More than a quick fix... "I wanted to base our [career] trajectory on the Police," says Fastball's Miles Zuniga. "When they got together, they had all been in these other bands; the oldest, Andy Summers, was like 35."
It's not that Zuniga has any illusions about how his Austin group ultimately stacks up to the Police in terms of musical chops and video-friendly marketability; as he admits, his group doesn't sound anything like Sting's former mates. But "we are a trio," he says, and "when Fastball first got together, I thought the Police were a good model."
Actually, that Fastball doesn't sound -- or look -- a bit like the Police is probably a good thing. Really, who needs another blond-haired, new wave reggae trio, no matter how good the original was in its prime? But while their look may be frumpy and Joe-average, Fastball's punk-tainted power pop does hark back to the late-'70s period that spawned the Police, though other bands of that period serve as more suitable comparisons. Elvis Costello and the Attractions' This Year's Model and Joe Jackson's Look Sharp! spring to mind when listening to Fastball's tension-laced debut, Make Your Mama Proud, out last week on the California indie Hollywood Records.
Fastball bassist Tony Scalzo, for one, would be flattered by the Attractions comparison, says Zuniga, who shares singing and songwriting duties with his longtime friend. "Tony loves them."
Zuniga is careful not to give the impression that he isn't up on the music of the new wave forefathers. "I listened to all that stuff in college," he says. "But I grew up in Laredo, and all we got was Top 40 radio. For some reason, my mom gave me Let It Be, which is one of the Beatles' more esoteric records. That was about 1978, and at the time, I was listening a lot to Rock and Roll Over by Kiss. I thought the Beatles blew Kiss out of the water, and all of a sudden I understood."
"I like punk rock, but I really didn't get to listen to it until later," Zuniga continues. "Only one guy at our high school liked punk rock. They called him Devo; everybody knew who he was but nobody knew anything about what the hell he was listening to."
There are times, Zuniga admits, when he and the rest of Fastball -- which also includes drummer Joey Shuffield -- have felt like the Devos of Austin. Overwhelmed by singer/ songwriters, jam bands and blues rock, Fastball falls into an ever-expanding crevasse occupied by groups that don't quite jibe with the town's image. The odd thing is, more and more of those acts (Fastball's pals Prescott Curlywolf being another recent example) are getting recognized outside of Texas and landing record deals.
"I don't understand it, but I also don't worry about it much. We've got records in the stores, while a lot of these mini-H.O.R.D.E. bands don't," says Zuniga, who adds he was "shocked" when his band managed to win Best Pop Band in this year's Austin Music Awards. "I don't know if that will change things here, though."
With Make Your Mama Proud, Zuniga says, Fastball was determined not to worry things into the ground. They chose Jerry Finn, an old Green Day affiliate, to produce, which he did competently and without squandering the group's gusto. The songs -- most with lyrics bluntly addressing what it's like to be pushing 30 and still stumbling around life clueless and without a dime -- are tight little pockets of nervous energy guided by Scalzo's husky bass lines, aggressive melodies and the dual vocals of Scalzo and Zuniga, which sometimes pose as legitimate harmonies.
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"We like to call it rock and roll," Zuniga says, when asked to describe what Fastball does so efficiently and so well. "But people don't ever use that term anymore."
Etc.... Do I see a trend here? Friday, Instant Karma follows the lead of Rockefeller's and the Fabulous Satellite Lounge by hosting Liquid Lounge, dubbed an evening of "smooth jazz, beats and hip-hop." The show features Psychadelic, B-Boy, Cee and 606. Cody's has been taken over and transformed into MidTown Live, a new club that will feature live jazz, R&B and reggae. Opening night Saturday will feature jazz from the Mark Dine Group. Also Saturday, Sad Pygmy, Rusted Shut and the Linus Pauling Quartet will convene for a free show of punk, ambient noise and other shenanigans at Sound Exchange. Sunday, singer/songwriters David Vest and Miki D. Lynn will mark the release of their new duet effort, Songs of Love and Trouble, at Ovations.
You know it's time for twentysomethings to start feeling old when the acts they worshipped in college begin postponing middle age with new vanity projects in an effort to outdo the youngsters. Joining Cult figure Ian Astbury's Holy Barbarians in town this week is Electrafixion, led by former Echo and the Bunnymen kingpins Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant. The group performs Friday at Fitzgerald's, and judging from Electrafixion's first release, Burned, the kids have nothing to worry about -- unless, that is, they cower at the sound of sputtering engines.
-- Hobart Rowland