Bands that sign deals with major record companies and have a platinum debut album right off the bat live like kings. They’re millionaires.

Yeah, right … think again.

Fuel lead singer Brett Scallions doesn’t have his own place; he has his mail forwarded to their management. When he’s not on the road with the band, sleeping in the tour bus between gigs, he’s staying at his girlfriend’s home.

He’s not bitching, mind you, but it would be nice if he and the others in the Harrisburg, Pa.-based rock quartet would eventually profit from their 1998 million-selling 550 Music debut album, “Sunburn,” and their follow-up, “Something Like Human” (released Sept. 19), and not owe it all to “the man.”

“Our first record sold a million copies and we still didn’t recoup,” Scallions said recently. “How sad is that? People think that we’re millionaires, living in the lap of luxury, have five mansions in the hills and drive a Mercedes and a Jaguar and have a perfect life, but we don’t have shit. I don’t even have a home. I live in a bus, and when I’m off the road, I’m the epitome of the joke ‘What happens to a lead singer when his girlfriend breaks up with him? Homeless.’ When I’m not on the road, I either stay at my girlfriend’s house or our drummer Kevin (Miller)’s house.

“I’m hoping that one day that we’ll get our heads above water and do the things we’d like to do, become successful at what we do and some day support a family.”

That’s why the hot topic of the day – the ongoing debate surrounding file-sharing Web sites Napster, and Scour – hits too close to home for Scallions.

Those sites’ blatant disregard for copyright laws is denying groups like Fuel the fruits of their labor, he says.

“There’s so many bands like us fighting to recoup to these record labels to where we can maybe get some financial compensation for all of our hard work, too,” Scallions said. “We put in God knows how much work and hours and time and labor into making records and trying to make them the best they can possibly be and you pass it over to a record label and they do maybe half the work that we’ve done … and they get paid first.

“When someone like Napster comes along and says ‘We’re going to give away your record for free,’ it makes it even harder. There are a lot of people who are going to download it onto their MP3s and then burn discs of it and then burn more discs and give it to their friends. That’s money that’s keeping me from paying off the label so maybe I can eat for a change, maybe someday marry my girlfriend and have children and know that my children are going to grow up in a nice environment and have the opportunity to go to good schools and get the education that they deserve. It’s the American dream.

“Because I’m in a rock band doesn’t mean I have to throw that shit out the window and be a druggie and party 24-7 and try to fuck as many chicks on the road as I possibly can and say ‘The hell with money, I don’t need it.’ People think that as soon as you sign that deal, you’re a millionaire. That’s not true, you’re just deeper in debt.”

God willing, “Something Like Human” will finally put them in the black. All signs are pointing that way: The first single, “Hemorrhage (In My Hands),” is rising fast in the Top 10 on Billboard’s mainstream rock and modern rock tracks charts, and they’re booked for the next three months on a nationwide tour.

Scallions admits he and his band mates – guitarist Carl Bell, Miller and bassist Jeff Abercrombie – felt some pressure to top “Sunburn,” which featured the alternative smash “Shimmer.” They built a solid foundation with “Sunburn,” he says; with “Something Like Human,” it’s time to start on the house.

They started by holing up in an isolated cabin, owned by a diehard fan in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, for preproduction and rehearsals.

“The guy who built this house, he built it with his own bare hands from the ground up,” Scallions said. “He spent a couple years building it and finally got to move in and then about a year after he and his wife had moved in, he decided he was going to turn his house over to us for a month or two and they moved with his in-laws. That’s a fan right there.

“He even gave us his dogs, a couple of Labradors. We fed them very well. I just talked to the guy not too long ago and he said his dogs have lost 20 pounds since we left. Anyway, it was beautiful up there in the mountains, with like 2 feet of snow most of the time and the fireplace going. We set up our gear down in the basement and rehearsed and fleshed out those songs. It was really what we needed to prepare ourselves for the record.”

It’s every bit reflective and combative as “Sunburn,” but “Something Like Human” – produced by Ben Grosse (Filter, Vertical Horizon) – has more of an enduring quality. Tracks like “Hemorrhage,” “Innocent,” “Solace” and “Empty Spaces” will stand the test of time 10 years from now.

Scallions agrees.

“Musically, it’s a more aggressive record,” he says, “but lyrically it’s not as dark or frustrated as the first one. On the first record, we were struggling to survive and wondering what the hell’s going to happen with our lives and questioning everything, wondering if this whole music thing was going to work out, as well as relationships. Now we have a firmer grasp on things, on who we are and what we do.”

THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Kiss’ ‘Destroyer.’ My first cassette was ‘Van Halen II.’ By then, I knew music was going to be a big part of my life. I grew up outside Memphis so Elvis Presley was right there and Tina Turner was down the street. Music was everywhere around me; I always wanted to be a part of it even before the Kiss record. My mom hated Kiss, though. I remember one day my mom came up to my room and she handed me Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Toto IV,’ and she goes, ‘I’ll give you these two records if you give me one of your Kiss records.’ I was like, ‘Two records for one? All right!’ I liked ‘Off the Wall’ and parts of ‘Toto IV,’ but I was like, ‘Man, I want my Kiss record back.’ She had hidden it in her closet and I found it and stole it back.”

THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Elvis Presley, in San Antonio. I was 4 years old. I made it through like four songs and passed out; I think there was a comedian or somebody who opened for him and Mom says I was fighting to stay awake and I was all pissed off because Elvis wasn’t on yet. He finally came on and four songs later I fell asleep. We also had tickets to the concert he was supposed to do (in Memphis) the night he died.”

THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “I just got the new Dandy Warhols record, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it. I thought their first record was pretty cool.”

BWF (before we forget): Gas up on Fuel on the Web @