Julie Hoffman

Sonic Ranch - New Album, Upcoming Tour, and Lots of Fun: An Interview with Tony Scalzo of Fastball

Music Scene Media
Mar 28, 2024
13 min read
Photo Courtesy of Fastball

I recently sat down on zoom with Tony Scalzo, singer / songwriter from the iconic American Pop Rock band Fastball. The band is heading out on tour (Tour Dates and Info below).  We chatted about the band’s upcoming tour, group history and their new, soon to be released album, Sonic Ranch.

Fastball formed in the 90s and band members include Tony Scalzo, Miles Zuniga, and Joey Shuffield. They skyrocketed to fame with their second studio album, All the Pain Money Can Buy (1998).  This album included hit singles “The Way”, “Out of my Head”, and “Fire Escape”.

First some history-

TS: I moved to Austin in ‘93, and we started fastball in ‘94. I was there to play with somebody else, and that thing kind of like went its course. That's when I met Joey, who's the drummer of fastball.  He and I teamed up with Miles, who was moving back into town. He's from Texas, but he was living in the Bay area for a while, and he decided to come back to Austin and see if he could do anything there. That was basically the summer of ‘94 and we started moving right along... right from that point.  We managed to get on Hollywood Records within a year - we made 3 records with them.

New album!

TS: We've got a lot going on just coming up. We've had a very sort of chill December up to now. Mainly just trying to figure out what our record is going to be called. Getting all the songs together for it. Now we're working on the artwork.

We've got another record coming out in June, called Sonic Ranch

*MSM was privileged to get an early full listen to this new album!

TS: We're really excited about it (the new album) as we usually get when we put out new material. We put out a record in 2022. We started right away working on this material. We went to the studio in May 2022 – that was even before this last album, The Deep End, came out. We went in with David Garza, in west Texas. There is a studio called Sonic Ranch, where up to that point we had been there for a visit. The owner, Tony, was generous enough to let us come out and check the place out a long time ago... this was a long time ago, and we loved it, and we'd always wanted to go there and do something there. But the opportunity just really didn't come up.

For this stuff we call David, who works there quite a bit. He's an old Austin friend of ours and he's become a pretty prolific producer, as well as a great artist, in his own right. One of the best musicians I've ever known.

We went in in May of 2022, and we did about 8 or 9 tracks, and some of those we carried on and decided to go back in February of 2023. So, we did more stuff and had started a relationship with a label called Sunset Boulevard Records and the guys over there.  It's a small team, but they helped us get our material together for a record. Meanwhile we put out a live record with them (Smashed Hits!).

We got a live record with them, which is already out - since October 

MSM: Yes, I like that one and noticed some of the songs will be on your new album. 

TS: Correct. We sneaked (in) a couple of new songs.

Most of that material is from those sessions out in West Texas with David. A lot of the songs really do, I feel, convey images of being out in vast, empty spaces like Tornillo, Texas.

You spend a lot of time outside at night at that place. There's nothing else to do. You basically work in the day and go eat at the hacienda kind of right there.   You get huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos, or whatever it is you like for breakfast, and then they have lunch, and then they split, but they leave something for dinner. The dinner is already there on trays.  It’s cooked before the staff has gone home for the night.  So, you hang out and have dinner, and then you might walk around in the dark because there's nothing out there, and sometimes it might be a full moon. You go out there and it's almost like daylight... it looks like noon.

I'm sure it inspires different artists in different ways.  

Having said all that about the desert... our first single is called “Rather Be Me Than You”, and it was not recorded there (in the desert), and it was produced by David.

Our A&R guy from Sunset is Tim Devine, and he's done a lot of stuff, a lot of big stuff, over the years. He wanted to get us hooked up with John Fields, up in Minneapolis. John has a studio there. 

We just happened to be playing a show (in Minneapolis) on the Sunday of that weekend. We flew in on Friday, and we met John, hung out at his studio, and started working on something that I had as a song.  As we started playing it that afternoon, we realized that it had some strong parts, but maybe it wasn't all the way. Miles had some ideas for some parts, and I don't know how sometimes it works, you know. You just pound stuff out and it turns into a song.

We basically sketched out the main form with a chorus and a verse, and parts that I had come with, and parts that we added (together) and turned it into that song. A funny thing happened at the end of that evening. Miles was done and Joey was coming in later...  I'm like- hey, I know you wanna go to the hotel, but can you come to the studio and lay down a drum track for this? 

We did all (the parts) that didn't really have drums- finished mainly basic tracks. Joey played drums, and we had a pretty strong thing to work with for the next few weeks after we left. We've basically finished it from our houses.

Miles would play the riff to the song. It's the first song on the album. And so, he played this riff, and he laid that down in there and then he wrote some more lyrics. I think we had some other lyrics, and they weren't the finished product. So, I had to sing some stuff from my room.  It doesn't sound like the other songs to me. It's kind of a black sheep or whatever, and at the same time I think it's strong enough for a pop band like us. We're a Pop Rock band, you know.

