Last week, I spoke on the phone with one of the pop music industry's rising stars. And from what I could tell, he was the one who envied me.

The star in question was Nick Bailey, guitarist for the Huntington Beach band Runner Runner, which appeared last fall on "Late Show with David Letterman" after being signed to a record label overseen by Letterman's company. The band's eponymous debut album is scheduled for release in February, and when I caught up with Bailey, he was walking the rainy streets of Portland, Ore., in between tour gigs.

I had a list of questions for Bailey, but before I could begin, he asked me one –— namely, how the weather was in Huntington, where Bailey still shares a house with guitarist Peter Munters and bassist Jon Berry.

"We love coming back there," he said. "We have spots we consider our hangout, like our home. I love going to Bella Terra. We love going on the jams on Main Street. Me and Jon still surf on 20th Street every day we're home. Huntington's just a good place."

Unlike some famous rock artists who came out of Huntington, Bailey didn't grow up here. He hails from Virginia and moved to Surf City with the rest of Runner Runner because they liked the area's musical history and closeness to Los Angeles. As Bailey made another stop on a tour that he expected to last most of the year, though, it was clear he missed his adopted hometown.

Still, to borrow a line from Paul Simon, Bailey didn't sound like he longed to be homeward bound — not when his band was busy reveling in pop stardom, and had a portable studio on the road to boot.

Bailey, Munters, Berry, singer Ryan Ogren and drummer James Ulrich made national headlines last year when C.E. Music, a new label overseen by Letterman's media company Worldwide Pants Inc., signed them as its first act. When I interviewed the band members in May, they hadn't yet met the man at the top, but that dream came true Sept. 27, when Bailey and company played their debut single "So Obvious" on his show.

As endorsements go in the music world, Letterman's is a pretty strong one; he helped launch Hootie and the Blowfish to stardom in the mid-1990s when he introduced them on TV as his "favorite new band." Introducing Runner Runner, he not only praised the group but also gave its hometown a shout-out, adding that he used to surf in San Onofre. After the show, Bailey said, he and his bandmates invited Letterman to hit the waves with them some time.

"I don't know if I'll ever get to surf with him, but either way, it's an entertaining thought," he said.

That Letterman appearance aside, Bailey and his cohorts have lived more like hardworking musicians than superstars the last few months. To promote their self-titled album, which was originally slated for release in the fall and pushed back to February, the band has visited malls, colleges and even high schools to drum up enthusiasm.

Starting next month, the band plans to embark on a pair of tours, co-headlining first with the Pretty Reckless, then A Rocket to the Moon. Along the way, it's busy building its songbook, writing enough new tunes to fill a second album, maybe even a third.

And even if Bailey isn't a household name yet, he's getting used to some of the trappings of fame, including being recognized by strangers.

"Right after we played Letterman, we were at a gas station somewhere," he said, "and some guy comes up and says, 'Hey, were you guys on Letterman the other night? You sounded awesome! I bought the song right afterward."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.