Fuel Is In Carl Bell And Kevin Miller’s Hands Again
If you were listening to Top 40 radio in the late ’90s to early ’00s, you couldn’t miss Fuel. Founded by guitarist and primary songwriter Carl Bell and drummer Kevin Miller in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Fuel became one of the more prominent rock acts of the post-grunge era, borrowing aesthetic elements from Northwest icons Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains but imbuing their songs with a slicker, modern twist. With a lineup cemented by then-lead singer Brett Scallions, Fuel enjoyed an incredibly successful run of singles, from the jangly banger “Shimmer” to the howling number one anthem “Hemorrhage (In My Hands).” Come 2004, Fuel even nabbed a Grammy nod for their third album, 2003’s Natural Selection, which memorably housed hits like “Falls On Me” and “Won’t Back Down.”
Not long after, though, the band began to fall apart, with Scallions announcing plans to go solo in 2005. This is where things start to get a little confusing: Upon Scallions’ exit, vocalist Toryn Green joined Fuel, and the new lineup recorded one largely unsuccessful album, 2007’s Angels And Devils. By that point, Bell decided he’d had enough and handed the reins back to Scallions, who toured under the name Fuel and recorded 2013’s Puppet Strings without any of the band’s founding members.
Fast-forward to summer 2020: As Bell and Miller tell it, Scallions amicably handed Fuel back to Bell, who then called Miller to say “I have Fuel” but wasn’t necessarily requesting a reunion. Miller, meanwhile, was playing with a new band, which featured 25-year-old lead singer John Corsale, who now fronts Fuel. Over a series of calls, Miller managed to convince Bell that not only should they reunite under the name Fuel, they should try bringing in his new band’s existing members.
Bell, who repeatedly stresses how “burned out” he was on the entire Fuel endeavor, was shocked to find out how good it felt to have his old band back, and subsequently was inspired to write material for Fuel’s first new material in years. Come October, the band will unveil ÅNOMÅLY featuring lead single “Hard” and “Don’t Say I,” which premieres today.
Though the music landscape has evolved since Bell last recorded (save for a country record, Tennessee Fuel, he released in 2017), and rock music itself is far less trendy than when the band’s first albums, 1997’s Sunburn and 2000’s Something Like Human, hit airwaves, Fuel’s knack for producing hard-hitting, pop-minded hooks remains a constant. “Hard” blasts in with shattering percussion and a winding guitar solo, and “Don’t Say I” is a midtempo anthem that showcases Corsale’s vocal strength and Bell’s ear for magnetic melody.
In celebration of Bell and Miller’s reunion, I called both up for a chat about what they’ve been up to for the last, oh, 13 years, what to expect from their new album, and why they never felt the need to go as hard as their Y2K nu-metal contemporaries.
The Fuel lineup has shifted quite a bit over the years. The average listener might not even realize to what extent. Can you walk me through how ownership of the band has evolved over the last, say, 13 years?
CARL BELL: Well, up to about July of last year, Kevin [Miller] and I didn’t know this was going to happen. And at that point, Fuel came back to me and I was going, “Okay, now what?” And my first call was to Kevin, going, “Hey, we can do Fuel if you want it to be Fuel.” Which I did, but I actually didn’t say that at all. I said, “I have Fuel.” And he said, “Let’s go do this.” And I said, “No, I don’t want to.”
KEVIN MILLER: He did. Three times.
BELL: He said, “I insist.” Yes, Kevin is very tenacious. Anyway, he basically talked me into this. Here we are.
MILLER: Dude, when you hold on to naked pictures of people, you can make them do shit. You know what I mean?
BELL: Then there’s that. But we just have not been playing these songs for — Kevin hadn’t played in 14, 15 years. And we wanted to be able to play these songs again. These are songs that we had made popular on whatever scale. We wanted to be back doing it.
Kevin convinced me, let’s do this, and we were just going to start off playing the older stuff. But when I got back in the Fuel mode, my brain says, “Well, you should start writing.” And I wrote a record.
I actually saw Fuel play about six years ago on Everclear’s Summerland Tour. But that was a totally different iteration, with former lead singer Brett Scallions being the only original band member. How did you all decide who gets ownership of the Fuel name?
