JENNINGS: Fastball keeps focus on the music

Fastball is slated to headline the Village Music Fest at the Youngstown Yacht Club on Saturday, Aug. 7. (Contributed photo)

In 1998, Fastball’s second album, “All the Pain Money Can Buy,” became a massive hit, achieving Platinum sales certification, and producing two hit singles, “The Way” and “Out of My Head.” The group also received two Grammy nominations, and in a year when the top-selling album was the soundtrack to “Titanic,” Fastball became an unlikely success story.

Twenty-two years later, Fastball is still recording and performing. The group is slated to headline the Village Music Fest at the Youngstown Yacht Club on Saturday, Aug. 7. The event also features Scott Celani, Tonemah and many more regional acts.

Over their career, Fastball has continued to make new music and perform live. The group’s lineup has remained constant, featuring Miles Zunga and Tony Scalzo as the group’s primary songwriters and lead vocalists. Zunga also plays guitar and Scalzo is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, keyboards and bass. Joey Shuffield is the group’s drummer.

The group never achieved the success of “All the Pain Money Can Buy,” but it is not for a lack of effort. They have released five studio albums, including “The Help Machine” in 2019. They are currently recording new material, but, according to Scalzo, the challenge is how to get the music to fans that want to hear it.

“We have a bunch of new stuff in the can and are working to get it released,” Scalzo said during a recent phone interview.

“You can either pay a bunch of money and pay publicity agencies and pay for manufacturing and printing and all that stuff and hopefully people want it. Chances are you are going spend most of that money and there will be a push for about a month.”

In the case of “The Help Machine,” the pandemic added to the challenges of trying to promote the group’s new music.

“We couldn’t tour because of Covid, so our records didn’t move and we have a ton of those ‘Help Machine’ records, and we manufactured CDs and vinyl.”

Scalzo said that the band might try a platform like Patreon in the future, or another subscription model that offers exclusivity the subscribers.

Scalzo did not hide his frustration with the current state of the recording industry.

“You can’t make a dent. You work real hard, you make a record. For what? So your record goes in a budget bin somewhere? Things are different. It’s not that tough if you don’t care. We want to make stuff and want as many people that want to hear it, to hear it.”

“I’m not getting up on a mountaintop with a megaphone so people pay attention to us, those days are over. In fact, I’m only doing this (interview) because I’ve got nothing better to do. There is no point in promoting a show that people are going to go to anyway. From this article, I don’t think we are going to get a bunch of people to come to the show that wouldn’t have come anyway. I don’t think that’s inaccurate.”

Those words sound stinging, but Scalzo’s frustration is likely rooted in the fact that there is no logical explanation for Fastball’s precipitous decline in popularity after releasing a Grammy nominated, Platinum-selling album. “The Harsh Light of Day” was an excellent follow up to “All the Pain Money Can Buy,” and it had a strong single, “You’re an Ocean.” In spite of that, the album barely made a dent on the charts.

The grind, the touring, the promotional cycle, and all of the challenges that some from the music business, Scalzo has been through it all, and at this stage of his career his focus has changed. He still loves the process of making music and performing live, it’s the rest of the process that he hates.

“I love to play music, I love to get in front of a crowd. I try and have a good attitude about it all, it’s just that I am over it.”

“I’m not a great salesman,” Scalzo noted, “but I can tell you we are better than we have ever been. We are doing the same thing with the same guys; we are just older and better at it. There’s no disappointment, and there is no hype. People act with dismay, because they have forgotten about us and then we surprise them,” Scalzo said as he wrapped up the interview.

It’s been a tough year for musicians, Scalzo’s weariness is evident, but that can be taken as a sign he is passionate about his craft, even if he isn’t as passionate about giving interviews.

When the interview was over Scalzo paused and said, “I hope you are able to make this article a bit more cohesive. I apologize that I didn’t give you much.”

I hope I can too.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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