Fastball doesn't shy away from past hits

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Even though Fastball is still making new music, vocalist/guitarist Miles Zuniga says the band isn't offended if you just want to hear its late '90s hits.

"We've never been a band that shirks away from playing the songs that made us popular. I'm always amazed at bands that refuse to play the songs that brought 'em to the dance," Zuniga told The Eagle during a recent telephone interview.

Fastball's invitation to the party arrived after the band released its second and most famous album, "All the Pain Money Can Buy," in 1998. It went platinum, largely due to the success of its first single, "The Way."

When the pop-rockers play at The Big E's Court of Honor Stage on three consecutive afternoons beginning Sept. 29, fans can also expect to hear "Out of My Head," another single off of that album that Zuniga says is still one of his favorites to play at concerts.

"I just think it's such a well-constructed song, and I hardly play on it, which is fun `cause I like to be able to just sit back and listen," he said, "and then when I do play on it, it's got a cool little guitar solo that I enjoy playing."

The lack of a center-stage mainstay may have ultimately contributed to Fastball's fall from pop-rock fame. The group has never had a true frontman, with Zuniga and Tony Scalzo sharing the honors (drummer Joey Shuffield rounds out the group). Scalzo and Zuniga clashed when the band first formed, according to Zuniga, who said the two barely knew each other before the group's rise to prominence. They wrote songs separately.

"We used to be pretty competitive. It just wasn't maybe the healthiest atmosphere," Zuniga said.

Coupled with the changing popular tastes that eventually befell many late '90s rock groups appealing to the mainstream — one of them, Smash Mouth, is also playing at The Big E — Fastball's internal division certainly didn't help the band maintain its success following the group's triumphant second album. Its third and fourth records, "The Harsh Light of Day" (2000) and "Keep Your Wig On" (2004), were commercial flops. Still, the band never broke up, releasing "Little White Lies" in 2009 and its latest album, "Step into Light," earlier this year.

Zuniga said the group has benefited from a much-improved relationship between him and Scalzo.

"We're way better friends than we used to be," he said, noting that he and Scalzo often collaborate on songs now, setting writing appointments.

While Fastball was more well-known two decades ago, Zuniga said the group is better — and more confident — from a musical perspective these days. When they recorded something well in the '90s, "I was like 'OK, OK, don't touch anything, don't move.' Like, that'll never happen again. We got lucky that we got it that way," Zuniga recalled. "But now, I don't feel that way anymore. I'm like, `Let's just do another take.' We're going to get it. We're really good musicians. This isn't rocket science."

"Step into Light" is an opportunity for the band's development out of the spotlight to receive some shine. The refrain in "Behind the Sun," an acoustic number on the album, is apropos: "No one knows me / no one knows what I've done / I've been hiding / behind the sun."

For Zuniga, he hopes the group's performances in West Springfield inspire audience members to listen to some of their past, lesser-known works.

"Every time I've gone to see a band that really impressed me, it [has] sent me delving into their catalog and trying to learn more about 'em," he said.

But Zuniga understands if there are some who just want to hear tunes like "Out of My Head" and "The Way."

"If they just get loaded and sing along to the hits," he said, "that doesn't bother me, either."


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