Photo: Sandra Dahdah / Courtesy of conqueroo

Fastball Issues Expanded Edition of Classic 1998 Album, Including Early Version of “Fire Escape” (premiere + interview)

Twenty years on Fastball's All the Pain Money Can Buy remains strong. The trio's Tony Scalzo looks back on chart success and the inevitable hard times that followed.

If you were alive and able to listen to the radio in 1998, chances are you heard Fastball‘s “The Way” plastered all over your radio dial. It was one of the songs that defined that year and the era in which it emerged. Written by the band’s Tony Scalzo and inspired by the story of Lela and Raymond Howard, a Texas couple who intended to take a short journey but veered hundreds of miles off course only to be found dead a few weeks later. Their story is told in outline, but the details are haunting, their impact on the listener immense, even 20 years after the song’s initial release.

The Austin trio already had one LP under its belt when the single arrived at radio months ahead of the album’s release. The single itself went gold, buoying the album from which it was drawn, All the Pain Money Can Buy to platinum status. The group received two Grammy nominations for the effort and took home four Austin Chronicle awards for the disc.

Co-produced by Julian Raymond (Cheap Trip, Sugarland), All the Pain Money Can Buy spawned three singles, including “Out of My Head” (the chorus of which is featured prominently in the song “Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello. Fastball has remained active across the last 20 years, releasing Step Into Light in 2017 and enjoying a successful run of gigs on a successful package tour with Everclear and Vertical Horizon.

The trio (Scalzo, Miles Zuniga, and Joey Shuffield) also recently recorded a brand-new album for issue in 2019 with production from Steve Berlin. That was before pausing to celebrate two decades since the release of All the Pain Money Can Buy. Omnivore reissues the record on 9 November with the original 13 songs, plus nine bonus tracks, including B-sides, compilation appearances and demo recordings. The set will also make its vinyl debut as a double LP with all the bonus material.

Listeners can now hear a demo version of the Zuniga composition “Fire Escape”, culled from the anniversary release. “It was a little moodier when I wrote it, and the demo reflects that,” he recalls. “When we got in the studio, we sped it up and added a harmony guitar part. That made it more accessible and a little brighter even though the lyric remained solidly noncommittal.”

Reminiscent of Peter Case at his best as well as the Beatles, “Fire Escape”, even in its embryonic form, reveals itself as one of the 13 reasons All the Pain Money Can Buy has left an indelible mark on listeners.

In preparation for this set’s release, Tony Scalzo spoke with PopMatters about the history of All the Pain Money Can Buy and the band’s still-growing legacy.

The anniversary edition may be pre-ordered now.

What was the mood in the band like when you started making All the Pain Money Can Buy? There was some upset at Hollywood Records around that time, right?

Fortunately, our A&R guy at Hollywood Records was Rob Seidenberg, who has continued to be our friend, was our ally over there, along with Julian Raymond. Julian had a lot of pull at the time. But there was some chaos going on. They were changing heads. Even though there wasn’t anyone in charge, we still had a deal and had people in the office we had to deal with. Julian and Rob said, “Let’s just go like everything’s situation normal.”

We went in and made it while there wasn’t a president, and by the time there was the record was finished. It got released in spite of all that was going on at the label. The new leadership was in place, and they heard a single in “The Way”.

And that started things rolling.

They went to Modern Rock radio with it, and it started getting picked up in Birmingham, Alabama, Sacramento, California. Not the major cities but we could see that it might actually happen. The label started putting money into promoting it, and it started climbing up the playlists at KROQ in Los Angeles. Next thing we knew, we had a hit. The record wasn’t even released yet. When it was, it only took a few weeks to get “The Way” to #1 on the Modern Rock charts.

At what point did “The Way” come into the picture in the writing process?

That was a sleeper. We knew we were going to put it on the record, but we didn’t think much more about it than that. It wasn’t even the first choice for a single. We figured we’d go for something that was a little more up-tempo, something fit in with the guitar rock thing. “Sooner or Later” was what we were thinking about. It was our manager who actually suggested “The Way”. We started warming up to it. It just worked.

Why did it take off? It’s hard to say. I think it’s that there was nothing else like it. It’s like Crash Test Dummies with “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, or Cowboy Junkies with Trinity Sessions. They stood out. That Crash Test Dummies song probably seemed like a novelty song but the test of time has cemented it into peoples’ consciousness.

It also wasn’t the only popular song they had. And Fastball had more than that too.

We’re slightly defensive about that one-hit wonder thing because we’ve had other hits. My hair stands on end whenever someone mentions us as a one-hit wonder. Our success wasn’t so bit that it did damage to us. We didn’t get into drugs. We went through family things happen. Normal life happened to us. I was married and a father at that time. I would have liked to have had my family around me more. We took all the work we could get. That’s difficult when you have a family. Joey and I were already in our 30s, most guys who do that kind of thing are much younger than we were.

How does it work with you and Miles in terms of veto power on material?

We just got done recording an album in May that’ll be out next year. We worked with Steve Berlin from Los Lobos. Miles and I collaborated on some material, but he also had some songs he’d had ready to go for over a year. I had a bunch too. We had a pretty good idea of what we were going to work on for the record, but we sent them off to Steve. The majority of them ended up being Miles’ songs. This record will probably have the biggest difference in writing credits. I have four and he has probably seven. It was pretty much about the way the songs hit him. He really had no conception of who wrote what. I think Steve made the right decision and we made the right decision in letting him be the guy to pick.

Having a record come out in 1998 must have been strange in some ways because it’s post-grunge and there hadn’t been another musical movement to come along and take its place.

It got really hard around 2000-2001. After 9/11. If you want to use that as a marker, it’s a good one. There was a lot of cool stuff starting to happen, and I couldn’t help but notice that we weren’t a part of that. We’d go on the road, and it would be Goo Goo Dolls or Sugar Ray again. But Wilco was starting to gain momentum and doing more interesting things than the scene we were surrounded by and part of.

We couldn’t really come together and agree on things. We all liked different stuff. Miles wanted to do one thing, and I wanted to do another. It took us a while to come back and start working as a unit again. We’d been doing a lot of traveling. I was married with a kid; there was money around, it was just really difficult to focus. I think we let some things pass us by that could have given us a different kind of success.

Things worked out a little bit differently than you imagined.

I wanted us to get to the point where we were on a bus with a tour manager and a label and were able to headline theaters. Not arenas or stadiums, maybe be as big as Matthew Sweet. But we skyrocketed beyond that level. Soon, you’re the smallest of the big rather than the biggest of the small. It’s rough at the bottom of the top. At some point, you have to go back down.

It sounds like, despite everything, you’re happy to continue playing music and touring. There’s no sign of stopping.

I think I can speak for the other guys too when I say it’s not an option. It’s what we do.