Interview by Steve Baltin
Photography by Dennis Kleiman
Hot off their successful debut, Fuel's Carl Bell and Brett Scallions put their eagerly anticipated follow-up, Something Like Human, under a microscope for scrutiny, dissecting their guitars and gear, examining their musical backgrounds, and diagnosing the elements that make Fuel on very impressive specimen.
Vocalist/guitarist Brett Scallions proudly declares that the band's sophomore effort is "leaps and bounds over the last record" and, though their debut is tough to beat, he's right. From the explosive opening riff of the melodic "Last Time," Scallions, guitarist Carl Bell, drummer Kevin Miller, and bassist Jeff Abercrombie create the kind of rising tenison on the new Something Like Human that threatens to boil over any second.
"When Sunburn started to take off, we knew we were going to have a chance to make a second record and there'd be interest in it," says Bell. Anticipating that interest, the Pennsylvania-based quartet set out to exceed glistening rockers like "Shimmer" and "Sunburn" with the kind of rock 'n' roll even their toughest critics - many of whom said their success was a fluke - wouldn't be able to deny. That kind of in-your-face, near-reckless approach gives Something Like Human a bitterly aggressive patina, an acerbic edginess that frames Fuel as a band ready for a fight.
What's the story behind the recording of the new album?
Carl Bell:We recorded it in New York City. The first record we did we were in basically a residential, turn-of-the-century farmhouse stuido, and it was nice and it was cool, but I think on this one we wanted something a little more edgy and more in touch with what's going on. So we opted to go to New York, which was quite a challenge, actually.
Carl:Besides being so expensive to record, there's also just a lot of radio interference when it comes to trying to play guitar. And, depending on which amp you're using, you're picking up things like a cab driver on the street and stuff like that. It was crazy. So it was a little tough, but it was cool. I really enjoyed living there, and I think a lot of what's good about New York cane through on the record.
What equipment did you use in the recording of this album?
Brett Scallions:Well, basically there were a load of pedals, too many to name. But amp-wise we used the Hughes & Kettner Triam and then there was the Diezel: Those things will rip your head off. There were a couple of 100-watt Marshalls, stuff like that lying around.
I've endorsed Fender Telecasters for the past few years and I'll still continue to play those. I'm getting ready to make one in the custom shop that's going to be amazing. I'm going to put the album artwork on it and everything. I want to get a piezo pickup installed in there, too. That way I can run electric and have the acoustic sound for certain spots; it'll be really cool. In the past I've always used the Teles with the single-coil Broadcaster pickups, but this time I'm gonna have some humbuckers in there. I like single coils - and they're really good for me - but a lot of times I just need something with humbuckers for a crunchier sound. This record is a lot heavier than the last one.
Carl:Les Paul is basically my guitar of choice. I've tried other guitars but I just can't get away from the way a Les Paul sounds. I've got an '80 Standard Les Paul, a 1960 classic reissue and a '94 gold-top. But you can't get away from the ol' Strat for embellishing things and for that certain sound a Strat gives you. So I've got a custom-shop Strat that I used a lot on the record, which worked out really well. It was basically an arsenal of stuff: a Danelectro Barritone, a Jerry Jones 12-string, a Gretsch Tennesseean. We just put everything int he mix to see what sounded good.
Then I just went into a lot of pedals on this record; I think the last record was a little vanilla. I wanted more of a sonic landscape on this record. But I dove more into the pedals that I had on hand while still using a lot of the vintage stuff - the Big Muff, which is just a staple; the Zoom BFX, which is actually made for bass but has some cool sounds for guitar on there. I used a bass effect on a song called "Empty Spaces." I also used a lot of "prescription" stuff ont his record. I like pedals that basically vomit when I play them [laughs]! It sounds like everything is absolutely ready to blow up. And the prescription pedals really gave me a lot of that. I used a lot of the Experience pedal on the record, which is a really hot pedal. And I used the Line 6 POD and Modulation pedal; I think their stuff is really cool.
And then for amps, I have a Diezel and a Hughes & Kettner Triamp; I used a lot of Hughes & Kettner stuff, those amps are really excellent. And then we had a few vintage Marshall amps.
Brett, what gear will you be using to re-create that heavier sound live?
Brett:I'm kind of in a transitional phase. But for the moment what I'm planning to use is the Huges & Kettner Triamp and a Hughes & Kettner 4x12 cap with Clestion Greenbacks. And I'll still be playing a Fender Telecaster. In the past I've run it into a Rocktron Replifex, through a guitar effects unit, and controlled it with an all-access pedalboard. And then on the side of the all-access, there's a micro sythesizer pedal.
Carl, how many guitars do you take on the road with you?
