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Exclusive Interview: Brett Scallions from Fuel, World Fire Brigade
World Fire Brigade at it’s core is veteran songwriting trio Brett Scallions (frontman of Fuel, as well as lead vocalist with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors), Sean Danielsen (lead singer/guitarist of Smile Empty Soul) and Eddie Wohl (producer/mixer for Anthax, Ill Nino, Smile Empty Soul, Jesse Malin, 36 Crazyfists and more).
The members of World Fire Brigade have sold upwards of ten million albums worldwide between Fuel, Smile Empty Soul and the production work of Eddie Wohl. Originally conceived as a songwriting vehicle for delivering world-class hard rock songs to other artists, World Fire Brigade evolved into its own group when it became clear that their powerful material was meant to be performed by Scallions, Danielsen and Wohl themselves. Ken Schalk (Fuel, Candiria) provides all the drums on World Fire Brigade’s debut album Spreading My Wings and the album also features guest appearances by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Anthrax’s Rob Caggiano, and Andy Andersson (Fuel, Black Robot).
We caught up with Brett right after the release of Spreading My Wings to discuss the evolution of World Fire Brigade, Fuel’s upcoming album and his most important frontman role – being a rock n’ roll dad.
Thanks for catching up with us Brett. Spreading My Wings is finally out. It’s something you’ve been working on for about three years, right?
(laughs) I don’t even know when we started working on it anymore! We got together and didn’t have a game plan. We wanted to write some songs but had no idea what we would do with them. We were just three artistic people that wanted to write a record. As time progressed we decided to do it for ourselves and give it a band name. That’s when I came up with World Fire Brigade and the other guys loved it. It snowballed from there. It was 100% written on the microphone. We didn’t sit in a room and rehearse different ways of playing the songs. We decided to just hit the red button and see what happens. We did it in our spare time because I would be on tour with Fuel or writing new material for Fuel or Sean would be out with Smile Empty Soul. Eddie was working on different projects. We would reconvene every couple of months and start working on it again. We finally finished it – and that’s pretty freaking amazing. Hallelujah! This thing is done! (laughs)
Usually when someone kicks up a new band project it’s to go in a different direction musically – sometimes it’s motivated by the people you’re working with. What was it like when you guys first started writing?
We really had no idea! (laughs) We literally sat in a room and said “Who has a riff?” I think Sean was the first one to step up to the plate and say he had something. We went through the riffs and wrote block by block – let’s do the intro, here’s the first verse, here’s the pre-chorus. We didn’t even say “Let’s write a heavy rock record.” We were just writing and it grew into what it is. It’s exciting.
It had to be cool to have everyone share in the writing process.
Sure. It was totally, full-on equal collaboration. There was never a time where anyone was carrying a bulk of the songwriting. We all jumped in and put in our two cents every chance that we could. We all three respect each others ideas enough where we could work together and not argue over whose idea was better. We were trying to write great songs and I think that’s what we got.
You guys did a great job of making a heavy record while focusing on melodies, guitar riffs and catchy lyrics.
Cool. Thanks man. The most important part of a song is the melody. At the end of the day you want people to hear a song and retain that melody and hook and be able to sing along to it an hour after they heard it. If they can retain that in their head an hour after they heard it you’ve got something. We weren’t trying to write hits but we really crave hook and melody. No matter how heavy that song can be you can still place that in there. Sean and I are not singers in the heavy metal kind of world where everybody has that deep, hardcore growl. We focus on melody. Our vocals intertwined on this record for the most part. Either he’s singing lead and I’m doing backup or I’m singing lead and he does the backup. I may do a verse and he’ll do a chorus. We had a lot of fun deciding who was going to do what. We noticed the similarities in our voices when we sang harmonies. It’s really uncanny. We sound really good together.
Rob Caggiano from Anthrax and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam made cameos on the record. Tell me about that.
That was just us calling up some friends and asking them. Eddie has known Rob for such a long time. They’re like family members. Rob helped produce my wife’s band’s first record. She’s in a band called Slunt. Rob and Eddie produced that record and that was my first experience meeting Rob. I met Mike McCready a couple of years ago. We’ve been jamming some sets just for fun. We’ll go up to Utah or Colorado and spend a week on the mountain snowboarding or skiing during the day. In the evenings we get together with Stefan Lessard from the Dave Matthews Band, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, some of the guys from Barenaked Ladies, and a whole bunch of us get together and jam. On the weekend we’ll play a big show in front of five to seven thousand people. That’s how I met Mike. I called him up one day and said I had a song for him to jam on if he was interested. I sent it to him in Seattle and he jammed on it and sent it back to me two days later. It was great in that true Mike McCready fashion. He’s got that tone in his fingers that’s very unique and undeniable. He killed the song for sure.
