While it is not unusual for a band to produce and finance a record in an attempt to gain an audience and a record contract, Fuel took such an initiative a step further. After relocating to the mid–sized Pennsylvania town of Harrisburg rather than to a large American city, the band ultimately distributed their self–made EP entitled Porcelain to radio stations and record stores across the United States. Before long, Fuel accepted a recording offer with Sony subsidiary 550 Music, recorded their major–label debut, released the hit single “Shimmer,” earned critical accolades, headlined stadium concerts, and toured with various acts from the rock band the Foo Fighters to the punk outfit Green Day. “It was a big job,” said guitarist and songwriter Carl Bell in an interview with Wendy Hermanson for Launch.com. “We had the record stores designing and hanging up displays for us! They were so supportive. Some of the stores were part of [national] chains, so they’d distribute [our record] for us by sending it to other stores along with the shipments!”
Lead guitarist and vocalist Carl Bell, along with boyhood friend and bas guitarist Jeff Abercrombie, grew up in
Members include Jeff Abercrombie, bass; Carl Bell, AA guitar, vocals; Kevin Miller, drums; Brett Seal–lions, lead vocals, guitar.
Abercrombie, Bell, and Scallions formed band in Kenton, TN, and recorded first demo tape, c. 1995; relocated to Harrisburg, PA, 1995; released self–produced, self–financed EP Porcelain, 1996; signed with Sony 550 Music and released major–label debut Sunburn, 1998; recorded single for Godzilla soundtrack, 1998.
Addresses: Home —Harrisburg, PA. Management —Media Five. Record company —Sony 550 Music, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, (310) 449–2100, fax (310) 449–2932.
Kenton, Tennessee, located in the western part of the state near the Kentucky border. “There was nothing much to do there,” Bell informed Billboard magazine’s Mark Marone. “It’s just soybeans and cattle, pretty barren. Some great people, but as far as activities, you’re not going to find any.” Growing up without television in a town with only two stoplights and a population of around 2,000 people, Bell resorted to other forms of entertainment, mainly listening to a collection of 500 rock and roll albums that his brother won from a Memphis radio station contest. “I inherited the complete [Led] Zeppelin and everything coming out at the time,” Bell told Noah Tarnow of Rolling Stone. “Instead of flipping on the TV, I’d just open up the console stereo system and throw on a [Rolling] Stones record.”
Although both Bell and Abercrombie started out playing guitar, Bell slyly convinced his pal to switch to bass “cause it was cooler,” recalled Abercrombie, according to the band’s record label. Throughout the years, though, the young men experienced trouble finding other musicians to form a band with. Eventually, Abercrombie met singer and guitarist Brett Scallions, who lived in the nearby town of Brownsville and performed in small venues with other musicians. While the young singer worshipped the vocals of the Cult’s Ian Astbury, Scal–lions’s own voice resonated with an expressive energy. Soon thereafter, Scallions agreed to join Bell and Abercrombie on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and the group began to crystallize.
After rehearsing togetherfor a short time, Fuel recorded their first piece of music, an eight–song demo tape that sold close to 5,000 copies at local stores and live gigs. Encouraged by this initial success, Fuel decided to take their music more seriously and move to a larger town in 1995. But instead of relocating to one of the more recognized cities for hopeful musicians, such as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, or Nashville, the group opted to move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a town not usually considered a springboard for rock bands. However, Fuel chose the town for two reasons. First, Harrisburg was central to a host of larger cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. And second, Fuel had already amassed a cult following off ans in Harrisburg. “Actually, local radio would play local music, and we knew we’d get gigs,” Bell said to Tarnow. Scallions further added, “We began to build a loyal following. The fan base supported us from day one, and it just grew and grew,” as quoted by the band’s record label.
In fact, Fuel found not only a receptive audience in their adopted hometown, but also discovered that local radio stations and record stores seemed eager to help the band with the promotion and distribution of their first EP, the self–produced and self–financed Porcelain, 1996. Record stores designed displays for Fuel and distributed the EP by sending it to other stores in their respective national chains, while radio stations began to play an early version of the single “Shimmer” from Porcelain. Soon after their first gig at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, Fuel had sold–out shows, positive press, and calls from various record companies. Before long, Fuel signed a recording contract with 550 Music, a division of Sony Music.
