“It was just circumstance,” Tony Scalzo says of the eight-year recording gap that preceded the new Fastball album, Step Into Light. “We’ve always been active, and we’ve never really gone a year without doing a bunch of Fastball shows. But things are really picking up now, and things are rolling like crazy.”
The 12-song Step Into Light, on the band’s own 33 1/3 label, embodies all of the qualities that have endeared Fastball to listeners during the trio’s twenty-year-plus career. Such catchy, compelling new tunes as “We’re On Our Way,” “Behind The Sun,” “Best Friend,” “Love Comes In Waves” and “I Will Never Let You Down” continue the band’s longstanding legacy of infectious songcraft and pointed lyrics, as well as playfully inventive arrangements that lend additional depth and resonance to Scalzo and Miles Zuniga’s distinctive songwriting.
“My favorite kind of songs,” Zuniga says, “are the ones that have hope in the face of hopelessness. Songs that say ‘Life sucks and everything’s against me, but I’m gonna smile and survive anyway.’ That’s the essence of rock ‘n’ roll music for me, and I think there’s a fair amount of that on this album.”
Fastball recorded Step Into Light in its hometown of Austin, Texas, with the three bandmates co-producing with longtime friend Chris “Frenchie” Smith (Slayer, Meat Puppets, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) at Smith’s studio, The Bubble. The album was mixed by legendary engineer Bob Clearmountain, who also handled mixing duties on two prior Fastball albums.
“We consciously decided to make this record in a short period of time, so we just went in and knocked it out,” Zuniga explains. “I really liked working that way, and I think the fact that we recorded it in under two weeks made it a better record. We didn’t have the luxury of getting too precious about things, so we gave ourselves a hard deadline and pretended it was the 1950s—the record light’s on, let’s do it! It also helped that we’ve grown a lot as musicians, so we have the ability now to get things right pretty quickly.”
“We had a great time making this record,” asserts Shuffield. “Working fast was really positive for us, because we had a lot of adrenaline going and there was no wasted time. A lot of the stuff we did was one or two takes of all three of us playing together in the same room. You can’t really do that as a new band, but the fact that we’ve been together so long creates a certain unspoken communication that saves a lot of time.”
The first thing you notice about the Night Divided is the bass. That's no accident: The Cincinnati trio consciously builds its music around distorted bass lines coated in black fuzz; bass lines that spark like downed power lines and vibrate with rhythmic tension.
The inventive bass parts come courtesy of Carla Cherry, who doubles as the Night Divided's lead vocalist. "She has a very great bass sound, but it's very specific, very singular," says guitarist Mike Fair. "The bass doubles as a rhythm guitar, and it frees me up to play like we would if we had two guitar players. We're more similar to how two hands on a piano would play.”
This approach makes it hard to pin down exactly where the band fits into the modern music landscape. But that's no accident, says Cherry. "From the beginning, we had a loose idea of the direction we wanted the music to take. I wanted it to have an experimental element—not so much with the instrumentation, but more with the arrangements of the songs and the lyrical themes. I try not to always take the most obvious route.”
Indeed, the band’s songs are rife with unexpected details and even more striking sounds. On ”Existing In The Parallel Now,” two versions of Cherry's vocals—one growling and strident, one higher and more desperate—intertwine to underscore the song's fractured lyrical take on the concept of time. "The Sky Is Acting Strange" has barely perceptible, whispery chimes at the start, which give way to boiling rhythms and psychedelic-tinged guitar shimmers. And the moodier, midtempo "Honor The Exemplar" features a lengthy bridge during which conversational chatter contrasts with simmering minor-key guitars and periodic wordless vocal sighs.
For certain, the band’s recordings are an intriguing study in contrasts—adventurous but not obtuse, aggressive but also subtle, in-your-face but contemplative. These same qualities give the Night Divided itself complexity and depth. "We've had a lot of comments at shows, and they're usually along the lines of, 'You guys are pretty weird; you guys are kind of experimental,'" Fair says. "I know it sounds that way, but it doesn't feel that way.
"But I've probably never in any other band thought of my guitar playing in such conceptual terms," he adds. "We're a post-apocalyptic version of what a rock band would be. That's exciting."
The Night Divided came together in 2013 after the dissolution of Cherry's previous band, Low Hanging Wires. After years of playing bass and singing backup in this group and others, including Cleveland-based post-hardcore act The Lovekill, she decided to form a project where she was lead vocalist. For a collaborator, Cherry immediately thought of Mike Fair, whom she met via his brief tenure as Low Hanging Wires' second guitarist. "I felt he would have a good opportunity to express himself musically within our alliance," Cherry says. "Not only did I like him personally, but his guitar-playing was just exceptional."
The admiration was mutual. In fact, Fair signed on without hearing a note of music "just based on the past experience I had," he says. "Right off the bat, I was super-impressed with Carla's work ethic." His instincts were confirmed after receiving rough demos Cherry recorded at home. "They were recorded in GarageBand, with a drum machine, Carla's voice and that thick, distorted bass sound that's on the record," he recalls. "They were basically solo performances. Even in that arrangement, they were really good songs, especially the choruses."
All that was left was to find a drummer, which proved to be the Night Divided's biggest challenge. In fact, the pair cycled through a series of musicians until, thanks to Craigslist, they finally found someone who met their criteria of not only possessing a high skill level, but also of being an all-around good person. Drummer Jamie Taylor fit the description. “I honestly didn’t expect to find anything too serious through the Internet,” replies Taylor. “But as luck would have it, I met two great people developing a great sound and strong ideas. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Pop-rockers FASTBALL are gearing up for a summer tour following the release of their sixth studio album “Step into the Light,” just released! With nearly 20 years of musical explorations and milestones under its belt, Fastball remains one of the most consistent and continuously celebrated rock bands on the road these days.