A lot has changed both personally and professionally in recent years for Fastball‘s Miles Zuniga.
Currently on tour in support of Fastball’s latest, Little White Lies, the singer/guitarist recently talked about some of those life changes, the Texas-based rock/pop band’s new album and other topics.
Medleyville.us: As a live unit, Fastball is now a four-piece. What were the factors that led to the addition of Corey Glaeser to the live band?
Miles Zuniga: “Well, we’ve actually had an auxiliary guy since 1998. When we did All the Pain Money Could Buy, we just put so much keyboard and second-guitar parts and what have you, there was no way we could do it live without another guy. So we’ve always had a revolving fourth guy.
“What has changed is that we moved Tony [Scalzo] off the bass. Tony’s playing guitar now, but even that has been a long-term change, since about 2004.”
Fastball went four years between The Harsh Light of Day and Keep Your Wig On, and Little White Lies comes five years after Wig was released. How confident are you that the next Fastball album will see the light of day before six years go by?
Zuniga: (Laughs) “That’s a good point. Well, we’ll either do another record right quick or we’ll just break up – one of the two. I think that’s the answer.”
How have marriage and fatherhood influenced your career in terms of creating music and your relationship with the other members of the band?
Zuniga: “[They’ve] influenced [both] tremendously, and I think, ironically, it’s made the music better. I used to buy into the rock ‘n’ roll myth — that you had to be a Johnny Thunders type to make good rock ‘n’ roll, that you had to be self-destructive. I fully bought into the romantic archetype of the Keith Richards musician, but what I discovered is there’s only one Keith Richards (laughs).
“Having a wife and son really just grounded me. It cut out a lot of the distractions. There’s a lot of extracurricular in rock ‘n’ roll (laughs), and it’s fun – that’s why I wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. I wanted to meet girls; I wanted to do drugs (laughs) – I wanted to do all of those things. That was the attraction. But usually what happens is people either die, scale it back or quit altogether. … I don’t know many people who can continue to live like they were 20 when they’re 40.
“[Marriage and fatherhood] have helped me tremendously as a writer because it’s cleared away a lot of the B.S. for me. When you have someone you really love, the stakes are really high. You don’t want to screw up your relationship. And when you have a child, it gets magnified times a thousand. … Before I had a kid, I could talk my way out of anything and it didn’t matter. There was always a back door, and I could slip out that back door and let the chips fall where they may. But with my son, for the first time, I could not turn my back on this guy. So I’m here, and whatever happens to him, I’m going to be there for him. He’s the deal-breaker for everything else, and that’s a big change.”
How did you hook up with C.J. Eiriksson to produce the new album?
Zuniga: “He was an amazing addition. Tony knew him. Tony was friends with Kathy Valentine from the Go-Go’s, and I just kept hearing these great things about [Eiriksson]. So I went and had a drink with him and we talked it over, and we got started.
“He was really hard-working, and he played the vital role of referee. I could produce the band, but I’m not always right. You need some objectivity; you need someone outside the band [who can say], ‘No, that part just sucks.’ He provided all those things and was a good sounding board. … We were able to get the work done at a much faster clip with him around.”
Are there good back stories to any of the songs on the new album?
Zuniga: “My favorite story is that the last song on the record, ‘Soul Radio,’ was a whole different song [originally]. We were recording it, and it just kept presenting problems. It just was doing it for me, but we soldiered on.
“We had a version of the song that technically could have been mixed … it had this piano on the verses. I was in the studio with C.J., and I said, ‘What if that piano was backward?’ So he ran the piano backward, and it sounded so trippy that I thought, ‘That’s what the song needs to do,’ but it didn’t really fit (laughs). The song was more uptempo – kind of like a Big Star uptempo song and not the moody piece it’s become. So we just ended up rewriting the whole song.
“And also [with] the melody lines – we were arguing a lot about the melody lines in the verse. I ended up just combining them, so that I would sing one line and Tony would answer with a different melody line, and that ended up working very well.
“Tony had this [other] song called ‘I Don’t Think I Love You Anymore’ – that was the title and the chorus. It was another example of where it just wasn’t really working for me. I was hanging out with C.J. again, and [we thought of ways to] add flavor to the tune, that maybe this song is about someone who used to do drugs or whatever. And I said, ‘Name a street in Los Angeles that would be a sketchy place for someone to go buy drugs.’ And he said, ‘Rampart Street.’ So I just sang the chorus: Instead of ‘I don’t think I love you anymore,’ I changed it to ‘I don’t go down Rampart Street anymore.’
“Tony ended up liking it a whole lot. He had been really adamant that we didn’t change it. It turns out it was a pivotal street – he used to know a girl who actually lived on Rampart Street. That was a happy accident.”
Any wild or memorable stories from this year’s South by Southwest?
Zuniga: “My favorite show [that Fastball did] was actually the one at the Hotel San Jose. It was awesome – it was a free show, and it was really packed. I don’t really have any colorful anecdotes; I’d have to create some (laughs). We played seven shows in four days or something crazy like that. It was a lot of fun.”
Does it still mean the same to you to play SXSW after all these years?
Zuniga: (Short pause) “No. It’s like at the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Toto pulls back the curtain and you see there is no wizard. The music industry has collapsed. The notion [of SXSW] was that you could be a star and be discovered here, and your whole life can change. Now whether that’s true or not is irrelevant. The point is all of these bands are coming to play because they thought some guy from Los Angeles with a cigar and a Cadillac was going to sign them, and all of their dreams would come true.
“Well, now, that’s just not going to happen. The music industry is in full retreat. So [SXSW] has become more of a publicity junket for all of these bands. It’s just a different deal. It’s still a great conference and totally fun to go to. But as a musician, it’s not the same for me.
“And also, we had success and everything, so we’ve already gone on the ride. I’m pretty, I guess, jaded or cynical – pick your adjective (laughs). I’ve already gone on the ride, and I know what it entails. There’s no way I could return to being in my 20s and thinking, ‘Oh, man, I got signed and I’m going to be a huge rock star.’ That was then; this is now. I have a totally different vantage point on it.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Fastball on tour (schedule subject to change):
* May 7: Tin Angel – Philadelphia
* May 9: City Winery – New York
* May 12: Jamming Java – Vienna, Va.
* May 13: Outback Lodge: Charlottesville, Va.
* May 14: The Square Room – Knoxville, Tenn.
* May 15: Rhino’s – Bloomington, Ind.
* May 16: Phoenix Hill Tavern – Louisville, Ky.
* May 17: Smyrna Market Village – Smyrna, Ga.
* May 18: The Basement – Nashville, Tenn.
* May 19: Juanitas – Little Rock, Ark.
* May 23: The Parish – Austin, Texas
From left: Joey Shuffield, Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo. Photo by Kim Stringfellow