BELL: Well, I had kind of burned out. Burned out on bands. Burned out on everything. Probably what, late 2000s. Of course, Brett quit Fuel a long time ago, back in 2005, I guess. And then about five years later, he decided he wanted to be back in Fuel, but without me in it. I said, “Okay, I will let you.” But when Brett quit, he had an exit agreement and he was going to do his own solo thing. And we said, “All right, go do your thing.” But in that agreement, he had said, “I’m out of Fuel.” And so now to get back in, well, he had to get our permission to be in Fuel again.
That happened in about 2010. I said, “Good. Go have Fuel, go have fun.” And he did for 10 years. And then last July, it all came to an end again. That’s when I called Kevin and said, “Okay, well Brett’s not doing this now.”
MILLER: Yeah, because Carl owns the rights to the name. He owns every entity of Fuel, Fuel Corporation, Fuel everything.
BELL: [Brett] had it for 10 years to do anything he wanted to do with it. And so [when he quit again], I called Kevin and said, “Hey, Brett has quit again. If you want to call it that, I guess, or is out again. Brett’s out again, so here we go. What do you want to do?”
It’s never easy. Ask Led Zeppelin, ask the Beatles, ask everybody, bands aren’t as easy as you might think they would be. But it becomes a bit complicated on many levels. Look at Mötley Crüe. Bands are like a divorce with kids or a marriage with kids, whichever end of the relationship you’re on. A lot of times, just like in a marriage, it is fantastic, and you have a lot of fun and it’s all a bit of a love fest. And then there are occasions when it’s not.
There’s a reason why you have a divorce or you have an ex, however you want to call it. There’s probably a really good reason why they became an ex in the first place. And then you want to get back with that ex? A lot of times you probably didn’t because that’s why it didn’t work. Even Kevin and I have had complications, but you know, Kevin and I could figure it out. We discuss things. We had a come to Jesus moment, as I call it, and we sat down and said, “All right, this was this, this was that. I was wrong. You were wrong. We were both wrong. Here we go.”
MILLER: There have been moments on stage that none of us liked each other at the moment. I mean, have you ever gone to a party or a wedding with your other half and you had a huge blowout before you got there? And then when you show up, you’re like, “Oh, hi Mark. How are you?”
What did both of you get up to after leaving the band to Brett in 2010, music or otherwise?
MILLER: Well, I’ll give you Carl’s end of it. Carl was doing his life. He dug a big hole under a huge rock. He crawled in it and was like, “My life is awesome.”
I went off and did a couple of things. I had a band that I started from the ground up called Foster Child. We got signed on SMG Records, which was a branch of Warner Brothers. We were managed by Jeff Hanson who did Creed and Paramore for a minute and some things, but then that kind of fizzled out. And then I did The End Begins album with the band Tantric and worked on that for a while. And that just didn’t work out so well because that was a bad marriage pretty much. Then I kind of just walked away from it a little bit.
BELL: I did a country record called Tennessee Fuel that I did for myself. It basically started as a tribute to my dad. I learned a lot of things doing that project that had parlayed over into this project. I was doing that for a bit, but mostly yes, like Kevin said, [I was living] under a rock and was enjoying my life. And Kevin now has invaded my life again and ruined it.
MILLER: Wait, you openly admitted. You called me.
BELL: That is true. Okay. You’re right.
And now you guys have a new singer. How did you connect with John Corsale?
BELL: [When I called Kevin], he said, “I have the band.” And I’m like, “What does that mean?” And he’s like, “Dude, I have a great band I’m in right now.” And John was the singer. Mark [Klotz] and Tommy [Nat] were the other members. He said, “You’re going to love these guys.” And I’m like, okay. Great. Here comes the band again. Wonderful.
Like I said before, I’ve kind of burned out. But when Kevin said “I have the band,” I was like, let’s hear it. And when I heard it, I just went, “Okay. This got really interesting.” Because John was sounding great. He just had all the elements that I think we needed to bring Fuel into the next chapter. He can [also] honor and sing all the old catalog like it’s nothing.
MILLER: I wasn’t putting the band together to be the next Fuel. I was just doing other projects, and I wanted to stay busy and get back to having a drum kit and enjoy playing again. And then when this all developed it, I knew that the kid was going to be something that would spark interest in Carl. So we [John] sent him to the studio. We had him sing “Hemorrhage” and delivered it to Carl.
I sent a copy off to Carl, and like seven minutes later, Carl’s exact words were, “Holy shit.” And I said, “Right?” And it was that good.
