Nostalgia is easy. Easy money. Easy memories. And the peak-and-crash crash rush of the comfortable and familiar, which fades away in an instant.

Inspiration is hard. Achieving it demands vulnerability, cooperation, and a belief that the next thing you create could genuinely move someone’s soul.

Over the many years together, the men of Fastball have come to appreciate that the whole point of their careers together is building off of the trust, creativity and just plain hard work of making inspired music together. It’s a career highlighted by the early career chart-topping success of hit single “The Way,” which guitarist Miles Zuniga wryly remarks, “I like to say that ‘The Way’ gave us the freedom to continue doing what we do.”

What the band has done steadily through the years is continually hone its voice and sound, which has further evolved on its new self-titled album, recorded in far west Texas at Sonic Ranch Studio with acclaimed producer David Garza. Fastball is the fourth album the band has made during a 10-year streak that founders Zuniga, guitarist/singer Tony Scalzo, and drummer Joey Shuffield agree has seen them at their most creative and open-hearted as a trio of musicians and lifelong friends.

It was the realization that the band had a higher purpose than grabbing county fair checks for playing parade-of-hits sets that helped them turn the corner into their most creatively productive period. Zuniga dials the calendar back 10 years and recounts the frustration of an impending journey to a middle-America gig with the promise of a sizable paycheck – an empty promise, it turned out – that provoked an honest talk among the three of them about what they really wanted as a band and as songwriters.

That talk led them to the most open and easy communication they’d had since before they achieved life-altering success. Step Into The Light paved the way for future collaborations with Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin on The Help Machine.

“We started just ramping it up and coming up with more ideas of how we want a next record to be. And then after that, we went into the studio with someone that we’ve admired for years,” Scalzo said of Berlin’s role as a producer, which extended into some of the material on 2022’s The Deep End. “We each put in a bunch of amazing songs, and we also sat back and let Steve do a lot of things that I don’t think would have occurred to us sonically to make a record that showed an unexpected texture for us… I’ve always been pretty adamant in my songs about how it’s going to sound. For me, it’s sort of like the idea of giving up a little bit of control and letting him do his producing.”

It is clear in talking to the bandmates that they appreciate the rarity of spending years in a musical partnership together as a stable group, making it possible for each of them to know what the others are going to do next and respond with their own creative flourishes in just the right way. Shuffield notes that in recent years, and especially in the process of writing and recording Fastball, he knows by instinct where his bandmates were headed creatively on stage or in the studio.

“We started communicating way more effectively. And that had a profound effect on everything we did. It made the music better. It made us closer as people. It made us a better band and continues to this day. Now we all talk about everything all the time, and it’s a wonderful place to be,” he said. “I love the level of communication we have. I love the closeness that we have on a personal level and a professional level, and that translates into the way we create music.”

The way Fastball creates music has no doubt grown and evolved over the years. Zuniga talks openly about the lessons – good and bad – he learned during his stint as a Nashville songwriter, where three songs per day are the assumed output of anyone trying to work regularly. And Scalzo clearly cherishes the songwriting exercises and sessions he engages in with fellow Austin-area musicians regularly, with shared songwriting prompts or other bits of creative fuel helping to keep his juices flowing.

That embrace of being open to all forms of inspiration – there’s that word again – has helped the now-veteran musicians get past the ego and insecurities all three admit were in play when “The Way” and “Out Of My Head” became world-conquering hits. Ideas and suggestions come from anywhere now, and Scalzo said the sessions with Garza helped push Fastball into new, satisfying directions. He recounts the instructions Garza gave to each of them to write a song solo that could be played and recorded with almost no other contributions. Two of those songs now serve as the last song on each side of the vinyl pressings of the album.

“A suggestion that David made was that we each go off and come back later in the afternoon with a song that we could record by ourselves,” Scalzo said. “Miles would come up with a song and bring it and record it without me, and then I would have to do the same thing. It was a good call that we did with David’s suggestion.

Another highlight of the album, “America,” found the band taking a more restrained, danceable groove approach that Scalzo said forced him to alter his familiar, straight-ahead approach to song construction: “It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever done, because usually we’ve had a little too much fire or at least I know I have just hit things a little too hard for no real reason other than probably earnestness and drive… this song, “America,” we’re going into a sort of social commentary about ‘What is America?’ The fact is, America is the people, you and me.”

Spirited by the new material and what feels like an always-growing sense of trust and enthusiasm among them, the men of Fastball are looking forward to spending 2024 taking their newest creation – as well as plenty of the old favorites – out to loyal fans who appreciate their quest to keep moving forward and challenging themselves. Zuniga said the shift to deciding what the three of them want as a band, rather than chasing trends.

“I started to think, I don’t have to be buffeted by accepting whatever comes along. I can decide what I’m going to do, where I’m going to put my focus, where I’m going to put my energy,” he said. “I can do what I want to do with these guys. We have to be accountable to ourselves. We had to raise our game. That allowed us to succeed. To me, that was galvanizing.”

New single in April
New album in May