Tony Scalzo, Fastball: My Songwriting Process
Crafting songs with Fastball frontman, Tony Scalzo
What Sparks a Song:
I’ve employed many different techniques over the years. A good motivator is a necessity for a song — if you have to build up a body of material because you want to record a record, or you want to try new stuff with your band, for example. If there’s a real necessity, I tend to get to work a little bit easier. Sometimes musical ideas pop into my head and I’ll pursue it. The same thing with lyrics, and I’ll write them in my notes. I always have a long list of notes. Some never get revisited or looked at again. There’s not concrete technique for starting the process. Sometimes its singing into a voice recorder and trying to reproduce it later. If Miles and I are doing some writing, then I will go back to what I’ve already written.
As a father of young children, I don’t have time to do a lot of work. Yes, I’ve written a lot and created a lot of music, but I probably could have done so much more. I tend to like the stuff I have come up with. I have enough material to play for as long as I would want in a live situation. I would like to go into the idea with Fastball’s new album, Step into Light, that Miles and I want to take this thing on the road — sell the record and use the record to sell tickets to the show. I also feel like it would be awesome to get back into the studio the beginning of next year and pump out another one. I would love to see a one-a-year situation for the next five years. I’m willing to give it a shot.
With songwriting, I know that my intent is to share it.
What Was Different Writing For Step Into Light?
We challenged ourselves on this record. There’s a song called “Best Friend” that we had worked together on over 10 years ago. We were using pro tools to fabricate beats, a baseline and loopy stuff. In that way, I saw a new method for creating songs — turning those loops into parts and adding melody to them. “Best Friend” is a good example of that. We didn’t have access to the earlier sessions. Nobody knows where they are. We decided to take the rough mixes and put them up on a track. Joey and I played along to it. By the time we had built around the demo, we could then take the demo out. We added some more stuff and then created a brand new version for the record. That was definitely a new way of writing for us.
Writing With Purpose:
I always write on my own. I’m not in touch with too many other artists. I don’t care to pitch songs to anyone, I’m not commercially minded. That may sound funny because we are obviously a pop band that has conventional rock songwriting flavors, but I will never wonder if I can write a song for another artist. It’s about — what can I sing? What can I perform? What material can I build up that I can use to express myself musically? It’s not coming from an egotistical standpoint, that’s just who I am. It doesn’t occur to me.
My Writing Environment:
I need to be away on my own. Or I need to be with the person I am working with. That can get a little tiresome though. It’s so easy to fall into a ditch that you can’t climb out of — where you have this thing and you can’t fix it. Then somebody comes up with something else and it turns into this big mess. My favorite thing is when a song comes together in minutes and hours as opposed to days and weeks. There are a few that I have come up with in 25 minutes that sat for a while. I would then play demos and somebody would say something like, “Wow, I think you need to throw in one more verse.” That one verse may take days to create. I’ve learned how to do a lot of things on my back, in bed where it’s quiet. Waking up and coming up with lyrics — to work on the one verse for example.
I just wrote a song that we haven’t recorded, right before we left. That’s the one Miles told me I should have another verse. Initially, I thought — how am I going to do that? It was daunting. I was putting my son to bed that night and as he’s falling asleep I was laying there quietly, putting these lines together. Before my son was asleep I had what became the verse. I had the pattern, the rhyme scheme, cadence and rhythm. It was all in my head.
Instruments I Write On:
I have an amazing Yamaha U1, upright piano from 1960. It’s in perfect condition. It gets tuned frequently. It’s in my living room. I have hardwood floors so it plays and sounds incredible. That’s the only instrument I am partial to when writing.
What Lies Ahead:
We’re having a lot of fun with the new material. There are songs that we’re playing live that we do not even have recorded yet. We’re anxious to get that stuff out, even if it’s for something like Record Store Day. We are also interested in a 20th anniversary release of All the Pain Money Can Buy, coming up next year.
For tour dates & new music off Step Into Light visit: FastballtheBand.com