And [John’s] not even trying. He didn’t even know why he was going to record “Hemorrhage.” I told him it was for a friend’s birthday — a special gift for someone that really loved Fuel. And he knew — when I called back and I was really nitpicking he was like, “I knew at that moment, it was something much bigger than a birthday gift.”
Is “Hemorrhage,” like, Fuel’s de facto audition song?
MILLER: [Laughs] Well, I mean, for us it certainly is, because it’s our biggest song to date. If you can’t deliver that, then the rest is just not important.
BELL: The cool thing about John is, John was a fan already and John wants to honor the old stuff. He gets it. At the same time, we have a brand new record and he’s just doing what John does, and it sounds great as well. I think John is the perfect singer to honor what was done before. At the same time, bringing us into a whole new chapter with a whole new range and ability.
And John’s an amazing guitar player. I mean, with all due respect, we had rhythm guitar players and that were great, but John does solos and leads. He’s a great frontman, a great singer, and a great guitar player. And he has a crazy work attitude that we loved as well. I mean, the guy was getting up… We were trying to do this album during COVID, so it was almost impossible to do. I was doing most of it on the West Coast. We were trying to squeeze John into studios just to do vocals. John said, “The only time I have is eight in the morning until about three in the afternoon.” John would get up at five in the morning and warm up. And just the fact that somebody gets up and warms it up, that alone is —
MILLER: He takes his craft incredibly seriously for a 25-year-old. Like, I was chopping lines and drinking a beer going, “I got a gig tonight. And I’ll worry about that eight ball later.”
BELL: You talk too much, Miller. You talk too much.
MILLER: Well, you know, I got to get the rock and roll stories in there, Carl.
Carl, how did it feel to even be writing rock songs again after 10 years?
BELL: Basically, when I went and met the guys and they were — we hit it off really quickly. My brain just said, “Well why don’t you start writing songs?” And before long, I started writing songs and songs and more songs, and we created a record. And that really changed the entire situation. Because again, we were just going to be doing the previous material, and now you’ve got a whole set of new material.
Then people started hearing what we were doing and got excited about it outside of us, which is always a great sign. And we said, “Let’s maybe go do something with this.” And we did. And so that’s kind of where we are today with this interview. Right now, we’ve got songs on the radio. This is the first Fuel material, our first single “Hard” is on the radio now. It’s on streaming. It’s something we didn’t really plan for. It’s the whole ball of wax now.
MILLER: Yeah, and I think the song is sitting at number, what is it Carl, 28?
BELL: It’s been moving up for a couple of weeks. We’re getting a lot of radio love, which we have always appreciated. Of course, now it’s a whole new world with the streaming services.
Yeah, the new material sounds incredibly unchanged, when comparing it to Fuel’s older stuff, yet still modern. How do you determine what Fuel should sound like in 2021?
BELL: It was a natural process for me just to start writing — to start doing what I have done in the past. I’ve always done my own demos, so I just went into my demo mode and those demos turned into this record. I wrote all the lyric music, all the other stuff. And so this was just a continuation of that. For all the other Fuel records, I wrote lyrics to music. This was just basically stepping back into the saddle and taking off again.
Your second new single, “Don’t Say I,” is out today. What can you tell me about that song?
BELL: “Don’t Say I” was written in March. It was actually the last song written for the record. I’m always looking for the no-brainer song that everybody’s going to love, and those are always super hard to find. Anybody who’s a songwriter knows it’s not easy to come up with stuff that people [love]. I think the latest version of that was Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License.” You heard that song the first time, and you just go, “I don’t know why I love that song, but it’s so honest because she’s young.” And you want that song every time, though it’s super hard to find.
And I really like [“Don’t Say I”]. I think it’s a very strong song for us. I think it also helps bridge the gap between the previous material and the new material. You’ll be able to hear the old, traditional Fuel feelings that you had before with this song with a little modern twist to it as well. We’re really stoked about this song as well as the first song that came out. Basically, I’m really stoked about this whole record, to tell you the truth. I don’t usually feel so strongly about a record, but this one has turned out to be very well for us.
I love the Olivia Rodrigo reference. Carl, you’ve always had an ear for a pop hook, between “Shimmer,” “Hemorrhage,” “Bad Day,” and “Bittersweet.” Have you always kept up with pop music?
