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Scalzo Earns Money, Pain 

Fastball members go solo after success takes its toll

In many ways a band is a marriage, only divorce is more difficult because what you've built together - an audience - is not so easily packed into the back of a van. So it is that acts will plug on year after year..."for the kids." What choice is there? Well, there's always the side project - which is what Tony Scalzo's been working on the last year. His claim to fame, Fastball, has been reduced to a regional act by the whims of the industry and his bandmate Mile Zuniga's side project, The Small Stars. So it is we are treated to Scalzo's acoustic guitar work. Scalzo wrote Fastball's biggest hit, "The Way," a wonderful little ballad that sounded like an Elvis Costello tune and told the story of an elderly couple who disappeared one day on their way to a family reunion. Posed as an escapist fantasy, it was based on a true story, which came to a grim ending when the couple was found at the bottom of a gully. It was a foreboding. It seems success is not all its cracked up to be at times.

"You're totally busy all the time. You don't stop moving. You have no time to enjoy any of your success because you're trying to work it. And there's nothing to do, and so you go party because it's night and you're famous now, so you're getting into bars for free and you get attention from females," Scalzo reports.

Fastball has been reduced to a regional act by the whims of the industry and by Mile Zuniga's side project.

Zuniga described it in an earlier interview as an unending sitcom you can't get off — the same situations over and over again until the bus resembles a jail cell and the concert is nothing but work release. Three years on the road, with all the drugs and alcohol you can ingest — and it's free because you're famous — well, it's the stuff of rock & roll legend, but it's pretty hard to sustain.

"You don't realize fast enough that it's not fun sucking in all the fun you can have and partying all you can. But you can think it is. And it's night when you work, what are you going to do," Scalzo asks. "It's not healthy in the long run. You're not taking care of yourself."

They followed up their platinum second album,

All The Pain Money Can Buy, with the appropriately titled, Harsh Light of Day. The band was pretty burned out from all the touring and all the drinking that entailed. Further, there were underlying tensions within the band. Though Zuniga has never come out and said he was jealous of Scalzo's number one, he has admitted to being "a little too competitive."

"I think it's natural to think to one's self, 'he did it, I'd like one, too,'" Scalzo says.

But the album failed to break a major single, the label stopped pushing the band, and eventually cast Fastball loose. Disconcerted, Zuniga left for Nashville, and began writing with country songwriters, putting Fastball on indefinite hiatus. Scalzo visited him there and they wrote together — for the first time. Feeling recharged, they wrote new songs and toured them together as an acoustic duo, finding richer harmonies and using these songs for their fourth Fastball album, Keep Your Wig On, for Rykodisc last year.

"You don't realize fast enough that it's not fun sucking in all the fun you can have and partying all you can. But you can think it is."

However their second label deal proved no more propitious than the first. despite glowing critical reviews the album didn't get a radio push, and when the Ryko president left the band found itself without a supporter, and soon back on the street.

So Fastball's back on hold, unwilling to bear the expensive of touring a full band without label support, while Zuniga's busy with his new cocktail-lounge band, The Small Stars. It's a fitting setting in that Zuniga's always been the more brash and outgoing of the two. The more reserved Scalzo's suited to his solo troubadour role as well, now joined by Jason Enright on a second guitar, sort of filling Zuniga's shoes and offering backing harmonies.

But while Scalzo will be performing some old Fastball tunes, he's also got some songs that pre-date Fastball, and from the pair of three-song EPs he just finished, Different Drummers and Tearjerkers for Hardened Hearts. It's material that doesn't fall far from the Fastball tree, from the chugging guitar rave-up, "End of The World," to the rootsy melancholy pop of "How Did I Get Here."

As for the on and off again relationship that is Fastball? Well, they played some shows last weekend, but a new album is no certainty.

"We haven't had time to work on the Fastball thing… we're on more of a hiatus than ever because he's doing the Small Stars and I'm doing my solo thing," says Scalzo. "I'm going to make a record. As far as the Fastball thing goes, I don't know about that. I'd like to [make another record], but who knows?"

Tony Scalzo plays the Evening Muse Friday with Lanky.

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