some rock 'n' roll facade. . . . It's all about being comfortable with who you really are."

Judging by its work, Fastball may be more than a one-hit wonder. "All the Pain Money Can Buy," with material written separately by Zuniga and Scalzo, is a fine collection of guitar-driven power-pop. With the twangy angst of "Fire Escape," the propulsive, rhythmic swing of "G.O.D. (Good Old Days)" and the rootsier, reflective, slower-moving "Sweetwater, Texas," the depth and variety are noteworthy, reflecting many musical influences.

"We listen to a lot of music--from America and UFO to Joe Ely and Film Star--and read as many rock biographies as we can," Scalzo said. "We try to draw something from what others have been through, both the good and the bad."

Scalzo learned how to play guitar (before switching to bass) at Tustin High School. In the late 1980s and early '90s, he played in local punk-rock bands, including Electric Cool Aid, Tender Fury, Naked Soul and the Goods.

In 1993, he and drummer Jamie Reidling (formerly of Cadillac Tramps, Big Drill Car, Jigsaw) went to Austin to play with a rocker named Beaver Nelson. As that project was falling through, the grass-roots Orange County music scene blossomed with No Doubt and the Offspring soon gaining national attention.

Asked about that irony, Scalzo spoke with fondness and pride over his strong Orange County ties.

"I saw their success coming before we left," he said. "No Doubt was already a big-drawing band, at least in Southern California. I saw them open for some larger bands in '89 or '90. . . . They were just starting out but were very good even then."

Kim Shattuck, the lead singer of the Muffs and a graduate of Orange Coast College, isn't surprised by Scalzo's good fortune with Fastball.

"Ya know, I honestly don't have the new Fastball CD, but I heard 'The Way' being played one day at Kmart," she said. "It's a very good song, and when I heard it was written by Tony, I wasn't surprised. I always thought he was destined for bigger things, and I'm proud of him."

Does Scalzo, who frequently hung out at the now-defunct Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach and Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa, ever get homesick?

"I don't miss all the car alarms, cell phones and helicopters," he said. "But I do miss a lot of my friends--and my parents still live in Tustin. . . . I know where I am as soon as I pop my head out of the car window. All of a sudden you get a whiff--it's kinda like a mixture of the Pacific Ocean and smog. It's really quite unique."

With two daughters, ages 5 and 7 weeks, Scalzo is learning to balance family life with work as a rocker.

"I'm definitely learning how to compartmentalize everything I care about," he said. "I have to be grounded. I'm at an age where I consider every move before I make it. It's a lot harder to get worked up, which is kind of a drag. I don't have that adolescent edge anymore. But I still have the passion for what I do, otherwise I'd quit."

*

* The H.O.R.D.E. tour, featuring Blues Traveler, Ben Harper, Barenaked Ladies, Fastball, Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise, Bran Van 3000, Alana Davis, Boxset, Calico and others, stops Thursday at Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. 3:30 p.m. $19.50-$32.50. (949) 855-8096.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Coming Attractions

Lineup for the H.O.R.D.E. Festival at Irvine Meadows on Thursday

MAIN STAGE

4-4:30 p.m. Alana Davis

5-5:45 Fastball

6:15-7:15 Barenaked Ladies

7:45-9 Ben Harper

9:30-11 Blues Traveler

SECOND STAGE

3:30-4 p.m. Calico

4:30-5 Underdogs

5:45-6:15 Box Set

7:15-7:45 Bran Van 3000

9-:45 Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

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