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Fastball Still Brings The Heat – Miles Zuniga On The Band’s Enduring Success
Friday, October 04, 2019

No one would blame the men of Fastball if they simply wanted to rest on their laurels. The band – which consists of Joey Shuffield, Tony Scalzo, and Miles Zuniga (photo: L to R) – had some of the biggest hits of the ‘90s with song like “The Way,” and “Out of My Head.”

Living in the past, however, isn’t as interesting to them as creating in the present.

Zuniga notes that not every artist with hits on their resume shares this feeling, saying, “I know a lot of people, they’re just playing songs from 25 years ago, and they don’t really bother making new records because they feel like, ‘What’s the point? No one cares. Everyone just wants to hear these songs.’ I’ve never felt that way. I doggedly pursue my muse.”

The latest example of Zuniga, and the rest of Fastball, pursuing their muse is the trio’s upcoming album, The Help Machine, which is their seventh overall, and is due out October 18th on the band’s own 33 1/3 label.

“The funny part is we used to bitch about how long it would take a record company to put out a record,” Zuniga says with a laugh, “and now we’re the record company, and it takes even longer than it used to when we were signed to major labels.”

So maybe Fastball occasionally operates more like an off-speed pitch, but they’re making music that’s worth the wait.

With The Help Machine on its way, I caught up with Zuniga to find out about the project, as well as the highs and lows of having a mega-hit, the time Jerry Springer joined them on stage, and some of the adventures he had touring in the days before GPS.

The Help Machine is arriving as you’re about to enter your 25th year as a band. A LOT has gone on in 25 years. What have been some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make when it comes to making and releasing music today versus in the ‘90s?

It’s very different, but in some ways it’s the same.

I guess I’m like Michael Caine – they asked him why he works so much, and he’s like, “Because I always think it’s gonna be my last gig.” I kind of feel the same way. In a way I’m always like – wow, I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!

The distribution system has changed. It used to be you had to go to a record label, but now you don’t. The difference is record labels … people complained about ‘em, because they filtered out a lot of things, but for me, if you could make it through that filter it could be good, because they could provide you with money. They had the capital, and if they decided to promote you, if they thought they could make some money off you, they would deploy a lot of money that way, and get you in front of people.

That has kind of changed. I guess it’s still the same if you’re Ariana Grande, and they know they’re gonna get their investment back. They have a lot of money to spend on someone like that, but your average guy that’s out there fighting to get noticed amongst everyone and his brother … it didn’t used to be everyone and his brother could record their record at home. It’s a lot more crowded.

But in ways it’s still the same. Everyone’s still trying to get noticed. Everyone’s still fighting for their little share of real estate. I try not to think too hard about that. That takes away from all the great things that are there when you play music.

It’s there, but it’s like traffic jams when you’re driving. {laughs}

There’s a political lilt to some of the songs on The Help Machine. Were there some things you felt you needed to get off your chest?

Not really.

The funny part is all that stuff happened before 2016, before Donald Trump was elected.

My songs, I can’t speak for Tony’s songs, but the songs I sing – I wrote “Surprise Surprise” … I think it was in 2014. A much more innocent time. I was just sitting there in my room messing around with the cord changes and all of a sudden I had a song. I kinda of filed it away, and when we were looking for songs we always do what I call “drag the river” – you go through your hard drive and go, “What’s this? What’s that?,” and there’s a ton of songs on there that a lot of times you’ve just forgotten about because if you don’t play them out you might forget about them. Then you realize, “Oh wow, what an amazing song! I can’t believe I wrote this,” and all the work is done already! {laughs}

That’s gotta feel good. The work’s done! It was done over the course of a number of years, but it’s done.

Whenever it gets done, it’s done. Without the work what would you have? That’s the way I look at it.

What makes me happy is that feeling of productivity, and having a little something to do every day. It doesn’t have to be all day long, but as long as I’ve got the morning, or something, to work on music, and I may not always get to it every day, but at least the thought of it, it’s a good thing.

It’s a vocation. It’s my life. It wouldn’t matter if I could make a living at it or not. I’m very very lucky that I make a living at what I’m interested in doing, but even if I had to work some regular stiff job I’d still be playing music, and if I couldn’t play music I’d pick something else artistic.

I love the feeling of getting better at something every day. I practice piano all the time, and I don’t ever play piano live. Rarely are you gonna get to hear me play piano, and you should count yourself lucky, but I’m not playing so that people can hear it, it’s for me. It’s like ooh, I couldn’t do that yesterday, or last week, and now I can. That’s incredibly satisfying.

It keeps your brain healthy, too. Your brain will just atrophy if you’re not trying to teach it new things.

Anything creative usually involves really high highs, and really low lows. You had a really high high with “The Way,” and the subsequent singles, but once that died down did you experience any emotional lows, or was your attitude more like “Fuck it. We’re making music, and that makes us happy”?

