Carl Bell - Fuel
Slim's - San Francisco, CA - March 3, 1999
Fuel is a band that most people have only heard of recently, most notably through songs such as "Shimmer" (the band's first major hit) and "Bittersweet". This is a band who shines with the competance and power that most bands only dream of. Fuel burst onto the scene in mid-1998 with the release of "Shimmer" and have slowly but surely been building a following of fans who know how to appreciate the creative sense that Fuel displays. One thing is for certain, once you have a chance to hear Fuel, you will be caught up by them. This is a band who does not disappoint and will keep you on the edge of your chair or jumping on your feet. Once a Fuel fan, always a Fuel fan. It is a rare instance to create such a fervor with all the new groups coming out these days.
I had the chance to meet with Carl Bell, guitarist and main songwriter, backstage after their performance at San Francisco's own Slim's nightclub. Carl is a very down-to-earth, honest person who has no problems sharing his thoughts and wishes either through talking with him or through his lyrics that he pens for the band. Most of the songs come from deep within him and show themselves in well-painted aural portraits that are an integral basis for how the band sounds.

K2K: How long has the band been together?
CB: Brett (vocalist) joined the band in 1993, and when he joined up that sort of solidified our whole operation. He was the vocalist we had been looking for. I think his vocal delivery is really cool and it's hard to find guys like that.
K2K: How did the band form?
CB: Jeff, the bass player, and myself grew up in a small town in Tennessee and we'd been playing in little bands around. We saw Brett in a bar in bar in Jackson, Tennessee in 1993 and asked him to join the band and he did and, like I said, that solidified the whole thing. Everything we'd been looking for. We began recording right away, did some independant releases and then moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1995. Of course in Tennessee, there just wasn't anything happening there. Of course, in Harrisburg there wasn't a whole lot happening, but it was better than Tennessee. And there's a good audience there who like live music and support live bands, and there's good radio that will support local bands. So it seemed like the right thing to do. We moved there in 1995. In 1996 we put out our second independant release and that's when we signed up to [550 Music].
K2K: How did you happen to write music like you do, coming from where you come from?
CB: A lot of people seem to think that we listen to a lot of country, and surely there is, but, uh, I grew up listening to rock 'n' roll. Obviously not everybody listens to country out there in Tennessee but... My brother had a huge album collection, sometime back in 1976 or something like that and I would listen to all those vinyl albums that he had. There was no CDs then. So, uh, I didn't watch television at the time - we didn't have television growing up at all, my parents just never had TV. I don't know why, but we didn't. So I would just come home and throw on the Stones' records instead of watching whatever. I used to listen to a lot of, like, Queen, a lot of just everything that was out then. From Foreigner to... I had the complete Stones and the complete Zeppelin. But stuck all over the scale, very broad listening range there. Alice Cooper.
K2K: Do you all have the same musical influences?
CB: To some degree, yeah. I mean, everyone has their own various tastes, you know what I mean. I love, umm... Beth Orton has a new record coming out that I'm dying to hear. I'm really into Beth Orton. I'm all over the scale. I can listen to that or to Pantera. If it's done good and it's done well, then...
K2K: What do you think of other bands from your area, like Squirrel Nut Zippers?
CB: It's weird when I hear it on a rock station. That's weird. I mean, I don't know where it belongs. Maybe alternative. That's truly alternative, I would say. But then on a rock station, I don't know. I mean, my dad listens to Glen Miller. It's a little weird. But I give it to them for stepping out and bringing it to the... I mean revitalizing the old stuff and the old swing stuff. I mean, not that I'm into it, but hey, you know.
K2K: How old is everyone?
CB: We're all around 30. Brett's 27.
K2K: How many albums do you have now?
CB: This is the fourth record we have. The second record on Sony. We had a little EP that we did right after we got signed, just to tour off of basically. Something to say that we had a record out just so that we could get tours. If you don't have a record out then nobody wants you on their bill. This is our fourth one - two independant, and EP off Sony, and then our latest. The first one is self-titled, just called "Fuel", the second one is called "Porcelain", the third one is "Hazelton", and then we have "Sunburn".
K2K: Are you looking to record again soon?
CB: Hopefully we'll be out the rest of this year. In April we go to do a tour all over Europe. And hopefully we'll be out supporting the record the rest of the year. We have a couple of more singles lined up to get to. If things work out, then we'll be out supporting this record the rest of this year at least and hopefully go into the year 2,000. That sounds weird, doesn't it. The year 2,000. But yeah. We'll be trying to headline. I mean, we've been headlining this whole tour here and it's been going great. Response has been amazing. This summer there will be a lot of stuff going on. I certainly hope so.
K2K: Videos?
CB: We've done "Shimmer". We did "Bittersweet". "Jesus Or A Gun" is what we want to take to rock radio to sort of round out the picture of Fuel because some people hear "Shimmer" and think that that's all we're about and there's the whole record.
K2K: "Bittersweet" was the song that made me go out and get the CD. Everyone I've played it for has gone right out to buy it too.
CB: Cool, cool. That's good to hear. The record company wanted "Shimmer" and you know how it is, your first single and you gotta get the love of the record company or else you'll just fall off the face of the map. And right now, the way things are, if you're not on radio, you're dead. Because there ain't no such thing as artist development anymore.
K2K: Ever since the mergers...
CB: That's true. It's all a cycle. Now the independants are going to come back. It's just a shame that a lot of bands have to be killed in the process.
K2K: Biggest show or most people that you've played to?
