- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

“I wish people would stop calling us a one hit wonder,” jokes Miles Zuniga.

“We’re a two hit wonder!” he says.

As a founding member of Fastball, Mr. Zuniga is partially responsible for two of the most iconic songs of the late 1990s.

“The Way,” with its spaghetti Western guitar tones and summery melodies, became a chart-topping smash in 1998, allowing the song’s accompanying album to sell more than 1 million copies in six months alone. Released one year later, “Out of My Head” cemented the band’s success with an elegant, piano-fueled chord progression reminiscent of the Beatles.

Fastball’s popularity was meteoric. The band garnered two Grammy nominations, received warm critical reviews and toured the country with other A-list bands.

Like a meteor, however, Fastball’s bright future quickly flamed out, with the band’s subsequent albums failing to rival the popularity of their predecessor. Faced with such waning success, the musicians began to lose their taste for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

“I became really sick of touring,” recalls Mr. Zuniga, explaining that he’d grown thoroughly tired of the road by 2001. “It felt like Groundhog Day to me — different city, same exact routine. So I went to Nashville to try my hand at writing country music. I thought it would be great to write songs for other people, to let them be the ones who had to go retrieve their lost luggage or drive 500 miles between gigs.”

While in Nashville, Tenn., he collaborated with a host of musicians — from remarkable songwriters to “people who couldn’t write a song to save their lives, but were very attractive.”

Such partnerships were often fruitful, but failed to answer one persistent question: Why wasn’t he collaborating with Tony Scalzo, his longtime Fastball cohort?

Both Mr. Zuniga and Mr. Scalzo had contributed material to previous Fastball albums. Yet they rarely worked together during the band’s heyday. “It was always a ‘my song, your song’ kind of thing,” Mr. Zuniga says.

“So we eventually tried writing together during our last album, ‘Keep Your Wig On,’ and we liked it. The collaboration really bloomed with this new record, though. It’s been like a rebirth.”

Mr. Zuniga is referring to “Little White Lies,” Fastball’s fifth album of vintage pop melody and contemporary guitar muscle. The title track was born from a fruitful jam session in the Santa Ynez Valley, Calif.’s fabled wine-producing region. Following that song’s composition, the musicians began recording a full album without the assistance of a record label, mitigating their lack of funds with a liberating lack of deadlines.

“It was kind of weird,” Mr. Zuniga admits. “There was no record company, which meant there was no budget and no release date. We’d go play shows and use the money to pay for studio time. We worked incrementally, and it felt good to be self-sustaining instead of reliant on some record company. I always used to think of record companies as Mom and Dad, this parental unit that gives you an allowance.”

After releasing “Little White Lies” in mid-April, Fastball launched a nationwide tour in support of the album. Although he has yet to rekindle his love for touring, Mr. Zuniga emphasizes his appreciation for the physical act of playing shows.

“I like the nightly exploration,” he says. “You find things that you wouldn’t find if you weren’t playing every night in front of an audience. The new material is working great, and I find that I have to keep reminding myself that we have other records.”

Later, he adds, “I think this is our best record. In a strange way, I feel like we’re just getting started.”

Fastball visits Jammin’ Java on Tuesday, with opener Nate Ihara in tow. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $14.

Owl City continues ascent

Hailing from the chilly town of Owatonna, Minn., Adam Young launched the Owl City project in his parents’ basement. Using little more than keyboards, microphones and computer technology, the young musician began recording songs on his own, mixing electronic flourishes with emotive vocals. Recording sessions would often last throughout the day, with Mr. Young holing himself up in the basement studio until each song was complete.

“It’s a lot like a cave,” he jokingly says of the room. “Dark, cold, musty, bats, hidden treasure, stalactites, bugs, trickling water, hideouts and bad guys. All that stuff certainly helps make the environment … creative. And awesome.”

Mr. Young christened his one-man band Owl City and began uploading the finished songs to MySpace. Although he rarely promoted the material, Owl City began to attract a surprising amount of attention, with millions of viewers listening to Mr. Young’s songs and purchasing his digital singles. Of particular note was “Hello Seattle,” a bubbling, imaginative ode to the Emerald City.

“That was the first Owl City song I wrote,” he remembers. “This is what happened: I woke up on a Saturday morning, sat down at my keyboard, played a bunch of notes, programmed a bunch of drums, wrote a bunch of lyrics, pressed a bunch of buttons, sang a bunch of words into a microphone, uploaded the song onto MySpace, then went back to sleep.”

Mr. Young repeated that process for months, dreaming up electronic gems from the confines of his basement and selling digital copies of the music. When his songs logged more than 20 million plays on MySpace, however, a national tour was clearly in order.

Owl City will perform a sold-out set at Jammin’ Java on Saturday night. Those who failed to secure tickets have a second shot to catch Mr. Young when he visits the Sonar in Baltimore on June 25.

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