Then the next song... it follows this sort of organic trail, I think, throughout the album.

 MGM: Is there a story behind that song? If you read the lyrics feels like there might be one.

TS: You know what I think. It's just like bash this out.  Miles had a chorus that was “Rather Be Me Than You”, and it came with the with the riff and I thought that was a little too like signature nineties, if you know... or even eighties kind of. But for whatever reason, I had dismissed it earlier, but then he brought it to this song. And I thought it worked really well.

MSM: Do you find it’s like that with most of your songs - that's how you create?

TS: No. So I would say, 20% of our material is collaborative in some way. We don't live near each other anymore. We could drive to each other's houses within an hour, but it's not super convenient to be in the same room unless we're on a tour on a show. So, I write a lot of songs on my own and he does a sort of singer / songwriter gig every week. 

At the Saxon Pub in Austin, and that's called The Resentments. The Resentment has turned into a tradition because it's a Sunday night gig that's been going on for over 20 years now. Some of the people are still around and do it, but some of the people have passed away. Stephen Bruton was one of the starting guys of that group, and he passed away a while back. But people, great songwriters, they back each other up as they play songs, and they do it every week. Miles is constantly in it - writing and performing every week. I don't perform live as often because I quit certain bands. I was in a couple of bands for a while. I was doing a tech centric cover band called the Texas Tycoons, and I was playing piano.  I had done it for over 10 years, and I learned a ton of great information from playing in that band because it was classic Texas jukebox music. Whether it be R & B, the Blues, country music, and straight up Honky-Tonk music. I mean when we played every week, couples danced, and they danced 2 steps. So that was a new thing for me. Back then, when I started (and) coming from California, I really didn't know anything about roots music other than American which was (different) from the punk thing you know I was into. Like Rank and File, and X and The Knitters, and the Blasters, and all that kind of stuff which sort of has become Americana.

But when I moved to Texas. And I started playing with some real Texas guys and girls, I really got to understand that there's more, there's a lot more, just here in the state. It's like another country for me.

MSM: We'll touch on that- What was your musical influence and how has it changed throughout the years? 

TS: I would like to say, as my musical tastes have changed and evolved, that my musical output has evolved along with it hand in hand. 

But it really hasn't. I'm not unhappy with that, but I would like to expand my horizons a little bit more musically. And I do slowly. I think Miles is quicker on the uptake with that. He's changed the way he writes, and we record, you know, these songs and some of the songs on the previous few albums have been ethereal and expansive and coming from a more artistic place. And then I'm always good for the you know, the toe tap and pop tune right now with the hooks, and I tend to want to be.

I always fall back on that, you know, and I kind of fault myself for that, as you can tell. But people like it. I know that. It's part of what people like about this band. And so I think I'm happy that there's a wide variety of stuff going on between the 3 of us.

MSM: I noticed that, even with your new album. You have the first song, and then it ends with the piano- which is beautiful.

TS: So if you were to take that playlist and divide it up like a Vinyl record, then you would getRather Be Me Than You” as the first song, and then you have Miles's solo song “Gray Sky Blue”, and that's side one and then what I believe may be our next single is or maybe the third single- It's calledAmerica”. Okay? So you know, we're conscious of the whole election coming up. And we really want to time it right. It's about just unifying- how do we find a way to unify this country? How do we find a way to find real common ground, you know. That's what “America” asks. So that’s going to be the first song on side 2. The last song is my song, which is just me on piano and vocal. David specifically asked for us to each come up with a song that we just play and just record.

That's what we did on those songs. There's nothing on there that's anything but the piano and my voice. And that was honoring what David had asked for in the first place.

But then they did do some stuff with Miles song. I'm very glad they did, because John Fields added a little bit of keyboard string to it to give it more space. Then David was in there playing guitar as well. So there's 2 guys playing guitar, and then he does this little piano thing in the middle, which I think is a brilliant little piano. A very simple, almost childlike. Really, we're not really virtuosos, right? Miles or myself. David is. So, while he's there we're going to utilize him. We let him go, and he runs around the studio. Does all kinds of amazing things before we even knew what the last thing he did was, he's doing something else.

He's very organic and he's not a show off. But yeah, it sounds like he's showing off because he's so freaking good. Miles and I- we're adequate. You know, we're good, and we can pull it off live, and we can play our asses off, and with energy. And we're not super technical.

I like that because I don't ever want to have some ripping thing in one of our songs. There's no need for it... or there hasn't been, yet, like some fast guitar solo.

I guess that stuff's kind of passe anyway, right? That's how we were when I was a teenager. It was like waiting for the guitar solo to come up.

MSM: I was happy that “Hummingbird” got on the new album.

TS: I believe that will be the second single.

MSM: Whose idea was it to add the hummingbird at the end?

TS: I don't know, but it's a real hummingbird. It's very funny, because I didn't know the story, but when the Beatles did "Blackbird"  for the wide album in ‘68, at the end of the song somebody put a bird on there. But it wasn't the proper sample, they didn't have that yet, but they had some kind of birds on tape.