CB: We did a show in Dallas that was like 30,000. We did a tour with Aerosmith that was weird. It was like a tour inside of a tour. Aerosmith plays every other night. So we were opening for Aerosmith and we'd go out and play to 12,000 seats and then the next night we'd go do our own headlining show for, like, 500, and then the next night open for Aerosmith again.
K2K: What's the largest headlining show of your own?
CB: 3,500 or 4,000? I'm trying to think... House of Blues in Orlando (FL) holds 2,000 and we put in more than 2,000 in there. There's so many dates that I can't remember.
K2K: How long have you been on tour now?
CB: We've been out since before the record came out. So we've been out since February (1998), so we've been out going on a year and a half. We were out before that doing stuff.
Somebody asked me the other day, "How can you stay out?". I said, this is nice now, we're in a bus. Before, we were in an equipment truck and a Honda Civic. This is, like, this is easy.
K2K: Favorite place that you've played?
CB: Up in Canada. We did a tour of Paris and Australia. One of the most memorable times was... I was onstage with Aerosmith in Canada - I think it was Montreal. Brett and Jeff, I mean, Jeff's been a friend of mine since childhood, we used ride bicycles to each other's house.... so I was on this cool stage, I was just looking around, just having a moment and, "Holy Crap, look at where we are", and I looked past Jeff and I saw Joe Perry and Steven Tyler just watching us play. It was too heavy. It was amazing. That was one of the coolest moments that I've had. It's hard to feel that. You want to grab hold of something and make it real to you, but it's hard to find anything tangible. At least one part of it is what solidified it.
K2K: Where do you get a lot of your songwriting ideas from?
CB: A lot of the songs are personal songs. Lyrics are something that I've gone through. I think songs like "Untitled" and "It's Come To This", at the time that we were struggling as a band, I was back at school thinking, "This ain't going to happen. I've got to get a Plan B going". We were struggling as a band and hoping to make it, but it was still kind of tough. A lot of songs are just about that time struggle and individual struggle and searching for answers. A lot of might have come from me growing up in a small town with little opportunity. "Untitled" is someone looking to "become". "Jesus Or A Gun" was obviously written at a low point for me. The lyric in the chorus is "everything is trying to drag me down, but I'll rip the sky from the ground". I hope that people come away with it as something that's with a positive spin. It's like something that you can beat, you can overcome it, but you can rise above it and move on. ["Shimmer"] people have all these creams and all this stuff to keep you looking youthful and people and their cryogenics, people just want things to last forever, and it doesn't. I think that people, that we, have a hard time dealing with that. It's both emotional and physical. You want emotions, emotional attachments to last forever too and they just don't.
K2K: Almost like the Highlander....
CB: Yeah, right. They grow old and he stays young.
K2K: Since you wrote a lot of songs during low points, how do you think that you will be writing in the future? Since you're in a new place.
CB: Well, a lot of songs have already been written. But just because you get a new record deal and then things are going well doesn't mean that your world has changed. Things are looking up. But at the same time, a lot of things I thought would be cool and a lot of things that I thought would change haven't changed either. I thought, "I'll get this and I'll get that and I'll be happy. If I could just get to that that that... then I'll be happy."
K2K: Perhaps you just overdrive yourself.
CB: Probably, yeah. I probably do. I just watched a VH-1 interview with John Cougar Mellancamp in which he said, "I never could enjoy it at the time because I was too worried about what was next and what I could do next." After the heart attack (John had), he said he never could enjoy the success he was having because he was too worried about what was next.
K2K: Are you guys into the Net?
CB: Yeah. is our site and there's a lot of links.
K2K: Do you ever do chatrooms?
CB: Yeah, on the internet, sometimes, it's weird. You have to have it almost like with video because, we find that, half the time you spend your time trying to prove that it's you. That's the downside of that. With video it's cool. But with chats, people don't believe you. It's like, "Prove to me that you're Fuel, blah blah blah...". We actually had some guy go online pretending that he was Fuel. He did a Fuel "interview" in which he said a lot of detrimental stuff that was not at all true.
K2K: How did you come up with the Enhanced-CD idea?
CB: Well, we had the video that's on the CD done. It was an electronic press kit to get people familiar, let people know who you are in the industry. We already had it and thought it would be cool to just put it on the CD as well. I thought it was cool. A lot of people are just discovering it.
K2K: Do you have any favorite sites to go to on the internet?
CB: A lot of times, for me, I go to MTV Online to see what's happening. Like MTV News, you can get all the news there. But's it hard, on the road, it's like life in a vacuum. So I'll go on MTV Online just to see what's happening, see what other artists are doing, just to keep my fingers on the pulse.
K2K: What inspired the "Sunburn" CD cover?
CB: If you're a musician out there, man, study graphic art and have your album cover art and everything that you want graphically done before you get signed. I think that it ties up the record and a lot of the emotions of a lot of the songs on the record. It's just hard because I thought that when you got signed that you would have this great graphic pool of people that you just gave things to "here's 10 things to choose from". It's not like that at all. You gotta do it all. It's cool, but I wish I would've known that beforehand, I would have been better prepared. Now I'm doing it. We're designing T-Shirts and doing it all because they just don't do it. Which is cool. I was just under the misconception that we would have people that were experts in the field able to help us out.
K2K: Offtime activities?
CB: I don't know. I mean, on a bus... you have a lot of Playstation going on, I guess. We take our anxieties out on each other on the Playstations. I do a lot of writing. I have a little Roland hard drive workstation that I work on on the bus.
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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