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Members include GregCamp (born c. 1967), songwriter, guitar; Kevin Coleman (born c. 1966), drums; Paul De Lisle (born c. 1963), bass guitar; Steve Harwell (born c. 1967), vocals. Addresses: Record company--Interscope Records, 10900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1230, Los Angeles, CA 90024 Phone: (310) 208-6547 Fax: (310) 208-7343.
When Smash Mouth released their 1999 sophomore effort, Astro Lounge, many doubted the group's ability to produce a more diverse collection of songs. The band's debut album, 1997's Fush Yu Mang, contained a steady dose of upbeat pop tunes and yielded the number one hit single "Walkin' on the Sun," a song that led several critics to label Smash Mouth a one hit wonder. Although lead vocalist Steve Harwell said the debut was a "fun record," he and his band mates believed they could take their music a step further. "The first one was almost like a speed high, and it kinda pissed me off because I felt that it didn't show even a third of what we were capable of," the singer told Neva Chonin in Rolling Stone. "With this one, I can just kick back and enjoy it. ... A lot of people said that we weren't talented enough to do that type of shit. Well, we did it, and I want them to eat their words. We got slagged so much by people who wanted us to fail."
Smash Mouth--named after football player/coach Mike Ditka's term "smash mouth football"-- set out to prove the world wrong in 1994 in San Jose, California, when vocalist Steve Harwell and drummer Kevin Coleman, two childhood friends who at one time played in a garage band together, recruited guitarist Greg Camp from a local cover band. Camp, in turn, asked bassist Paul De Lisle, who he had played with in a previous band, to join the new group. After some persuading by Camp, De Lisle accepted the offer, completing the Smash Mouth lineup. The band opted not to hire a permanent keyboardist, but instead featured various guest keyboard players for their first two releases. Although Camp and De Lisle were veterans of the bar circuit and Harwell and Coleman lacked experience, the foursome felt an instant chemistry from day one. "The first time we played together, I knew we had it," recalled Camp, the band's primary songwriter, to Chonin. "It was like the innocents meeting the professionals." De Lisle revealed a similar premonition about the band, according to the group's record label. "These hot-shots I was playing with were like, 'Dude, those guys are stupid and they suck. You got to quit this Smash Mouth thing and play with us full time--it's us or them.' And I said, 'There's something going on with those guys that I can't describe, but I really like it.' What I said to myself, though, was, 'Oh my God, Greg Camp's the best songwriter in the Bay Area, and no one knows it."
While Harwell was regarded as a natural entertainer and beloved conversationalist, the group nonetheless struggled for the next two years performing at clubs in and around San Jose. Their first significant break came in April of 1996 after a local radio station, KOME, started playing one of the band's songs entitled "Nervous in the Alley." This unprecedented move by KOME marked the first time an unsigned band received regular rotation on a radio station supported by the modern rock market. In addition to playing the band's single, the station also invited Smash Mouth to appear with such accomplished acts as No Doubt, Beck, and 311 for the Kamp KOME music festival. "We played Kamp KOME at Shoreline [an amphitheater south of San Francisco] and were on the cover of BAM [Bay Area Music] before we even got signed, and everyone freaked out," Camp told Billboard's Doug Reece. "Other bands were like, 'Why are these guys getting all this attention? They haven't been in the trenches that long.' But the truth is that, individually, we had all been playing for a long time in different bands."
In spite of the envy expressed by other musicians, Smash Mouth caught the attention of numerous record companies. Prior to forming Smash Mouth, Harwell once fronted a hip-hop group called F.O.S. (Freedom Of Speech), a group that also landed a record deal with Taboo Records after a radio station started supporting an F.O.S. song. This experience, as well as the Smash Mouth connection with KOME, sparked Harwell's interest in the business side of music. Thus, Harwell, unlike so many recording artists, played a prominent role in deciding among record deals and contemplated one day establishing his own label. "When our lawyer was setting up meetings with record labels, I would ask him if he could just let me go down and talk to people myself," the singer told Reece. "Even if they weren't into the music, it was cool to make friends and build relationships. Someone in radio once told me that you meet the same people on the way up that you do on the way down, so I've been trying to look at things that way and avoid burning bridges."
