In the conversation, the singer/guitarists discussed their new record, Little White Lies (QRO review), why it took so long since their last one, the “double-edged sword” of making the record yourselves, what SXSW is like as a native of Austin, blogging & twittering, playing radio sessions, playing on boats, playing on barges, trying to play classier places (like wineries), people thinking they’d broken up, getting shit for a greatest hits record they had nothing to do with, and much more…
QRO: What’s it like, now that Little White Lies is finally out?
Tony Scalzo: It’s great, ‘cause it took such a long time to get released.
Miles Zuniga: It feels great that the record is finally out. We’re super-stoked. In fact, I look forward to touring when people actually get a little more time with the record, get to know those songs as well.
But it feels good to finally have it out.
QRO: How did making it compare with making your previous records?
TS: Our previous record? Well, I think we sort of started with the way we made this record, back on that record. We were working a lot more together. Miles played some keyboards – I didn’t play any bass on this record.
MZ: It was different in the sense that there was no label waiting for the record, so we could take as long as we wanted – which was like a double-edged sword. And we could spend as much as we wanted, or as little as we wanted – which was another double-edged sword.
We would just go in when we felt like we had the tunes together, and we’d record. Some songs we had to do a couple of times, because we didn’t like the way they sounded.
But it was different in the sense that there was no label waiting for it, so it was up to us to finish it and get it done and get it out.
QRO: Is that why it took so long? It seems like there was a lot of time between this record and the last one, 2004’s Keep Your Wig On.
MZ: Well, we full-on stopped doing the band for a couple years. We played a few, isolated, one-off shows, but I wouldn’t say we were an active band, really. Because there wasn’t much going on, we kind of took a long break, probably about two-and-a-half years. And then we reconvened and we started working again.
When you’ve been down that long, it takes you a while to get everything back running. Kind of hard to rebuild our whole deal; just takes time. Next record won’t take anywhere near as long.
Fastball playing the new “She’s Got the Rain” live at City Winery in New York, NY on May 9th, 2009:
QRO: What was the process like for finding distributor? The situation in the music industry seems very different than it was even five years ago, when you released your last?
TS: That’s the question of the year…
MZ: The difference is, it’s a lot harder to find a label, because unless you’re already selling a lot – it’s like a Catch-22: unless you’re already selling a lot of records, they’re not going to give you a good deal. And they’re going to ask for everything – publishing, they all have these 360° deals, where they take everything.
There wasn’t any point. Even if a label wanted us, we were thinking, we, we’re not going to get a great deal.
QRO: Did you feel any extra pressure with White Lies, because of the long time since the last one?
TS: No – we were waiting for everybody to forget about us. And then come out fresh…
MZ: Part of our plan for global domination…
TS: That’s why we took so long to get it done. There were a few people – we had fans who would constantly harp on us, saying, “When’s the record coming out?!?” “You know, we’ve been waiting a long time for this record – You guys better put it out soon!”
But you have to set things up. You can’t just put it out, and then those twenty-five people go buy it…
[Zuniga cracks up]
And then it’s dead in the water. You got to set it up, and we did that – publicity, promotion, art, t-shirts… Let’s get it together.
MZ: A lot of people thought the band had broken up, to be honest. I’m learning that now. I get on the internet, and read stuff, people go, “They’re still together?”
So, obviously, we’ve been a low-profile thing for a while. But it feels good that people are– in other words, I don’t think, the last record we did, people were going, “Are they still together?” I don’t think people even knew that last record came out. We’ve definitely gotten a hundred times the exposure than that we did last time. We probably did two interviews, last time out.
So there was nothing going on…
QRO: Do you think because, after the last record, you released that greatest hits record, Painting the Corners [in 2002], people then think, ‘Oh, they broke up’?
MZ: That’s frustrating, too.
The reason that greatest hits came out is, we got dropped from the label, and then they own all the masters. They can do whatever they want with it.
TS: Rather than have to stock shelves with all our records, they can just sell one record on the shelves.
MZ: And it sucks, because some people gave us shit for that, as if it was our idea – it wasn’t our idea at all! What? We’ve got like two or three hit songs. We’re not like… Chicago.
How many times do you think they’re going to continue to try to reissue Radiohead (QRO album review)? Just wait…
Fastball playing “Fire Escape” on Rocks Off Concert Cruise in New York, NY on May 31st, 2008:
QRO: Why didn’t you name the record after any of the suggestions you solicited on your MySpace page?
MZ: We sort of did…
TS: They were all terrible!
MZ: We didn’t really like any of them, but this one kid, who lives in England, named Jac deLemar, actually suggested it.
