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Miles Zuniga his way via solo work

A member of Fastball and Resentments, Miles Zuniga goes on his own for highly personal songs

Peter Mongillo

It's not that Miles Zuniga doesn't want to be in bands anymore Fastball, which sold a boatload of records on the strength of hit single "The Way," still exists and he also plays with the Resentments. It's that his most recent material, about the end of a relationship, was too personal for Zuniga to bring to a band.

"A lot of times you'll bring a song to your cohorts, whoever they may be, and they'll say ‘I don't like it, I don't want to do it,' " Zuniga says. "It was the first time I felt like I was really baring my soul, really opening up."

Zuniga would rather not get into the details of the breakup, but he says it put him in a place where music became the thing that helped him through the experience. In the liner notes to his first solo record, "These Ghosts Have Bones," out Sept. 27, he refers to the effort as a "record/therapy session by Miles Zuniga."

"For the first time in my life, I understood the cliché of the music as a lifeline," he says. "I had an identity as a dad and a husband, this whole world that just blew apart, no longer existed. The one thing I knew was that I was a musician, and it was a lifesaver." Professional responsibilities, such as having to show up at scheduled gigs, gave him something to focus on outside his personal problems.

More help came in the form of a regular song-writing exercise with a rotating group of musicians, led by Bob Schneider. Each week, Schneider sends the title of a song via email, and participating songwriters write a song based on the title. Participating forced him to write on a regular basis and provided ideas that evolved into more complete songs, including opening track "Marfa Moonlight," a sprawling pop number that deals with the distance between Zuniga and his son, who lives in the West Texas town. Although none of Schneider's titles survived the process, the exercise provided the foundation for much of the album.

The songs on the album also took shape with a little help from other musicians, including the Resentments, the casual collective of Austin musicians including Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Bruce Hughes (who played on the most recent Fastball album) and John Chipman (Band of Heathens), who worked the songs out live in a Sunday residency at the Saxon Pub before Zuniga recorded.

"It's been the greatest gig, because I could bring in these songs and try them out. Those guys are good enough to just go ‘what key is it in?' and they know the song," Zuniga says. "And then you see if the audience likes it. It was really handy when it came time to start recording."

Hughes and Chipman both appear on the album, as does Austin-based jazz singer Kat Edmonson, who sings with Zuniga on "The Weatherman," an old-timey waltz backed by piano and fiddle. Like his gig with the Resentments, Zuniga worked out the song with Edmonson in a live setting before taking it to the studio.

Aside from the personal nature of the material, Zuniga says that focusing on solo material forces him to take more responsibility for his music. "If you're on stage with a band and people are yawning or looking at their phones, you can always say yeah, ‘it's not me — they think we suck, but they don't think I suck,' " Zuniga says, laughing. "When you're a solo artist, there's nowhere to hide. They really do think you suck. I thought it was time to walk the plank on that and take full responsibility."

To that end, Zuniga funded the album with fan donations via a Kickstarter campaign, which met its goal within a few days. Although he says the days of record labels throwing money at his band were nice, he says that having a crowd-funded release improves the quality of his work.

"If people feel like they got burned or you didn't give them what you promised, then you probably won't be able to do another one," Zuniga says. "You have to give people what you promised."

pmongillo@statesman.com