In the despairing and world-weary atmosphere of Fastball’s new album, The Help Machine, the title track itself is “just about emptiness and the feeling that things that are supposed to make us happy don’t.” So the track’s animated video, premiering exclusively below, taps into that angst by depicting a search for answers in all the wrong places.
“I had this idea about how all these boxes start showing up at a guy’s house and he’s sitting on perpetual hold with customer service to tell them he didn’t order all that stuff,” says singer-guitarist Miles Zuniga, who voices the refrain “Is this the way out? I don’t want to spend my life just chasing money” throughout the song. But animator Piotr Kabat, whom he met through mutual friends, and co-director Alicja Kot expanded up on Zuniga’s idea to make the video a Groundhog Day-style indictment against consumerism as the cure for what ails you.
“I just let (Kabat) run with it, and I love the way it looks,” Zuniga says. “(The song) is about the longing for meaning and not getting it. There’s this notion that all you’ve got to do is buy it and everything will be OK. Not really. That doesn’t work. There’s this illusion that happiness is just a nicer house or a promotion or a trip to a tropical island. True happiness, you have to cultivate it. You have to water it, like a plant. You have to spend time with yourself…taking care of the vehicle.
“I know that’s not a new or even original idea, but the older I get and the more I see, I understand more and more how true that is.”
The Help Machine, due out Oct. 18 on Fastball’s own 33 1/3 Records, is the Austin, Texas trio’s seventh album overall and follow-up to 2017’s Step Into Light. Zuniga and singer-bassist-keyboardist Tony Scalzo found themselves in a similar mindset, but the former says that, “We didn’t get together and say, ‘Let’s write a record about dystopia and how screwed up everything is.’ A lot of my songs, at least, were written before 2016, right before the election and all that stuff. I guess I saw it coming, maybe, somewhere in my unconscious.” The album also marks the first time since 2004’s Keep Your Wig On that the group turned over the production reins to somebody, in this case Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin.
“Steve’s a little older than us,” Zuniga says, “so we were just like, ‘You make the decisions’ and let him pick the songs and do what he felt was best. We had already recorded some things and (Berlin) liked them and just kept ’em and had us build from there.” The Help Machine also continues a rejuvenation the group began with Step Into Light, which was Fastball’s first set of new music in eight years.
“The band was almost like a car up on blocks in someone’s yard for awhile,” Zuniga acknowledges. “We had no manager, no booking agent…And we finally realized that if we’re gonna make more records now’s the time. If you let it go too long it’s going to be incredibly hard to come back together again. So right now we’re back at it, and we just want to make Fastball records that are quintessentially us. It’s still a pretty powerful thing if you can get it right.”
Fastball celebrates The Help Machine with a release day show at Lava Cantina in The Colony, Texas, and on Oct. 19 in Austin. The group has one other show on the books for the year — Oct. 26 with Everclear in Alpharetta, Ga. — with more on tap, and possibly a more extensive tour, during 2020.