TS: He lives in Jersey, actually. Guernsey. So he lives in the Channel – half French, half British; he doesn’t know where he’s coming from.
MZ: We were supposed to send him a shirt. Shirt’s on the way, Jac – it’s just that we’re on tour right now…
Actually, independently of him, we decided to call it Little White Lies. It’s just that he actually had suggested it too – we didn’t notice it.
QRO: Is it a relief, to be on the road now with the new album out?
TS: For me it is, yeah. We’ve been on the road without albums, and it’s not quite as exciting as this.
We also have something to look forward to every day. We like to hear the merch counts at the end of the night. Our guy actually texts us to tell us how much we’ve made every night, and they’re getting better and better. It’s really exciting.
MZ: It feels good to have the record out there ‘cause it’s getting airplay, and more and more people coming to the gigs and all that. So it’s an important thing.
Honestly, I still think people love the record, but records used to last all year. Someone put out a record, it felt like, ‘Well, that’s this year’s release.’ Now it feels like records, no matter how big, it’s a couple of months at best. People move on. ‘Oh, that was ancient history. Your record came out at the beginning of the year – that was so long ago…’
QRO: How was the free WXPN show at World Café in Philadelphia?
MZ: Killer! It was awesome, man.
There was a ton of people there, it felt really good, great sounding room – maybe the best-sounding room I’ve ever played in. You can hear everything little thing.
QRO: It seems like you’ve been doing a lot of radio appearances on this tour. What are those like?
TS: Well, there’s usually three scenarios. It’s either in the studio, in the control room with the DJ, where upon we get two guitars together and just sing and perform into radio mikes. And then they have, sometimes, a taped thing where it’s a whole band in a studio, where there’s no audience. And then sometimes we do it in front of an audience, where they invite people to come in for lunch or whatever, maybe tape it and broadcast it later that day, during drive time.
It can be a drag, sometimes, because it’s like being at the dentist. But lately we’ve been doing these group things, where the band actually plays, and it’s cool.
I do like that morning radio thing, where we go in, have a laugh with the DJ, and play a couple songs.
MZ: I’ve also found they ask way better questions, because of the internet. They can easily look stuff up and find out little details about you.
TS: And they’re trying, all the time, to come up with something. They’ll go, “I’ve got something to stump you!” They’re always trying to stump you…
Fastball playing “Soul Radio” at City Winery in New York, NY on May 9th, 2009:
QRO: How was the free show on a yacht in San Diego?
MZ: That was great, too.
TS: Really fun. It was similar to the one in New York harbor, about the same audience, but it was upstairs, out in the open, and it wasn’t raining on us.
MZ: It was outside, really beautiful night, and a ton of people came. It was a blast.
QRO: It is just a coincidence that you’ve done a bunch of shows on boats? Or is it because of “You’re an Ocean”?
MZ: I don’t know, but I’m all for ‘em. I love playing on a boat.
TS: Every one’s been fun so far. Every boat show.
MZ: I dig ‘em. I like a captive audience.
TS: No, we’re not headed for the cruise lines – no ‘Royal Caribbean Cruises’ for us…
Fastball playing “You’re an Ocean” on Rocks Off Concert Cruise in New York, NY on May 31st, 2008:
QRO: Pacific vs. Atlantic: which ocean is better?
TS: Well, I’ll take Atlantic, because of Atlantic Records. And it’s shorter to get across. But I was raised on the Pacific, actually.
MZ: I prefer the Pacific, if you’re talking about recreating. But if you’re talking about crossing by ocean liner, I’d say the Atlantic. Or by plane…
QRO: And now you’re playing the City Winery (QRO venue review). Is that because of your love of wine?
And crummy-sounding PA’s? None of that bothered me.
But now, I’ve become pickier. I’m starting to find that wineries, yoga studios, things like that – they’re made of wood, they sound better, they’re clean, the vibe is always better.
We don’t do it that often. Whenever I see it on the schedule, I’m overjoyed. We love wine, so it’s better all around.
QRO: Do you also have people eating?
MZ: That kind of sucks.
TS: People are done [by the time we go on].
MZ: I don’t want to have to share the space with your Caesar salad. But aside from that, I enjoy playing wineries.
QRO: Do you get better free booze?
MZ: Sure – what I like is, no matter what the rules were before, if you play a good show, the rules are suddenly different. ‘Well, we only give you this kind of beer’, not of the imported shit.’ And then you play really well, and they’re like, ‘What do you want?’ So that’s nice, too.
TS: If you draw really well… If you play really well, they don’t give a fuck! They’re like, “Get out!”