After weighing several offers, Harwell and Smash Mouth decided to sign with Interscope Records. Smash Mouth's 1997 debut, Fush Yu Mang (named for one of Al Pacino's drugged-out slurs in the film Scarface), soon followed. Deemed a collection of suburban party anthems that contained elements of soul, punk, and funk, the double platinum-selling record included one of the biggest his of 1997, "Walking on the Sun," and a cover of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends." To support the debut, Smash Mouth commenced on an extensive tour, which included dates with Sugar Ray, Blur, Third Eye Blind, and others. The group also contributed a version of the Mysterians' "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" to the soundtrack for Can't Hardly Wait. The song later appeared on Smash Mouth's follow-up album, Astro Lounge.
While Smash Mouth expressed gratitude for their rising popularity, they also felt overshadowed by the success of "Walkin' on the Sun," a single that hit number one on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Consequently, the music press declared the group a one-hit wonder, and for the most part ignored other tracks on Fush Yu Mang. Smash Mouth soon realized that besides "Walkin' on the Sun" and "Why Can't We Be Friends," no other singles from their debut would be forthcoming. As Harwell pointed out to Alternative Press. "Once radio stations played 'Walkin',' nobody would touch anything else on that record." With this in mind, Smash Mouth resolved to broaden the musical scope of the group's second album, Astro Lounge, released in the spring of 1999 and produced by Eric Valentine, who also worked with the band for Fush Yu Mang. Not only did the band intend to step beyond the confines of rock, Smash Mouth wanted to make each and every track suitable for pop radio. "With this record, we were like, 'We want five singles,'" Harwell said in an interview with Tim Kenneally in Spin. "When we talked about writing it, I'm like, 'Dude, we've gotta make the whole thing radio-playable--like, every song.'"
Critics, including Kenneally, agreed that the group fulfilled such a mission: "The first single, 'All Star,' gushes with hooray-for everybody optimism. Lounge nuances reprised from 'Walkin'' abound, but only a few tracks come within skanking distance of the ska-punk territory they minded on the remainder of Fush Yu Mang." Likewise, Clifford J. Corcoran surmised in an Alternative Press review, "Tastefully layered with all kinds of synths, keyboards, vibes and sound effects, Astro Lounge features a much more cohesive and compelling eclecticism that stretches from swirling psychedelia to reggae and dub to Blondie-esque new wave and even to Casiotone bossa nova. While not exactly groundbreaking, Astro Lounge far exceeds expectations." Before the end of May, "All Star" entered the Billboard top five, and the single was also featured in the film The Mystery Men later that summer.
However, Smash Mouth were not without their share of detractors. Within the Bay Area music scene especially, several musicians denounced Smash Mouth as opportunists and careerists. "There's this one guy who, every time I see him, he hisses at me," Camp told Kenneally. And Harwell himself admitted without apology to picking band members who he believed could help Smash Mouth earn popular recognition. But these insults did little to discourage the group. "We built this team and nobody's going to take it away from us," Harwell boasted to Chonin.
by Laura Hightower
Smash Mouth's Career
Formed band in San Diego, CA, 1994; San Diego radio station, KOME, started playing single "Nervous in the Alley" and invited Smash Mouth to appear with No Doubt, Beck, and 311 for the Kamp KOME music festival, 1996; released debut album Fush Yu Mang, single "Walkin' on the Sun" reached number one on Billboard Modern Rock chart, 1997; released follow-up album Astro Lounge, 1999.
- Alternative Press, June 1999; August 1999.
- BAM(Bay Area Music), May 21, 1999, p. 17.
- Billboard, August 30, 1997, p. 9; June 19, 1999.
- Entertainment Weekly, June 11, 1999.
- Guitar, August 1999.
- Guitar World, September 1999.
- Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1999; June 14, 1999.
- New York Daily News, June 13, 1999.
- People, July 19, 1999, p. 37.
- Pulse!, August 1999, p. 19.
- Request, August 1999.
- Rolling Stone, October 30, 1997, p. 80; February 19, 1998, p. 24; June 24, 1999, p. 67; August 6, 1999.
- Spin, July 1999; August 1999
- Teen People, September 1999.
- Time Out, June 24-July 1, 1999.
- USA Today, July 13, 1999.
- Additional information provided by Interscope Records.
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