Carl:Because of this new record - there are a couple of songs that are in the D# [tuned down 1/2 step], some songs are in Drop D tuning, and there's the standard E tuning, - I'll be taking quite a bit of stuff out just because of what we're going to have to do to re-create this record. I'll take as many as 10 guitars out on the road with me. And, for the most part, I'll play four or five of them and the rest are just for backup incase something goes wrong.
Do you write all of your songs on the guitar?
Carl:Absolutely. It's definitely my weapon of choice. I'll site with the guitar just noodling, watching TV and messing around on it to see what comes out. I don't really think about it. I just let it freeflow and try to get into that zone where stuff just starts happening.
Any thoughts on how the new material is going to translate to the stage?
Brett:We've been working on that this past week, and we'll work on it this week, too. It's coming along. I think the record is leaps and bounds over the last record, so I'm really excited to hear how it's going to cross over to a live environment. I think it's going to turn out really good if we can figure out how to play the songs right.
When you're getting ready to go out on the road, how much time do you spend rehearsing?
Brett:It's some gooed 12-14 hours days for us when we're in the rehearsal area. But it's not always playing. During those days we'll be together and dealing with sounds, trying to figure out effects and all that crap. Plus, we have to handle the inear monitors and Kevin [Miller] has his drum kit and everything. For some reasons drummers have to do stuff; I thought they just banged on things and liked to hang out with musicians [laughs].
Let's talk about your early days as guitar players. How did you guys get your start?
Brett:I started with one guitar chord my brother taught me. I was 13 or 14, my brother came home from college for the weekend, and a friend of his he had met at college brought his guitar home. He sat down with me and he said, "Hey man, you want me to teach you something?" I said, "Sure." He sat down and he taught me a G chord. And I sat there for like four hours straight playing that one G chord over and over and over again. I think my figners slipped off and I hit a C chord. I'm like, "Cool, now I got two chords!" I sat there and played the G and C all night.
Carl:I grew up in a tiny town in Tennessee; nothing going on there. I didn't have a television at the time. And my brother had this old Sears acoustic, which was a horrible guitar. Be he kind of played it for a week or so, then laid it down and it sat in his closet for a year. So one day I just took it out, started beating around on it, and I caught the fever.
I began learning everything I could, but it was weird because I didn't have a lot of people around me who could play. I basically had to just stumble on everything, so the learning curve was quite steep for me. I had nobody to guide me on it. But then eventually I bought another Sears guitar from my cousin, just started playing more and more and more, teaching myself everything I could. Just through trial and error I learned to do what I do. I don't even know how I made it through those first guitars, they were just so hard to play. I guess boredom was a good motivator.
Do you think that beginning on poor equipment made you a better guitar player?
Carl:Interesting. It probably makes me appreicate what I play a bit more. But no, I don't think it made me a better player. Maybe it made me more accurate. The way I look at it, when you're learning, you should get to the easiest stuff you can, because it can be so daunting in the early stages. So get yourself the best gear you can get 'cause you don't want anything to discourage you. If I had my druthers I think I would've started on something like we have today. You pick yourself up a POD and an Ibanez guitar, and you're on your way.
Do you remember the first decent guitar you bought?
Carl:I remember we went to this music store and I bought a Gibson, a scaled down model fo a Les Paul. I had that and like, some Peavey amp. I thought "Man, I'm rocking now!" Today, you can buy cheap guitars and cheap amps and they sound great. So I think the advantage for people growing up today is you've got so much more at your fingertips and you can get quality, good-sounding equipment cheaply.
Are you a collector?
Carl:I have a lot of guitars, but I don't consider myself a collector. I'm not that precious about guitars. I have a few that I would never part with, but the rest of them are...it just depends on what's going on with the song and what sound I need. I can get rid of a guitar, keep a guitar, whatever. Put it this way: I don't collect any guitars and then put them away and don't play them. If I buy a guitar it's because I'm giong to play it. I don't buy anything that I would be afraid to play onstage, that I have to leave in my closet at home because it's a '59 Les Paul or something. So, in that respect, I would say I'm not a collector; everything I buy, I play.
Brett, what was your first guitar?
Brett:The first guitar that I ever bought was from a guitar company called GPX. It was a shitty guitar. But it had snakeskin on the top, airbrushed snakesink, and a floating tremolo. It wasn't even a Floyd Rose tremolo, it was a piece of crap tremolo. And then I got a Washburn after that.
You guys have had a chance to play with so many of your peers. Who have really impressed you?
Carl:I think the stuff that Tom Morello is doing now is really, really cool. And it's not necessarily a solo. I think that's where I've moved as well. Back in the '80s it was all about the solo and the Eddie Van Halen-type stuff. And I thing guys like Morello and the guys from Korn have taken it to where it's more about a sonic landscape. I think that's really cool and it's pushing the limits of what's going on with guitar. People are pushing the limits of it and getting some of that hip-hop influence coming through in the music with the guitar. I think that's cool and it's taking guitar playing to a new place. I'm anxious to see where the next few years will take it.
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