Still Bringing the Heat: Fastball's Tony Scalzo on 'Out of My Head' Chorus on MGK & Camila Cabello's 'Bad Things'
It's probably been a few years since you last thought about Fastball. The band's last album came in 2009 and their crossover hit was a full decade before that.
But they're unexpectedly poised for a return to the pop charts through a couple of very unlikely conduits: Machine Gun Kelly and Fifth Harmony solo star Camila Cabello. The duo heavily interpolates Fastball's "Out of My Head" on the chorus to their new collaboration "Bad Things" -- while changing some of the words to flip the chorus from a lamentation into something more seductive -- introducing the song to a new generation of pop fans who couldn't tell Semisonic from Marcy Playground.
Few bands defined the wide-open arena of late-'90s alt-rock as much as the Austin trio, who stormed radio with the jazzy pre-millennial panic of breakout hit "The Way" -- topping the alternative charts for six weeks in 1998 -- and hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the swirling pop-soul of "Out of My Head" in 1999. Their All the Pain Money Can By album was certified Platinum, but the rise of pop-punk and nu-metal in modern rock left the band commercially adrift at the onset of the 21st century, and the hits quickly dried up from there.
Billboard caught up with Fastball singer-songwriter Tony Scalzo last Friday (Oct. 14) to discuss how he feels about one of his most famous compositions being updated for 2016 Top 40, and why the timing couldn't be better for such a mainstream reintroduction.
Did you know that the MGK and Camila Cabello song was happening?
Yeah, I knew it was happening about three or four weeks ago. It’s funny, because [today] I was just kind of wondering what was gonna happen, and when was the release date [going to be]. And then I had somebody at my management company check it out with our publisher, and we found out, like, yesterday, that it was coming out today.
Were you surprised by it?
I was surprised that it’s already No. 7 on the iTunes chart. It’s No. 1 on the hip-hop chart already, too. So yeah, I’m stoked, are you kidding? It’s really great.
What do you think of the song?
I think it’s cool! And I thought it was cool before, but now I think it’s really cool.
Now that it’s a hit?
Yeah. I liked it, I thought it was a cool twist on it. It’s super youth-oriented... they changed it around, and made it into a whole new thing, and a whole new song. But I just love it, that they used my melody and stuff.
Did it bother you that they kind of flipped the meaning of the chorus?
Not at all. I think it’s great, because it’s super-creative… it’s something totally different. I’m not totally familiar with the artists -- obviously I did a little research a month ago when it was brought on the table -- but I think that they basically were familiar with the tune, right? I don’t think they went as far as to even try to cover the tune, they just basically re-wrote a lot of the words, and changed the meaning around, and that’s really innovative and awesome.
So you weren’t that familiar with Fifth Harmony as an entity?
I gotta say, uh, no.
Have there been other songs that sampled “Out of My Head,” or covers that you liked over the years, that approached this?
No, in fact, it’s never come across the table… I felt a little bit, like, wow, it’s amazing people don’t really want to use any of [our songs]. But hey, [this new song] beats the crap out of some commercial, or something like that. I think it’s great. I hope it does very well for the artists, and for the songs.
Of the hits you had in the late ‘90s, is “Out of My Head” the most enduring?
I’d say “The Way” is probably bigger. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people don’t make the connection between the song “Out of My Head” and “The Way” being, like, the same band.
So do you think that hurt you at the time, that you had these two crossover hits but that they weren’t able to build on one another?
Well, I have my own opinions on why things didn’t really pan out [for us] the way they might have... During that time, we got real successful real fast, we were moving very quickly, and when we had downtime, we split up. It was hard for us to achieve the focus that you need to really be a major, long-term act.
And we’ve been a minor long-term act. We’ve never broken up. We’re all the same dudes that started it back in ‘94 -- still going on the road, and we still put out records. And this song [is coming out at] the perfect time, because we’ve got a new record [Step Into Light] coming out, in possibly March or April.
What can you tell me about the new album?
The new album is pretty upbeat, power-pop kind of stuff. I think it’s what our fans really like us for. We’ve got a lot of hooky melodies. Basically, just Beatlesque songs. And we’ve also got three videos so far already in the can; they’ll be coming out when the record comes out… I think this can help our profile a little bit, so I’m stoked, man, I’m really excited.
Can you talk to me about the inspiration behind the original “Out of My Head”? What was the moment that inspired that song?
I was so crazy about Oasis back then. I was walking around my apartment, just basically strumming on the guitar, trying to do that kind of slower-melody, slower ballad kind of thing. And that’s really the initial inspiration. Then I started feeling like it was an Elvis Costello thing. I was trying to get the voice real low, and up close to the mic, and trying to make it sound like an Elvis ballad.
You know, that song’s only two-and-a-half minutes long.
The remarkable thing about that song, that’s always struck me, is that there’s only one verse in it.
That’s correct, and just a chorus that repeats, and a little middle… I had a tendency as an early songwriter to make things just draw out a little too long. I really wanted to be more concise. And that’s how I developed my songwriting, was to try to be more efficient, and not have a bunch of extra stuff that just keeps going.
Did you have a feeling it was going to be a hit when you were done writing it?
No. ‘Cause by the time we went in to record that album, we really thought we might soon be dropped by the label. [We were] just trying to sort of get in and make the best record we could, and it ended up having pretty strong songs. And then it was just off to the races.
We really didn’t know that anything was gonna be a hit, and we especially didn’t know that “The Way” was going to be a hit. That came out of left field, and everybody just came on board to push that song like it was the end of the world. And we had a huge three years. And then we did another record, and not so much interest. What can you do?
We got a little complacent, too, you know what I’m saying? We were like, “Ahh, the next record’ll sell six million records!” Probably not the best attitude to have.
A number of your peers from that time, they went on to be songwriters in the pop realm, writing for other artists. Is that something you ever had interest in, or had opportunities with?
Miles [Zuniga] has done it a lot more -- he’s my partner in crime in the writing and stuff. We do write a lot of songs together, we also write separate, and he’s done a lot of stuff with other artists.
I’ve done a little bit -- I’ve helped write with people, not anybody real famous or anything like that. I’ve written songs with people like Dan Wilson, and Al Anderson from NRBQ, but nothing major. These aren’t songs that went out and [became hits], this is us just hanging around the hotel and writing.
If MGK and Camila ever asked you to perform the song with them on an award show or something, would you be up for that?