We were in Detroit the other night, man, and they were pushing everybody out. We were meeting & greeting our fans – who haven’t seen us in ages, we hadn’t been to Michigan in ages – and the staff was just like, “Okay, everybody get out! The curfew’s in five minutes – everybody out of here!”
And we did a good show, too.
QRO: You’ve done boat shows, at a Winery, played pretty much on top of a bar at Ace’s Lounge during SXSW – what’s the strangest place that you’ve ever played?
MZ: That was one of them. That was really weird.
Seriously, you can break your neck, you can fall into the bar, if you are drunk – and the bar’s right there, so it encourages alcohol abuse.
And then, what else? Playing on a boat is always weird. We played on a barge once, out in the middle of… what lake was it?
TS: Lake Michigan.
MZ: That was really weird. And people had to swim out to see us. Well, the water was waist high, but they had to wade out.
TS: Someone threw a wet shirt onto the stage…
QRO: Was the audience still in the water, when you were playing?
TS: They came and swam out. It was an ‘underwater audience’…
MZ: That was completely surreal.
TS: That was insane. It was a promotion for orange, Absolut Orange Vodka…
MZ: We also did a show on a scow, or dinghy, in Tokyo harbor.
TS: It was a party boat.
Fastball playing “Out of My Head” on Rocks Off Concert Cruise in New York, NY on May 31st, 2008:
QRO: How was SXSW (QRO recap)?
TS: It was a great time. We played seven shows.
MZ: It was killer.
TS: We did a lot of radio, we did a couple of TV things, we did some interviews… we just made the best of it. I think it was the best ‘exploitation’ of SXSW we’ve had in a while.
QRO: What’s it like, being an Austin band at the Austin-based SXSW? Do you think that makes it less special?
MZ: For me, personally, it’s a little annoying, ‘cause the town becomes filled with people.
TS: ‘Disneyland of music’…
MZ: But actually, where I live, you don’t really notice it, unless you actually have to go down to play the gig.
But downtown becomes like a DMZ. It’s just filled with drunks, these bands that have saved up to come from Holland or wherever, and they’re vomiting in the street…
I love that all these world-class acts are all there in four days, I love all that. But living there, it does make it a hassle. ‘Oh no! South-by’s happening – I can’t get around so easily…’
QRO: Have you ever had to play venues at SXSW that you knew, as Austenites, you wouldn’t want to play normally?
TS: Yeah – in fact, anything that you’ve never heard of, it’s going to be some impromptu, ‘Let’s throw a P.A. up in this place and turn it into a club!’ And that’s horrible.
MZ: There are some places there that aren’t real venues that just become real venues. Getting stuck at one of those…
TS: And it’s annoying because, you’ll be in another city, and somebody will be like, “I love Austin – I love that club ‘The Blind Rat’!” And you’ll go, “There’s no club there called ‘The Blind Rat’…” But there may have been for one week, for SXSW one year.
MZ: And people also have the impression that it’s that way all year…
TS: Some people move there, and they think that the weather’s going to be all killer, and there’s going to be fifty bands there every night.
There actually is fifty bands every night. But you’re not going to get to see Jane’s Addiction every night…
QRO: Do you have any tips for getting a cab in downtown Austin on 2:00 AM on a Friday or Saturday night?
MZ: That’s easy – just stumble around.
TS: That, or give up.
QRO: It seems like there were a bunch of drunks out on the street at 2:00 AM during South-by…
TS: There’s drunk cabdrivers during SXSW…
MZ: It’s just that they’re so many people [during SXSW] trying to get cabs. South-by’s been happening for twenty years, so there was a sweet spot, maybe ten years in, where there was cabs everywhere, and it was easy to get one.
But normally, it’s easy to get a cab out of downtown. But you can’t just hail a cab.
TS: And it’s funny to watch people try. ‘There’s that crazy guy who waves at people…’
QRO: It seems like you do a lot of blogging, including on MySpace & Twitter. Do you feel like that’s you have to do, and/or is it something you like doing?
TS: I do [enjoy it], just because, personally. I feel that thing tugging at me – I don’t have a computer [on tour], and I’ve been wanting to. [Miles] has an iPhone, so he does it all the time. I can’t. I’m used to doing it three or four times a day.
MZ: I’ve got a friend who says, “Oh, you need to do that” – if you don’t do that, it’s the new blah blah blah…
There’s no doubt that it helps, but I don’t think you need to do it.
TS: And if he’s doing it, that probably takes away from my need to do it…
MZ: People like it and stuff, but I also wonder if it’s not more pollution. There’s so much noise out there, talking about eating breakfast or something – it just adds to the clamor…
TS: The earth will die screaming…
Fastball playing “The Way” live at City Winery in New York, NY on May 9th, 2009: