Without even realizing it, Fastball has made its most Texas-centric album to date—at least from a roster standpoint. Due out October 18, The Help Machine (33 1/3) features esteemed scene fixtures Bruce Hughes and Charlie Sexton, along with members of the Band Of Heathens and Wye Oak. “We did give Charlie a call, but most of the time it was literally who was in the room,” says Fastball’s Miles Zuniga of all the local talent that casually found its way onto the Austin band’s seventh album.
Zuniga cites the title track as a prime example. Available here as an exclusive premiere, “The Help Machine” is as emotionally direct, sonically offbeat and weirdly beautiful as anything the band has recorded. At least partly inspired by Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush,” the song is also at least three years old. “My kid lives out in Marfa (Texas), and I was visiting him and decided to do some work while I was there,” says Zuniga. “I went into this studio and started fooling around, and the owner asked me if I minded if this guy came by to check out the place. It was Andy (Stack) from Wye Oak.”
Apparently, the two hit it off. “I asked him if he wanted to play on my record,” says Zuniga. “He said, ‘Sure, when?’ And I said, ‘Now.’ So he got behind the drum kit and played some keys. It all came together, and when it was done, I was like, ‘How are you gonna beat this?’”
Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Diamond Rugs) agreed. Brought in to produce The Help Machine, Berlin loved almost exactly what he heard, adding only a few keyboard touches and backup vocals from Fastball cofounder Tony Scalzo. “I thought we would re-record it,” says Zuniga. “But he was like, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ We really let him call the shots on this album, and he saved us from a lot of bad musical decisions.”
The Help Machine (watch a making-of video for the LP below) has all the vaguely experimental earmarks of a middle-aged band seeking rejuvenation—and succeeding in its quest more often than not. Of particular note: Scalzo hands over bass duties to Hughes and moves to keyboards and guitar. After 25 years, why not?
“Tony doesn’t play bass live, so he didn’t care,” says Zuniga. “We can do the classic Fastball sound of chiming guitars and harmonies in our sleep. It was time to stretch our legs.”