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Fuel combines muscular, precise rhythms with passionate and commanding lyrics bound by solid hooks. The four-member Central Pennsylvania band creates emotive music, reflective of an era of confusion and heightened self-awareness. However, Fuel — Brett Scallions (lead vocals, guitar), Carl Bell (guitar, vocals), Jeff Abercrombie (bass) and Kevin Miller (drums) — have been cultivating their ubiquitous sound for years in the heartland.

The band's major label debut LP on 550 Music, Sunburn, was produced by Steven Haigler (the Pixies, Quicksand, Local H) and mixed by Tom Lord-Alge (Wallflowers, Dave Matthews Band). Recorded in a pastoral setting surrounded by 1,500 acres of farmland, Sunburn's 11 tracks belie its bucolic birthplace at Long View Farms in Massachusetts.

Sunburn's first single is "Shimmer," with its bittersweet warning that "All that shimmers in this world is sure to fade." Fuel's songwriter Carl Bell says: "The song was inspired by personal events in my life, but I think people can relate to it universally. Everything is temporary."

A bleaker view is presented in the violent, desperate exhortations from the power and fury of "Jesus or a Gun." "That's just about being buried by everyday life—the social ideals and situations, you're just looking for relief," says Bell. "Some people choose Jesus, and other people might look for something a little more drastic and immediate."

Throughout Sunburn, a searching and often dark tone pervades along with lingering hooks. "When I write a song, " Bell offers, "it's just what I'm going through, or have seen someone else go through. Writing is like therapy for me. It helps you decode stuff that's going on in your life."

Sunburn follows the group's phenomenal regional success in their adopted home of Central Pennsylvania, where loyal support f rom radio and numerous concerts boosted sales of their 1996 independent EP Porcelain to over 10,000 copies, prompting the Harrisburg Patriot to note that "the murmur surrounding Fuel is loud," while the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader called their live show "the equivalent of a tank full of 94-octane gas."

Self-produced, promoted and financed, Porcelain was recorded and released "against all odds and in less than accommodating environments," according to its liner notes. The EP won Fuel immediate airplay on local radio stations, with an early version of "Shimmer" attaining the band "Screamer of the Week" status on a local modern rock outlet. Phone requests, increased airplay and sold-out gigs led to Fuel's signing with 550 Music backstage following a sold-out performance for 3,000 fans at Millersville University, PA.

The band soon released the college-only promo EP Hazleton on 550 Music, which enjoyed a successful run on the CMJ charts. Fuel went on to perform with The Toadies, Verve Pipe and Dinosaur Jr., to name a few.

Fuel began with Carl Bell and bass player Jeff Abercrombie, who both grew up in a small rural Western Tennessee town. "It was a town of about a thousand people," says Bell. "It had two stop lights, and I had 27 people in my graduating class. I grew up without TV—so, you know, I had to play guitar."

Bell's musical education was jump-started at age 12 when his older brother won 500 LPs in a contest sponsored by a Memphis AM radio station. "I would get home from school and listen to all these vinyl albums for hours. Access to all those different bands hugely influenced my music."

Bell formed various bands with Abercrombie, but Fuel crystallized with the addition of Brett Scallions on lead vocals and guitar. "With the addition of Brett, the band really solidified," says Abercrombie. Fuel began recording and rehearsing a growing catalog of compositions. The band recorded a self-titled 8-song cassette as a demo, which sold 5,00 0 copies at shows and in stores. Fuel decided to move from their sleepy southern home in Western Tennessee to relocate to a city that has more rock and roll, more media presence, and more strategic location. A city like...Harrisburg, Pennsylvania?

"Hey, Harrisburg worked out for us! It was a short drive to markets like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore and D.C., where we began building a loyal following," says Scallions. "The fan base here has been really overwhelming. They've really supported us from day one and it just grew and grew."

And with Sunburn, Fuel is now poised for the next step. "Voicing music on a national level is a great thing — it's something we've always dreamed of," says Scallions. "We love to travel, see the road and get personal with people. We're very excited about that."

02/10/1998 08:24 -by- Damon