It doesn’t get any better than this for four guys from little Escatawpa, Miss.:

A local radio station champions the rock group, taking a liking to a track off its demo CD and giving it a spin. Listeners love it so much, they make it the station’s most-requested song ever. An observant record company is impressed with the airplay numbers and the sellout shows and signs them.

Within months, they record their major-label debut album. Powered by massive mainstream-rock airplay for the first single, the album debuts at No. 104 and quickly marches up Billboard’s chart. The song, meanwhile, tops Billboard’s mainstream rock tracks chart, fending off the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC and Creed.

The song not only appeals to traditional rock fans, it cracks the Top 10 on the modern-rock tracks chart and begins making headway on Billboard’s pop Hot 100. All the while, the four local boys tour the country, visiting places they never imagined seeing in their lifetimes.

Pinch me when it’s over, says lead singer-drummer Brad Arnold.

“The way I’m feeling right now, it’s indescribable,” he said during a recent tour stop in Dallas. “I was talking to my girlfriend yesterday, and I was telling her it was kind of like I skipped the hard part. Know what I mean? That’s really how I’m feeling.

“I honestly couldn’t ask for it to go any better than it’s going. We have a great team behind us. We’ve got In De Goot Management and Universal Records behind us. And the song’s doing great. It’s a dream come true.

“I’m not taking it for granted. I thank God for it every day.”

Arnold and his band mates – guitarists Matt Roberts and Chris Henderson and bassist Todd Harrell – have a lot to be thankful for: “The Better Life” (Republic/Universal), fast approaching gold (for sales of more than 500,000), is at No. 29 and climbing on the Billboard 200, and the single, “Kryptonite,” has been the No. 1 mainstream rock track for the past three weeks and is at No. 68 on the pop chart.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that timing is everything,” Arnold said. “But it’s a good song, and people are just wanting something a little different, and I think ‘Kryptonite’ delivers that for them. It’s straight-up rock ‘n’ roll.”

Arnold, who wrote all 11 of the album’s cuts, says “Kryptonite” – with its imminently catchy melody and solid lyrics – came to him in an unlikely moment.

“I wrote it when I was in my high school algebra class,” he said. “I was never really into the algebra too much, and I know that’s probably not a good example to set for kids, but that’s where it happened. There was something about that class; I wrote a lot of songs in that class. I could just sit there and think.

” ‘Kryptonite’s’ about living up to people’s expectations and about when people are held up by other people. It asks the question, basically, ‘If I fall down, will you still be there for me?’ That’s something everyone can identify with.”

Fortunately for them, they didn’t have to worry about stumbling: “Kryptonite” caught on faster than a speeding bullet in the Bixoli/Gulfport, Miss., area, thanks to WCPR program director Kenny Vest.

“We recorded an indie CD back in ’97,” Arnold said. “It was just a $1,500 recording or whatever; it had 10 original songs and ‘Kryptonite’ was the first song on there. We sold it around at clubs after our shows. Then our local radio station (WCPR) has this thing called ‘The Home-Grown Show,’ which is an hour every other Sunday and they play an hour of local music. They always have a guest band on there, and we were on a few times. One day, the program director heard ‘Kryptonite’ and he just decided to play it the next morning and the response was pretty much right off the bat. It ended up being the most requested song ever on the station.

“Republic, I suppose, saw what was going on, but they had to go through a lot to find us. On our CD, we actually forgot to put our address on it. It’s nowhere to be found. But they went down the thank-you list, calling everyone until they found us. Thank God they found us.”

Republic suggested a major change for 3 Doors Down: Arnold, who played drums on the album, should be center stage, not in the background.

“It was a welcome change,” Arnold said. “I played on the album, because going into the studio allows that. We hired Richard Lyles to come play on the road with us. I like being out front and get out there and interact with the crowd and get them riled up while Richard’s back there taking care of the drumming.

“Singing and drumming at the same time was almost like second-nature to me. When I was younger, I always found myself mumbling the words in my head as I drummed anyway, so the biggest thing for me was actually trying to find a place to breathe and having a microphone in my way while I was drumming. Now I don’t have to worry about that and can concentrate on singing and songwriting.”

Rock history is littered with bands that made it big with a hit song or two and then vanished. Arnold says they’re in it for the long haul.

“One day at a time is about all we can handle, actually, but yeah we’re looking ahead to the future,” he said. “We see a lot of growth in the future. It’s not going to be a one-song thing, and we’re not going anywhere any time soon.

“And that’s where the living up to expectations falls into play. I just think you can’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. Trust your instincts. Your instincts got you to where you’re at. Use them. Forget about what people expect from you and do what you feel, because we’re doing that right now and if we changed it, then it wouldn’t be us.

“And you know what? If it ended right now, I’ve had so much fun the past two months. I’m happy. I’m very happy. I wouldn’t complain for a second.”

THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I believe it was a White Lion album. I forgot the name of it; it has a white cover with the silhouette of a lion. I think it was called ‘Big Game.’ I was into hair bands back then, but I wasn’t into the hair. I’m only 21, so that was what was getting played a lot. I used to love Def Leppard, Poison, White Lion and Warrant.”

THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “It was a country concert, but my first rock ‘n’ roll concert was Brother Cane. They’re from Alabama, so I think they’re pretty awesome.”

THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Bush’s ‘The Science of Things.’ We have a collection of CDs on the bus that boggles the mind. We actually have a show coming up with them out at Red Rocks, with Bush, Godsmack, us and Kittie. I’m telling you, there’s nothing else on this planet that I’d rather be doing right now than this.”