In 1998, Fuel released their major–label debut Sunburn, produced by Steve Haigler (noted for his work with the Pixies, Quicksand, and Local H) and engineered by Tom Lord–Alge (known for his work mixing songs with the Dave Matthews Band and the Wallflowers). All of Sunburn’s eleven songs were written by Bell. The prolific songwriter explained, “Writing is like therapy for me,” as quoted by 550 Music. “It helps you decode what’s going on in your life.” Bell admitted to at times spending several hours searching for the most compelling word to match the melodies in his head. “There has to be something that hooks me. You have to find it quickly, then slowly flesh out the details.” His attention to detail both musicallyand lyrically paid off with Sunburn. Edgy, explosive tracks that unexpectedly switch to introspective moments included “Untitled” as well as “Jesus or a Gun,” while the song “It’sCome to This” centered arounda drum and bass approach. The album’s most successful single, in terms of popular attention, was “Shimmer,” described by Tarnow as “super premium plus,” and a good mix of “breezy melodies with full–out metallic aggression.” By Septemberof 1998, “Shimmer” reached number five on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, and in December, Radio & Records ranked the single as the number one modern rock track of the year. The album overall went certified gold, selling over 500,000 copies, and also hit the number one slot on Billboards Heatseakers chart.
In the meantime, the trio befriended drummer Kevin Miller, a member of another East Coast band who grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg. After recording Sunburn with an outside sessions drummer, Fuel asked Miller to join the group. The quartet rehearsed just six hours before playing onstage together for the first time—a high–profile show at New York’s C.B.G.B.’s nightclub. “It was my first show, and they threw me right into the melting pot,” Miller remembered, according to 550 Music. “I figured that I had honed my skills for years and years for a moment like this, so it was either put up or shut up!” Also in 1998, Fuel recorded a single for the platinum–selling Godzilla soundtrack entitled “Walk the Sky” with Pearl Jam producer Brendan O’Brien and appeared for the first time on television on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. In addition, the band toured with well–known acts such as the Foo Fighters and Green Day.
With their hit radio songs and widely–televised videos, Fuel quickly became one of the most popular up–and–coming bands of the year. In September of 1998, the band set out on their first headlining tour, including dates overseas, arena shows, and an enthusiastic performance at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, Washington. All four musicians claimed that while they enjoywrit–ing and recording music together, they find the greatest adrenaline rush during live performances. During one performance in Sacramento, California, in late 1998, the onstage excitement led to a trip to the hospital. “We were rockin’ out,” Bell told Tarnow. “and my guitar hit [lead singer] Brett Scallions and he needed eight stitches in his face. He was, like, snorting and blowing blood and chunks out of his nose. The hospital report said, ‘Assault with guitar.’”
Despite Fuel’s acceptance by modern rock fans and radio, the group remained adamant about the correct genre to place their music under. “We’re a rock band,” Bell confessed to Hermanson. “If you want to call it alternative, so be it, and we’re glad of the alternative airplay. But we like to just think ‘Rock.’”
Porcelain, (EP), 1996.
“Shimmer,” 550 Music, 1998.
Sunburn, 550 Music, 1998.
“Walk the Sky,” Godzilla: The Album, Epic Soundtrax, 1998.
Billboard, April 4, 1998, p. 7.
Rolling Stone, September 17, 1998, p. 29.
Launch.com: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com (November 23, 1999).
Additional information provided by 550 Music, a division of Sony Music.
Formed: 1993, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Members: Kevin Miller, drums (born Allentown, Pennsylvania, 6 September 1962); Carl Bell, guitar (born Kenton, Tennessee, 9 January 1967); Jeff Abercrombie, bass (born Kenton, Tennessee, 8 January 1969); Brett Scallions, guitar, vocals (born Brownsville, Tennessee, 21 December 1971). Former members: Jody Abbott, drums; Erik Avakian, keyboards.
