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On the Road with Brett Scallions

by Lisa Hummel

You know the story. You’ve heard it, read it, maybe even played a role in it. Three guys move to Harrisburg from Tennessee, spend the next few years developing a following, record some songs, get signed to a label, and set off on their way to make it big. They take to the road. What was once a song first played on the local airwaves, “Shimmer” becomes the most played song in all of modern rock for the year 1998. They change drummers. They record another album, continue earning hits and selling copies. They’re becoming a household name. On Leno. On Letterman. On VH-1 and MTV and MTV2. They are Fuel. And they’ve come a long way from being the house band at Wanda’s Deck and Beach Club.

It took a while, but MODE finally caught up with the band in time for the Annual Music Guide. A few false starts here, a few delays there, and eventually the interview with Fuel actually happened as planned. And it was well worth the wait. While he was preparing for a show in New York, MODE had the opportunity to speak with Fuel’s lead singer Brett Scallions. We’ve talked with him before, and we enjoy it. Each time, he speaks with candor, he speaks with excitement about the band’s next endeavor — thus far we’ve caught him when the band first hit the road, when the band was anticipating the release of their sophomore effort, Something Like Human, and now, on the Aerosmith tour, on the verge of something great — and he speaks fondly of his time spent here, the place he calls “the home of Fuel.” In fact, it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the band’s Friday night performance with Aerosmith at HersheyPark Stadium.

Fuel — Scallions, guitarist Carl Bell, bassist Jeff Abercrombie, and drummer Kevin Miller — first toured with Aerosmith in 1998, hot off the release of their debut album, Sunburn. A lot has changed since then, since the time the band had to pinch themselves to see if it was all real. Just off a tour with 3 Doors Down, the band has spent the past few months playing smaller venues — colleges and festivals — so the change to a stadium stage is a welcome one, according to Scallions. “The smaller venues are a little more intimate, but they can also be chaotic at times,” he said. “That, and it’s a lot of fun to walk out in front of 30,000 people. It’s a good rush. And this is going to be our first time to ever play HersheyPark Stadium. Coming into the old stomping grounds will be a nice little homecoming.”

The band last played in the area in April at a show at Millersville University. And while Scallions and the band enjoy coming back to their adopted hometown — where some of them still reside in their time off — they’ve discovered it’s difficult to find an adequate place to play. “It’s been so hard for us to come into Harrisburg and play because it’s kind of limited on where we can go to play there now,” Scallions said. “Harrisburg needs a nice 3,000-4,000 capacity theatre, and there’s really nothing like that to offer in the area right now so we’re really limited on when and where we can come. So this is a nice opportunity for us to come in there with Aerosmith and play HersheyPark Stadium and have all of our fans who can afford to see the show come out.”

The band is currently touring in support of their latest disc, Something Like Human. Its third single, “Bad Day,” has quickly become a hit, following in the path of “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” and “Innocent,” the first two releases off of the album. Long part of the band’s repertoire, the song became a fan favorite without ever having been included on an album, according to Scallions. “We tried recording “Bad Day” back when we did the Sunburn album [in 1998] and just didn’t get it right. It was a song that was with us way before we signed on with Sony and Epic,” he said. “In Harrisburg, it was always a hometown favorite and people were singing all the words to the song before there was ever even a recording of it. So I’m happy that we finally got a version of it that we could feel proud of.”

Just this month, the video version of “Bad Day” hit the airwaves, premiering on VH-1. And while Scallions feels nothing but at home on stage and in the recording studio, he does have doubts about his acting skills. And he’s not shy about sharing them. How did he like the filming of the video? “I think we suck at making videos,” he said, laughing. “You know, you get into this business to be a musician, you want to make records and you want to write and record and perform songs and so being an actor isn’t high on the list. You go into the studio and you try to convey your emotions on audio tape and then suddenly someone turns around and says, ‘now do it on video tape.’ It’s kind of strange to go into the different realm of entertainment.”

And though he’s still not sold on the process, Scallions admits that the filming of “Bad Day” was a little more fun than the band’s others. A conceptual video that, for the first time, has the members of the band acting out the song, “Bad Day” took the members of Fuel, save Brett, far from their daily routines. “I’m up there singing and everything, but the other guys are more in a role-playing kind of thing,” he said. “Carl’s like the psychiatrist, the other guys … well, Kevin’s driving a pick up truck and Jeff is a cab driver.”

“I know that Jeff and Kevin, they had a good time. Driving the cars and everything, and they had a car crash… but they didn’t get to actually do the car crash,” Scallions added, laughing at the humor of the situation. “They had ‘stunt drivers’ come in and do that, so they were pretty bummed. They were like, ‘come on, I want to wreck the car!’ But I think the liability was too great.”

Just last weekend, the band taped a performance of VH-1’s “Storytellers,” a series that invites musicians to perform and explain their songs in front of an intimate audience. Rumored to be set for air in September, Fuel’s version of the series was an experience that Scallions enjoyed. “It was pretty cool. I always loved “Storytellers.” It’s fun to watch your favorite band sit down and relax and tell you about the life and history of the band and the history of the music and songs, so it was a lot of fun for us to actually be on the other side of that and be the ones telling the stories for a change,” he said. “You go and do one of those things and its like instant credibility.”

It also gave the band a chance to “hang” with their fans. Something that, with the strains and time constraints of increased fame pulling at him, Scallions appreciates more and more. “Without the fans we’re nothing. We need them to make the music so it’s a need each other kind of basis, hopefully they need us and want us and we need them just as much. We love them and appreciate them for everything they’ve given to us,” he said. “[Being with fans] gets a little more difficult from time to time,” continued Scallions. “Unfortunately, when you have to run off and do something and there’s 300 people outside your bus it’s hard to shake the hand of everybody, but we try to avoid a barrier from coming up because we do want to meet the fans and hang out with the fans, but sometimes it’s not as easy as it used to be and that’s an unfortunate thing.”

And while fame brings with it a fair share of drawbacks — no time, living on the road, being removed from friends and family and fans — becoming a household name is the dream of every musician and Scallions hasn’t lost sight of that. “Carl and I were talking the other night,” he said. “It feels like things are kind of bubbling under right now and are just waiting to really go overboard. And I think that’s what any musician dreams of. You want to be recognized, you want people to recognize the music so as soon as the song comes on they go, ‘that’s Fuel’ and are able to put the face automatically to the song. And hopefully we’re going that way.”

Two platinum albums, a slew of hit singles, television appearances, videos, Aerosmith. It doesn’t appear Fuel could be going any other way but up.

Or maybe they’ve reached their peak. It seems that, on some levels, the band has already made it, at least to Scallions, anyway. “We always joked around at the beginning. The big joke was, ‘hell, we just wanted roadies.’ We didn’t care about anything other than having someone else to hump our gear for us. And finally we have that. So we’re huge,” he said, laughing at himself. “We don’t have to hump our gear.”

With that, we concluded the call, Scallions’ smile visible through the phone. Good things bubbling under.

Fuel will be performing live with Aerosmith at HersheyPark Stadium on June 22 at 7:30 p.m.

 


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