But we found a hummingbird, I guess, and there you go. So it's not some bullshit like a mockingbird.

MSM: Do you have any plans on this tour to do any recordings for live tracks like on the other album.

TS: No, we don't have any plans, and we don't really expect to have the ability to do that on the road. We are not the Wings over America, or you know, we don't have a truck. We don't even have a bus. Okay, we're we go out Econo to the max. We're playing small places. We're doing what we did when we were starting out. We got hotels, but it's bare bones.

We're taking out another guy who's going to play guitar and keyboards - a guy named Dave. He's an excellent musician who plays with Eric Johnson. And he's been practicing with us, getting ready to go out April seventh- April eighth is the first show... nearby in Fredericksburg, Texas.

It's in the path of the eclipse, so it’s our eclipse show. Then we start running up the east coast, and we'll be doing great. The majority of the audience hasn't seen us play in years, or ever, right? But you know, we're always good for a mind-blowing experience. We like to impress people, and I think we pull it off most of the time.

MSM: Yeah, definitely! 

MSM: That also leads into one of my questions- If you were to go back in time and talk to yourself right before you headed out on your first tour (the first Fastball Tour)- What advice would you give yourself.

TS: Oh. I think we did really, really good. I think we did what we were supposed to be doing. Yeah, we all had some experience already separately. 

We knew what to do. We knew how to find a van for $8,000, and we knew how to build a little structure over the back of the van. Take out the last 2 rows of seats. You build this thing with plywood and 4 by fours in the in the back, put the gear underneath that plywood deck, and you still have about 15/16 inches of clearance and that's where either one or 2 guys crashes... crash is bad word. But you know someone sleeps. Someone reclines. Someone relaxes. We knew how to do all that stuff.

I think we rough it, and we travel... hard . Once we get on the road. You see the routing on this tour?

MSM: Yes! Do you have one that stands out?

 TS: Yeah, there's one where we're going from Maryland to Boston to Asbury Park. 3 days in a row! 

MSM: Can I ask you a silly question - If Fastball were an ice cream, what flavor would it be and why?

TS: Hmm, let's see.

Okay, Neapolitan. Like we're a 3 piece. Colors are all, you know, to different people they send different messages, you know, but brown, the chocolate. Chocolates my favorite flavor. But I'm not the chocolate. I'm not the brown. I'm probably the strawberry. My stuff tends to be a little bit more dulce.  It's like it's sugar-coated kind of. 

I think Miles is the brown. I think that he provides a little deeper flavor. Okay, so that's the chocolate. And Joey is the white, he’s kind of a kind of a straight dude, you know. He's a white guy, he still got the soul. 

MSM: One more question - if somebody goes to your live concert on this tour, what do you hope they walk away with?

TS: Hope they walk away with a couple of cd’s and a T-shirt... we'll have plenty of stuff for them to buy, and we'll be there to hang out and say, “Hi!” Take a photo and sign our shit so they can look forward to that. They can look forward to hearing- if they're fans, they already know- they're going to hear a lot of the songs that they heard back in ‘95 to ‘98, and past then. If they're fans, they're familiar with our stuff. We have a lot of time to fill up. We're not opening, we're headlining. So, we have to fill up around 75 min. That means a lot of songs for a band that has 3 min songs. So, you know, long set lists. Some volume of music like that it's going to have peaks and valleys. So, there's going to be some mellow stuff and sing along stuff. We throw in a little bit of an Americana vibe with some of our material. So, we'll be busting out acoustic guitars and we'll be rocking, too.

There you go! I would hope that people get to hear the songs that they want to hear. And obviously anything that's been on the radio by Fastball is going to be in our set. It's like 4 songs... so those things are going to be in there, for sure. We usually play "The Way" towards the end of the set.

MSM: Awesome! And thank you very much for your time today.

TS: Thank you. It's been fun.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

TOUR 2024


8 – Fredericksburg, TX – Arch Ray Eclipse Musicfest *

10 – Orlando, FL – The Social

11 – St. Petersburg, FL – Floridian Social Club

12 – Miami, FL – Magic 13 Brewing Co.

13 – Port St. Lucie, FL – MIDFLORIDA Event Center †

14 – Charleston, SC – Music Farm

17 – Atlanta, GA – City Winery

18 – Durham, NC – Motorco Music Hall

19 – Philadelphia, PA – City Winery

20 – New York, NY – Mercury Lounge

21 – Columbia, MD – The Collective Encore

23 – Boston, MA – The Middle East

24 – Asbury Park, NJ – Wonder Bar

25 – Hagerstown, MD – Hub City Vinyl

27 – Forest Park, IL – Robert's Westside


9 – Austin, TX – Parish

10 – San Antonio, TX – Sam’s Burger Joint

18 – Augustine, FL – AS IF! The 90s Fest *

* Festival Appearance

† w/ Gin Blossoms

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