BELL: I really have not been listening to music at all, to tell you the truth. Again, I was burnt out. I was over it. I wasn’t doing music at all on any level, much less, even not listening. For me, I would listen to something older, but at the same time, I want to be a fan of music. Music was always the cornerstone of my life until maybe 2010.
I think I was having a hard time finding songs that touched me in any way. It just wasn’t working for me. That’s kind of why I did the country record because there were some songs in country that piqued my interest back then, like Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.” I think that’s why I kind of drifted into the country world for a second.
But I wasn’t really listening to a lot. Occasionally you’ll hear something come through that’s pretty amazing. And I think that’s where the Olivia Rodrigo song. [I was] just going through the dial, going, “Okay, something please excite me.” And you sometimes I don’t find it, but then that song was just first-listen undeniable, right?
That’s why that song works: it sounds so honest, and I love it. I think the beauty of the Olivia Rodrigo song is that it sounds like not a polished writer, because she’s so young. Like, she hasn’t written a billion songs yet.
In the late ‘90s, early ‘00s, when you had that run of Fuel hits, what do you recall about that time? What stands out the most?
BELL: I think that’s one of the things that Kevin and I really bonded on when we reconnected. We both kind of said to each other, it was an amazing time. I mean, again, we weren’t Led Zeppelin or even in the universe of that, but for us, it was a really great time, and Kevin and I both really appreciated that. There were so many pinch yourself moments beyond the radar of what I ever thought would be possible with Fuel, with “Hemorrhage” being #1, and all the songs we had and the shows we were playing at the time and the scale.
MILLER: Yeah, absolutely man. It’s just a very proud time for us too because I know how hard — I mean, I used to watch Carl roll in this portable Pro Tools rig, while I always was going to head out and go clubbing after the show or something.
Again, it’s looking back and trying not to take the whole situation for granted. When you walk out on stage at the HFStival with us, and Limp Bizkit, and Korn, and there’s 65,000 people there. And I would have never thought that I would ever be in that situation. I hoped for it. I was like, “Yeah, this is definitely what I want to do.” But when it’s there, I don’t think it as a situation that Carl and I specifically ever took for granted. And we had a really great work ethic and still do to this day. And I see it in Carl now when we’re back together and we’re rehearsing and the amount of time that he’s put in to get things done, recording-wise. I mean, the guy wrote the songs, he recorded the songs, he mixed the songs, he produced the record. It’s pretty awesome to be working with somebody of Carl’s caliber and the passion that the guy puts into it.
And watching how humble these guys are. Carl and I have kind of been to the mountain, as they say, and we were lucky enough to do some huge shows, [but] watching the three of these guys, especially with John being so young and so driven, and Mark is one of my best friends on the planet — Carl and I made them record themselves on video the first time “Hard” was hitting SiriusXM’s Octane. We wanted to watch their reaction. And it was so funny because Mark was screaming at the phone. He’s like, “Oh, my god! I’m on the radio.” Just to watch, that is so amazing.
There’s some discussion right now about the role hard rock and nu-metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn played in the late ’90s. Was Fuel ever under pressure to put out more aggressive songs to meet fan demand?
BELL: We definitely influenced our live show to where we knew that we had to go out and bring bring some aggression to our show, just to feel like it was working for us. Yeah, there was some of that. I remember that. I always want a high-energy show. A Fuel show for us was always high energy with hills and valleys. You have the slower side and you’d come in and you can pull back on the set and play “Sunburn” or some of the midtempo songs, but then you could also go back in and kick it pretty hard.
MILLER: When we had Sevendust out on tour with us, we loved it because they’d come out and just destroy the stage. I think, “Okay, we got to go out there and kick the shit out of everything tonight.” Which is great because I liked that. I accept the challenge. I’m like, “All right. I’m going to bash the shit out of my drums. I’m going to have a blast. Let’s go get it.” But again, we’re creatures of our own fame. Like, Carl writes a certain way and we didn’t want to take things so far out and be like, “Okay, that would so not be what we do.” And try to keep it within reason, so we don’t look silly, you know?
BELL: And I just naturally gravitate to [a pattern]: you have the aggressive song and you have a song that pulls it back. It creates a ride more than just bash-you-to-death. It’s that old analogy: if everybody’s screaming at once, before long, it just becomes noise. [I prefer] movements, just like any great musical. The classical pieces even have uptempo and downtempo. It just creates the journey, and I think that’s kind of where we were from. I never wanted to be the bash-your-head-in band. That’s just not what I aspire to do.