So Evcat needs to get something out of the way: this may very well be the most important interview he's ever given in his life.

You see, J.Ralph is an NYU film grad who, in the late-90s, camped out in an abandoned silent theater in NYC to record an album. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, the resulting disc -- Music to Mauzner By -- proved to be an incredible musical tour-de-force, covering dance-rock, classical, jazz, mariachi music, gospel, classic rock, country, and disco in one go. During Evcat's musical development as a kid, this album proved critical, as it introduced him to whole new worlds and, after listening to and reviewing thousands of albums in his life time, it remains his unquestioned Favorite Album of All-Time. Hands down.

Given that Mauzner celebrated it's 10-year anniversary this past February, we figured it'd be a great time to catch up on J.Ralph, who's now busy scoring Oscar-winning movies, crafting music for Super Bowl ads, and -- oh yeah -- working on that follow-up pop album. Without further ado, the unquestionable, inimitable, and amazing J.Ralph ...


>>I remember my first introduction to you: the video for "Baby" when it was playing on The Box music video network. I even remember that video hitting #1, and even later finding out that it was you who directed it. Coming fresh out of film school, what did you find harder: working on your first album or working on a big-budget music video for your first single?
Both had their challenges but I would say working on the video. Seems like time was always running out. There were a lot of people to manage and we had this funny narrative that we wanted to convey.

>>I think the simplest question needs to be asked right off here: what compelled you to make Music to Mauzner By? I just find it fascinating how after NYU, you not only made an album, but you produced it yourself, played virtually every instrument, and wrote every damn note, even for the orchestral piece. It was a daring move, but it shows that Mauzner really was a big labor of love ...
The record was the synthesis of all the years listening to music and messing with samplers, FX's and instruments. I was fascinated with sound the deconstruction of it. I really wanted to make something that was different from what I've heard. It was important to me that I went beyond what I had been exposed to. Smash everything together and [see] what came out.

>>You were signed to Lava/Atlantic when Music to Mauzner By came out -- what was your major-label experience like? If you had to do it again, would there be anything that you would do different?

It was perfect. 100% very lucky. Jason Flom (the label president) was the most encouraging and supportive force there could ever be. He let us do anything and everything.

>>Though I remember much talk of you releasing Frame the Horse sometime after Mauzner, I find it fascinating that your official "follow up" was the largely orchestral Illusionary Movements of Geraldine & Nazu, later followed by the score to Lucky Number Slevin. What are the challenges you encountered in working in an orchestral context (aside from the much-publicized fact that you couldn't actually read sheet music during the Illusionary sessions)?
Just that you have to really prepare. The players do not play anything that isn't written. Everything must be on the page. It is very challenging and I really like that. The stakes are much higher. No room for error. When you have 75 people in a room at about $50,000 every couple of hours, you really need to know what you want.

>>Aside from your TV soundtrack work, you've remained relatively quiet in recent years -- what have you been up to? More importantly: what big projects can we look forward to from you?

Just did the music for the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire (about Philippe Petits 1974 tight rope walk between the World Trade Center). Also we have been working on an album with Sizzla. And also, as always, still working on Frame the Horse.

>>Lastly: so far in your career -- what's been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?

No regrets and never thought about a finished product long enough to contemplate if it was an accomplishment or not. Not knowing what is going to happen next is more important.


Visit J.Ralph's official website.



It's hard being the best retro-rock outfit working today.

Fastball are still probably best known for their late-90s hits "The Way" and "Out of My Head", but true fans know that there was always something a little different about this group group. Their 2000 release The Harsh Light of Day not only featured guest spots from Billy Preston and Brian Setzer, but featured insanely well-produced rock gems ("This is Not My Life") rubbing next to more ambient pop numbers ("Vampires"), showcasing a group of remarkable musical depth. By the time 2004's Keep Your Wig On rolled around, the band had hired Fountains of Wayne pop guru Adam Schlesinger and Spoon knob-twidler Mike McCarthy to help produce, the band finally giving in to their power-pop calling to fantastic results.

Then, there was a break. A long break, in fact. Nearly five years passed until the band put out Little White Lies, a fantastically dry, concise and restrained pop nugget that simply does what Fastball does best these days: making nothing but retro-rocking stunners. The latest disc takes no prisoners, but features no excessive studio flourishes: it's just three guys rocking out the best way they know how, and -- especially in the hyperactive musical landscape we live now -- there's something genuinely refreshing about that. Evcat recently sat down with principal songwriters Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga to talk about the new disc, their temporary hiatus, and, of course, "drinking all the bourbon in Kentucky."