Now that the record is out what’s next for World Fire Brigade?
The ideal situation is to go out and play some shows. I’m in the process of making a new Fuel record right now. I definitely want to go out and do a run of shows for World Fire Brigade and see what happens. Only time will tell. It’s good to be busy – plus, I’m a family man. I’ve got two little boys at home and a beautiful wife. It’s hard to be away from them. I try to prioritize by putting my family first and I’ve got two bands tugging on me at the same time. It’s a good problem to have. It’s better to be too busy than have nothing to do. I’m in a good spot right now.
It’s honorable to see you put your family first. Some guys can’t seem to find a decent balance in that department.
All the fans could say “To hell with you Brett Scallions.” They could leave and never buy another record and never buy another concert ticket. If that happened my family would still be there. They’re more important to me than I am. I try to take care of them and experience as much in life as I can with them.
You’ve been in the music “industry” – and I use that term very loosely – long enough to be a part of a few different incarnations of the promotional business model. What are your thoughts on promoting new music today?
I don’t think anybody knows how to promote a record anymore. We’re back to the old theory of throwing something at a wall and seeing if it sticks. Nobody knows where the money is coming from and nobody knows where they money is being spent properly. I feel so bad for the brand new bands that haven’t accomplished anything yet. At least with a project like World Fire Brigade, between me and Sean and Eddie we’ve sold well over ten million records. We’ll at least get a shot. They’ll listen to it and give it a chance. If you’re a brand spanking new band and haven’t accomplished anything yet – that sounds like a nightmare to me. The odds are against you already. You’ve got to make your story 100% by yourself. The business model is completely different from what it was five years ago even. I pray for all the baby bands out there. That’s for sure.
Technology makes it easier and more affordable for artists to be creative but at the same time it floods the market with some really bad shit.
For every one group that is really good and deserves a shot there are 2000 other groups that are clouding the view of the listener. They’re keeping the listener from finding that one group that is really talented and worth listening to. There is too much crap that is in the way. In the past, that was one good thing about the record industry and the big labels. They weeded out all the bad shit for us. The only downside was they were usually taking advantage of the artist and making all the money! (laughs) When all the shitty music and shitty artists were weeded out of the way you were never exposed to it at all. All you saw was talent and good music.
You’ve got so much going on with World Fire Brigade and getting the new Fuel record ready. What does the rest of this year look like for you?
Man, I just do it day by day. When I’m on the road I know where I am that day but I’ll know about tomorrow whenever I get there. I’m not going to rush myself into getting a new Fuel record out as quickly as possible. I’m gonna record it and listen to it and make sure it’s all right first. Luckily, in this day and age, I’m not on a clock anymore. I just updated my studio in my house and I’m doing all the guitars there. Used to I’d have to go to a major recording studio, pay five hundred bucks a day, and you’re on the clock. You’ve gotta hurry up and get the job done because two months later your time is running out. You’re gonna have to pay for more time and then you’re gonna be over budget. Now, instead of spending that money at a major studio, I just invest it in my own studio. Now I can take my time and ensure everything is the way I want it. Like I said, I just take things day by day and make sure everything is right before I put it out. It’s good to have time, especially for me when it comes to writing lyrics. Anyone who is a songwriter knows that the lyrics are the hardest thing to write most of the time. Having time to search for the right word is definitely a good thing for me!
Brett, thanks again for taking time out for this. What would you like to say to wrap things up?
I hope you love this record as much as I loved making it. It was so much fun making this record! It was the purest, most organic process I’ve ever been through when it comes to making a record. I hope it shows. My drummer Ken Schalk, who actually did the drums on World Fire Brigade, ends all of his emails with “There’s no punch clock for passion.” We took our time to make this record and make it as passionate as we could. That’s what you need to do – no matter what you do. Be passionate. Do it right and don’t rush yourself. Let the outcome be more extraordinary than you ever imagined. I’m feeling good about this record and I want people to enjoy it.
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