INTERVIEW: Brett Scallions (FUEL)
For those living under a rock, American alt-rockers Fuel exploded nearly two decades ago with their debut album 'Sunburn' and its post-grunge, hard rock tones with classic tracks like 'Shimmer', 'Bittersweet' and 'Jesus Or A Gun' cranking through speakers in 1998. A true mainstream hit, 'Sunburn' turned some serious heads in the industry and since that time the group has gone on to share the stage alongside rock-and-roll royalty, released five studio albums and amassed a legion of followers worldwide.
And among the adoring fans (aka 'Fuelies') captivated by this beloved bunch are some devoted Aussies who are finally being given the chance to catch these explosive veterans live for their first Australian headline tour in 17 years - 'Sunburn' is getting the 2017 treatment, with the band taking to stages down under to perform the whole album, plus a few extra surprises from the sprawling Fuel catalogue. And aside from the wailing licks and heaving drums so synonymous with the group for many, it wouldn't be a true Fuel outing without the raw and rocking stylings of original frontman Brett Scallions - but before he brings some in-your-face rock to a town near you, Brett took a few moments to chat success, 'Sunburn' and some standout moments in a long and electrifying career.
(pic by Jena Ardell)
TIANA: Hi Brett! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me.
BRETT: My pleasure, thank you!
TIANA: Well first things first, some very exciting news that Fuel are finally coming back to Australia for the first time in nearly two decades! And obviously so much has happened between the last time you were here and now...but what are you most looking forward to about heading back this way?
BRETT: You know, it's been so long, like you said, since we've been there so I'll have to regroup once I get there (laughs) and get the lay of the land again, I guess! But, l'm looking forward to playing some fun shows and seeing everyone and having a good time with all the Aussie fans there.
TIANA: And how did you find the Australian crowds last time you were here, were we on our best behaviour, or were we a little bit loud and noisy?
BRETT: A little bit of both! A bit of both. But just wonderful people, awesome people, I love it. Every time that we've been there it's been such a good time, you know, everyone is just so incredibly nice and hospitable. And the crowds have been great always, and some of them in the past actually were on the same airplanes with us and flying from show to show! So those are always good times when stuff like that happens.
TIANA: Well I'm glad to hear we were relatively well behaved for you...
BRETT: You tried (laughs) You did your best!
TIANA: And it's also nearly now been two decades since Fuel's iconic 'Sunburn' album was released, and it seems to be an album that is still resonating so heavily still with audiences...but when it comes to Fuel it's not been pure luck because you do have the reputation of being one of the hardest working bands in town. What do you think has been the secret to the ongoing success of this album and Fuel in general?
BRETT: There is definitely a work ethic involved, you can't just sit around and wait for it to happen, you know? But we had great songs and we recorded those songs and we captured them in the recordings. We worked really hard to capture those songs in the recordings, we had a great team of people around us to make those songs the best that they could be. So I guess that's the first step, to actually have the right songs, which luckily we had. And from that point it was about capturing the moment and getting the recordings the best that they could be, and we definitely did that.
TIANA: The funny thing about 'Sunburn' too....I rocked it out again this week and there's something about it that just doesn't seem to age?!
BRETT: Isn't it fun when you can pull a record out that you listened to quite a bit back when it first came out, and then you take years away from it and then you can go back to it, pull it out, listen and go "you know what? This feels the same to me, it feels great".
TIANA: It's not a very common occurrence, especially given the time period that the album came out in too...
BRETT: Yeah, I recently had that same feeling with the Radiohead 'The Bends' record. I used to listen to that all the time and I hadn't listened to it in years and then I just pulled it out one day and played it and I was just like "man!!!". It's such an amazing record.
TIANA: Definitely also an amazing record, and an amazing sensation. Interestingly on 'Sunburn', and particularly on some of the slightly heavier tracks as well, there's a real personal touch that seems to be going on there...
BRETT: We had an idea of what the record was going to be overall because we recorded some of the songs two or three times, so we kind of had an idea of where we were going with the actual album. It was just a matter of capturing the songs, emotionally as well as sonically, we were just trying to up the ante on things. We made that record on two-inch reel, analogue. To do it that way it's one of those moments where you either get it, or you don't get it! It can be kinda frustrating, but I'm glad that we did that record on two-inch.