>>I always viewed you guys as pop traditionalists, but with this album you seem to fully go for that dry 70s guitar-pop sound, keeping in vein with the likes of early Cheap Trick and the first two Big Star albums. Is the slight retro bent of Little White Lies totally intentional, or this just the natural way that Fastball's sound has moved in over time?

MILES: I think retro is just part of our DNA. It's not a conscious decision. I like the sound of a Gibson guitar through a Fender Bassman turned way up loud. I like all kinds of music and I'm more than willing to experiment, but no matter how hard I try to make a Can album it always ends up sounding like Fastball.

TONY: I don't think it was all that intentional to sound similar to bands we absolutely love. We love this album and we know it will satisfy our fans who expect a certain sound from us, though that wasn't quite the plan. I can promise that the next Fastball album will be a departure from the expected.

>>Simply put: why the break between Keep Your Wig On and now?

MILES: The infrastructure in the band looked like Chennai airport. I think Rykodisc spent $20 promoting the band. Our management was asleep. The band wasn't getting along. We decided to go our separate ways for awhile. I did two records with my other band, the Small Stars and Tony and Joey were also making music throughout that time. It turned out to be the best thing for us. We came back to the band eager to do Fastball again.

TONY: It honestly doesn't seem like it was such a gap. Since the last album came out we have played many gigs and toured around quite a bit. We do lots of one-off type gigs plus short tours like when we went to Spain and South America. Miles did a couple of albums with his creation The Small Stars while I released approximately an album's worth of material with 3 solo EPs. We have been writing with other artists. I have been working with Jaret from Bowling For Soup. We wrote a new song that'll be on their next record. I guess one can lose track of time being all busy like that.

>>Lyrically, I find that satement of personal denial/defiance that makes the heart of the song "Little White Lies" to be one of the most potent lines on the album ("[I] tell myself these little white lies / little white lies / that I don't miss you / [I] tell myself these little white lies / little white lies / and I just walk around / with my eyes closed"). It's almost like a half-breakup song, focusing instead on the self-denial that emerges post-relationship instead of broad-stroke emotions like "anger" or "freedom". 1> Why make this track the title of your album, and 2> what -- from a writing perspective -- fascinates you most about dissecting relationships?

MILES: That song is a relationship song on the surface but it really came out of the denial we engage in as human beings on a daily basis. We lie to ourselves all the time. They don't call it the ugly truth for nothing. Usually, we're quite happy to be told what we want to hear.

TONY: Everybody can relate to it because we all do it: lie to ourselves. It's what our brains do best. We convince ourselves of all sorts of realities, don't we?

>>In looking at earlier tracks like "Out of My Head" and "This Is Not My Life", there seems to be a running theme of personal identity crisis (or at least a sense of longing nostalgia) that manifests itself in your songs (with this album, you don't want to go to "Rampart St." no more as just on example). Even during "We'll Always Have Paris", you note how "love is getting harder to find". Though some would call this pessimism, I almost feel like the sentiments are balanced out by the energetic music you frame your songs with. How would you define your worldview and how does it apply specifically to your lyrics?

MILES: I am fascinated by fame and how it's a supposed cure-all for the human condition. It's replaced religion as the opiate of the masses. In "We'll Always Have Paris", I'm singing about someone who doesn't want to look in the mirror. They want to party, because it takes their mind off how spiritually bankrupt they are. I have some experience in this arena.

TONY: I think we need a professional to sort out most of these lyrics. I just haven't the time or the wear-with-all but I'm sure glad they got written!

>>Do you ever feel haunted by "The Way" at all?

MILES: I guess if you can call hearing your song on the radio 10 years after the fact haunted, then yes. People act like "The Way" is an albatross around our neck but to paraphrase Roberto Clemente, "The Way" has been very, very good to us.

TONY: I am never haunted by "The Way" in a negative sense because the song has brought about a good many things and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to write it.

>>Finally, so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?

MILES: Do I wish I had worked harder when things were really popping instead of drinking all the bourbon in Kentucky and staying up all night with various women who's names I can't recall? Yes. But we're making better music than we ever have and we have a couple of songs that will be on the radio forever.

TONY: Regrets, I've had a few... It's awesome to still be a band after 15 years. My life has changed in oh, so many ways. I have climbed the highest mountains, ... and so forth.


Visit Fastball's official website.