It was a definite come down to go from flying that high, and then suddenly stuff starts to just slow down, but that’s when you have to decide who you are. Maybe at some point I thought I got into it to be a “rock star,” or make a lot of money, or meet girls, but those things are all just trappings. Those things aren’t the thing. If I’d been in it for that I guess I would’ve been really devastated.

It was hard, because you’re making a lot of money, and everything is going how you thought it would in your head, and then suddenly you feel like, “Wow, no one cares about us anymore.” But lo and behold, a few years later you realize that plant’s not dead. I haven’t watered it in years, but it’s still there. It’s like a fucking cactus.

I was gonna say, it’s like a cactus, it isn’t something you can kill very easily.

Apparently not, because there have been periods of extreme neglect in terms of the group.

At some point I was like, “This thing’s still alive. We really ought to water the plant.”

I’m just grateful that people still care. It’s been a LONG time, and people still listen to our music. We just finished a tour of Spain, and all these people came out, and people were singing really loud. I was like wow, this is insane.

It’s like throwing a little message in a bottle, and someone on the other side of the world reads it. That stuff really makes it worthwhile for me. That’s what it’s all about – communication, and expression, and those kinds of things.

I saw you guys a number of years ago in Stamford, CT. I feel like maybe you were on tour with Sugar Ray.

Probably. For better or worse, that’s where people want to stick us, in that ‘90s slot with people that were on the radio at the same time. Whether we have that much in common musically, or not, doesn’t seem to be relevant. {laughs}

Was that the time Jerry Springer came out?

Yes! I believe he’d just started filming his show in Stamford that year.

We didn’t actually invite him to sing. I just said, “Hey, Jerry’s here,” and next thing I knew he was headed up to the stage. I wasn’t gonna tell him no, I just thought wow, this is fucking surreal. Then he wanted to sing “Me and Bobby McGee,” and I don’t think he knew all the words.

Baba Booey was there, as well.

Going back to the ‘90s for a minute, what would you consider to be the pinnacle of riding the wave of “The Way”? Was there a specific person that told you they’re a fan of yours and it blew you away?

Yeah, there were lots of people. Peter Frampton came up to me, came up to me, and said, “Miles. Peter. Great album.”

Shit like that is just fantastic.

Bon Jovi asked us to tour with him. We actually told him no. In hindsight I wish we had gone on that tour, but hindsight is 20-20.

There were a lot of accolades. I was on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Stuff like that was happening all the time, but the highlight was hearing our song on the radio every five minutes, and traveling all over the world. It really was fun. It was amazing. I mean, I’d recommend it to anybody. {laughs}

So having a hit song is a great thing to do?

It sure is.

You mentioned traveling all over the world, so let’s get some tour stories. You toured in the era before GPS, so what’s the most lost you’ve ever been while on the road?

I don’t know. People are helpless now. It wasn’t that hard.

Before Fastball I was in this rockabilly band and we would just bail like – “OK, show’s over. I’m going over here.” “I’m going with these people to this.” “Where are you staying?” “I don’t even know.”

You’d just disappear, and then somehow, by hook or by crook, find everybody the next morning to go to the next town.

I don’t know how I did it, but I do know that it wasn’t that big a deal because we did it a lot.

The most lost I’ve ever been … I’ve never really been that lost, but one time I was in this band Big Car, with Joey (Shuffield) … I wear glasses – I’m kind of blind as a bat without them – and I was asleep in the back of the van when we pulled into a truck stop. It’s like 6am, and we’re on our way to Chicago. Our guitar player was driving, he got out, and I decided I needed to use the restroom, and get some water, or something. So I went into this convenience store, I don’t even think I had proper shoes, I think was wearing flip flops, and I didn’t have my glasses on, couldn’t see shit, but I could see enough to find my way to the bathroom. When I came back out the van was gone. I wasn’t sure, because that’s how blind I am, but I was like – it’s gone. They left me.

This was 1987, there were no cell phones. I was just sitting there at this truck stop. I made a collect call to my manager at the time, and she accepted the charges. I told her they left me here, I didn’t have my wallet, I didn’t have anything, and there was no way for her to call them. I was like well, I guess I’ll just chill out. They eventually came back like an hour later.

It took them that long!

Well, they drove half an hour without realizing I wasn’t there.

Even then, I kid you not, I was scheming of ways to get to Chicago. I was like – there’s a lot of truckers here, I bet I could get one to give me a ride, and once I get to Chicago I’ll hunt down the venue and make the gig.

Make the gig. That’s my mantra.

Make the gig.

No matter what. It’s not that hard. Make the gig!

So I was even thinking about it then, like there’s a way to make this gig, even if they don’t come back.

For more Fastball, check out fastballtheband.com, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:00 AM  
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