TIANA: You guys do have a lot of songs that so many people still know and love, but 'Sunburn' in particular is home to some of your most beloved tracks, you've got 'Shimmer', 'Bittersweet' just to name a few. But is this upcoming tour just going to focus solely on that album by itself?
BRETT: We're gonna play the 'Sunburn' album in its entirety, all the songs. So we'll play that and then we'll play some choice songs off later albums as well, so we're gonna have a fun ride!
TIANA: I know it might seem like a bit of a lame question to ask since you have been playing for so long, but do you have a favourite song that you just absolutely love playing live?
BRETT: Not really, I think it changes. Sometimes I love playing 'Song For You', sometimes I love playing 'Shimmer' (laughs) I don't know, it just always changes, sometimes I like playing a song called 'Puppet Strings'. It really depends and varies on the show, where we're playing and how well we played the song (laughs).
TIANA: Going back in time just a tiny bit, your journey with Fuel obviously started when you were back performing in Tennessee - but what kind of music did you grow up singing and listening to? Were there certain artists that made you fall in love with singing and music?
BRETT: Oh, absolutely! I grew up listening to Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, you know, The Mamas & The Papas and Creedence Clearwater Revival and things like that. And as I grew older I fell in love with Kiss and Van Halen and things like that. And as well as I got older I got into skateboarding and things like that, and learned about the punk rock scene with Suicidal Tendencies and The Sex Pistols and things like that....and of course growing up in Tennessee too, country music was constantly around me as well as gospel music as well. I was always surrounded by a large variety of music and styles of music.
TIANA: Fuel's mainstream success really kicked up a notch during the 90s, your airplay picked up and some tracks have gone on to be featured in movies and TV shows, but did the success feel natural at the time? Was there support in the industry back in those days?
BRETT: We had a great record label with us and our management was great, and we were having a lot of fun. It felt like we had a lot of support. We were out with Aerosmith for months on end touring together, as well as Kid Rock and so many other artists that we've toured with and performed with, so it felt like there was always a large amount of support for what we were doing. And still to this day.
TIANA: That's a nice thing to hear, particularly in what is seemingly very competitive industry...
BRETT: Yes, couldn't be happier!
TIANA: And speaking of other bands, Fuel has toured with so many amazing bands and you've had such a long career, being technically veterans for lack of a better word. But has there been a particular standout band that you've toured with?
BRETT: Yeah, like what I said about Aerosmith, we did two different album cycles together touring and when we put our second album out, 'Something Like Human', Aerosmith was touring their album 'Just Push Play', that was the one that had 'I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing' (*on the Japanese version of Just Push Play) from the Armageddon movie soundtrack and all that. So they had a number one song, and we had a number one song and we were selling out amphitheatres throughout the entire United States within a matter of minutes. Those were good times, we had a lot of fun touring with those guys.
TIANA: And with all this talk of touring, plus you're coming so far to see us again....is there a possibility that new music for Fuel might be around the corner?
BRETT: I think some new music next year, yeah! We're getting some new stuff and having a lot of fun with it. So, we'll see what comes out of the woodshed.
TIANA: I'm glad to hear you say that, when I was researching for this interview I saw this 2017 album pop up by Fuel called '30s medication', but it turns out it's a solo Japanese artist. I thought I'd missed your new album...
BRETT: (laughs) Yeah, that guy...we've got a lawyer involved with that guy. We'll see.
TIANA: And as per my tradition now, one of my favourite questions is to ask if there's any music that you listen to these days that may surprise your fans?
BRETT: Oh man...these days I listen to a lot of the music that my kids are listening to. My oldest son, he's way into pop music so a lot of the time I don't even know what I'm listening to (laughs). But at the same time I listen to it and I go "wow that's a pretty cool melody" - that's good enough! But I still have NO idea who I'm listening to. The other night I was listen to a Taylor Swift song, and I didn't even know it!
TIANA: So to wrap things up, my one piece of advice for you is that Australia is about to head into summer - so when you're here make sure you wear lots of sunscreen otherwise you're gonna be sunburned onstage playing 'Sunburn' and it will not be fun for you.
BRETT: (laughs) Well I live in Southern California so I know heat, and I love it. I look forward to a nice hot Australian tour!
Fuel's 'Sunburn' 20th Celebration Tour will kick off in Perth early December, before heading all over the country and onto Auckland.
Tickets via: https://metropolistouring.com/fuel
BY TIANA SPETER