After years of running on empty, the alternative-metal group Fuel are finally powering up. Six months ago the quartet released its debut album, Sunburn, which promptly generated the modern-rock hits "Shimmer" and "Bittersweet."
"Modern-rock alternative-radio stations spearheaded the whole thing," the group's lead guitarist and principal songwriter, Carl Bell, said. "And it did well on some [classic] rock stations as well."
Fuel have just released a video for "Bittersweet" (RealAudio excerpt) and recently received two Billboard Music Video Award nominations for their "Shimmer" (RealAudio excerpt) clip, which was spun fairly often on The Box, MTV, Much Music and M2.
Bell, 31, thinks the fact that the Billboard nominations were in different categories (Best New Artist Alternative and Best Hard Rock Metal) indicates that Fuel's music defies easy definition.
"I don't think it's metal," he said. "The album is diverse. It's hard for me to [put] one little badge on it."
The debut album and its hits aren't the only upturns on Fuel's recent career curve. The group also contributed a song, "Walk the Sky," to the Godzilla soundtrack. Also, they've just completed a tour with hard-rock kings Aerosmith.
Fuel's success is particularly gratifying for the band, given its history. Since its inception in 1993, the group has had to haul its way up the rock ladder, with each member pulling his own weight.
"We were a do-it-yourself kind of band for a long time," Bell said."We'd reinvest whatever money we'd make performing back into studio equipment and stuff to take on the road with us. We recorded [our first EP, Porcelain] ourselves, produced it ourselves ... after hours, before soundchecks."
Bell said that Fuel even divided up the duties like a record company in the band's early days. "I was doing the recording and writing," Bell said. "[Lead singer] Brett [Scallions] was calling radio and [doing] promotion. Our drummer [Kevin Miller] was taking [our music] to retailers. Our bass player [Jeff Abercrombie] was doing a lot of the merchandising.
"We were just trying to be as efficient as we could. Plus, we had our own PA system and light show. We had no crew; we were humping all the gear."
Bell, who grew up listening to '70s bands such as Queen and Led Zeppelin, said Fuel's brotherly cooperation comes naturally from the band's common roots. "Jeff and I grew up together in Tennessee," he said. "My mom used to keep him when he was, like, 4 years old. So it's very bizarre for me to look over onstage and see Jeff. Here's this guy -- he and I used to strap guitars on our backs and ride our bicycles up and down the road to play together. And now we're opening for Aerosmith."
"As a kid, I watched MTV all the time," Abercrombie, 29, said. "So to see myself on TV is a beautiful thing. I'm very happy that [we've] been given the opportunity to do that."
The band met lead singer Scallions in Jackson, Tenn., where he was performing acoustic shows. Bell called Scallions the missing link Fuel needed to "make it all happen."
Scallions gives voice to Bell's words, just as the Who's Roger Daltrey did for Pete Townshend. The pair seem to be on the same wavelength. "Brett usually doesn't have a lot of trouble with what I write," Bell said. "I mean, sometimes he'll add some stuff that maybe fits him better, ... but he trusts me and I trust him. And I think Brett raises the song to a different level."
A few years after their current lineup was in place, Fuel moved from Tennessee to Harrisburg, Pa., a couple of hours from New York City.
"We had some gigs lined up in Harrisburg. We knew they had great radio that would support local bands," Bell said. "There were major markets close to it, whereas in Tennessee, [there are] Nashville and Memphis and not much else."
After the relocation, Fuel met ICM booking agent Mike Krebs, which led to their signing last year with 550, a division of Sony. Since then, the band seems to have few complaints.
"This is our first record, and I know it's incredibly hard to sell records and get your career going," Bell said. "[We've] never put out a [major label] record [before]. Let's see what happens."