Best-selling album since 1990: Something Like Human (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "Shimmer," "Bittersweet," "Hemorrhage (in My Hands)"
Fuel started out as an irreverent punk-influenced band but gradually added textured alt-rock to its repertoire. By the early 2000s the band had perfected its two sides: the melodic balladry that helped it gain airplay and the hard-rock shouts that made it a formidable live act.
Abercrombie, the main songwriter Bell, and Scallions got together in 1993 in Tennessee but relocated to the more favorable rock climes of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 170 miles west of New York. The following year the group released its self-titled debut and began to gain local attention.
The EP Porcelain (1996) contains a bouncy but pointed Green Day-like vibe. "Nothing" features two-part vocal harmonies and Scallions's irreverent vocals. But the album's biggest hit was the philosophical, mid-tempo "Shimmer," with its wistful hook: "I've found all that shimmers in this world is sure to fade." The song received regional airplay and helped the band get major-label attention.
Sony 550 released the EP Hazleton in 1997; all four tracks except "King for a Day" reappeared on full-length Sunburn (1998), which also contains the Porcelain track "Shimmer," the group's first single. The two-year hiatus had not sapped the appeal of that song, and it made number two on Billboard 's Modern Rock Tracks chart. The second single, "Bittersweet," shows the band's raw, hard-rock side. Scallions shouts the abstract lyrics about ambivalence in the face of decadence as Bell fuses R&B chords with crunching rock guitar. Producer Steve Haigler, whose credits include a bevy of B-level alternative bands, helps maintain a live, no-frills feel. On the harrowing third single, "Jesus or a Gun," Scallions expresses a harrowing desperation: "Tell me now, who's my saving one / Jesus or a gun," he yells over an aggressive guitar riff. The themes of frustration, the band later revealed, had come from their years of laboring in obscurity. With the success of Sunburn, those earlier career disappointments began to fade. Nevertheless, critics wondered, would fame dull Bell's tormented muse?
Fuel devoted 1999 to touring and breaking in their new drummer, Kevin Miller. For Something Like Human (2000), the band adopts a more polished sound under the supervision of producer Ben Grosse, whose credits include the B-52s, Filter, and Ben Folds. With his help the group sprinkles atmospheric samples and drum loops into the mix. The single "Hemorrhage (in My Hands)" made the hard rockers Top 40 darlings in late 2000; it was also their first number one hit on Billboard 's Modern Rock Tracks chart. A melodic, minor-key tune that starts out with acoustic guitar and explodes into full-bore angst, the hit erased the inevitable "sophomore slump" worries. Scallions's slightly twangy, masculine baritone ranges from vulnerable to seething. After keeping a low profile in 2002, Fuel returned to alt-rock play lists in 2003 with "Won't Back Down" from the Daredevil soundtrack.
Fuel's rise demonstrated the importance of strong songwriting and a versatile vocalist who could please the punks, the metal heads, and the alt-rock fans in the fragmented rock scene of the 2000s.
Hazleton (Epic, 1997); Sunburn (Sony, 1998); Something Like Human (Epic, 2000).
fu·el / ˈfyoōəl/ • n. material such as coal, gas, or oil that is burned to produce heat or power. ∎ short for nuclear fuel. ∎ food, drink, or drugs as a source of energy: any protein intake can also be used as fuel. ∎ a thing that sustains or inflames passion, argument, or other emotion or activity: the remuneration packages will add fuel to the debate about top-level rewards.• v. (fu·eled, fu·el·ing; Brit. fu·elled, fu·el·ling) [tr.] 1. supply or power (an industrial plant, vehicle, or machine) with fuel: the plan includes a hydroelectric plant to fuel a paper factory | fig. a big novel that is fueled by anger and revenge. ∎ fill up (a vehicle, aircraft, or ship) with oil or gasoline. ∎ [intr.] (fuel up) (of a person) eat a meal: arrive straight from work and fuel up on the complimentary buffet.2. cause (a fire) to burn more intensely. ∎ sustain or inflame (a feeling or activity): his rascal heart and private pain fuel his passion as an actor.PHRASES: add fuel to the fire (or flames) fig. cause a situation or conflict to become more intense, esp. by provocative comments.ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French fouaille, based on Latin focus ‘hearth’ (in late Latin ‘fire’).
Hence as vb. XVI.