Smash Mouth was one of
the huge bands of the late Nineties, knocking hits out of the park with
"Walking on the Sun," "All Star" and their cover of the Monkees' "I'm a
They originally formed in San Jose, CA, in 1994, when vocalist Steve
Harwell recruited drummer Kevin Coleman, guitarist Greg Camp and bassist
Paul De Lisle to form a good-time party band that celebrated the styles
and sounds of the previous thirty years of rock. Their 1997 debut album Fush Yu Mang
became a surprise hit with the smash single "Walking on the Sun."
Still, it wasn't until 1999's Astro Lounge and the smash "All
Star" that the band became one of the biggest groups on the planet.
However, after the
September 11th attacks, the band's good-time party vibe became a harder
sell in a more introspective radio world. Then the
band had a series of fissures, especially between lead singer Harwell
and Camp, who over the years was the group's main songwriter.
While the band never stopped touring, their last album was the 2006
indie release Summer Girl.
Years later, with a
new line up featuring
original members Harwell and De Lisle, Mike Krompass on guitar, Randy
Cooke on drums and Michael Klooster on keys,
Smash Mouth is rejuvenated. Finally
they are delivering their first new album in six years, Magic. The CD
takes the traditional Smash Mouth sound and brings it up to date
surprisingly well, straddling the traditional band
sound with a more current radio vibe.
Right before the
release, we talked with Harwell about his new album, his band and his
are your first
Oh, my gosh. My
earliest musical memory has to be probably sitting on my grandmother's
piano. (laughs) Playing her piano when I was a kid. Her
teaching me some stuff. Just doing that. Then when I was a kid I
discovered Elvis. My parents thought I was a little crazy, but he was
the one. He was the one that changed my life when it came to wanting to
be an entertainer. Instantly I couldn't get enough of him on TV, in his
music. Imitating him on the holidays in front of the whole family,
making a jackass of myself. I'd do talent shows at school and do
Elvis. A lot of my fondest memories are just growing up fiddling around
on grandma's piano and discovering Elvis. After Elvis it was David Lee
Roth. He's the one also. Between those two, they are the whole reason
that I'm in this business. It was really something. I guess I was
meant to do it.
How did the band
come together? I was reading that you had been a rapper previously?
Yeah, my first record
deal, I was in a rap group. I didn't really care for it. Pretty much
made a whole record and I don't even have it, actually, to tell you the
truth. That was years and years ago. In the early, early Nineties,
like '93. I got out of that and wanted to be in a rock band. I wanted
to be a front guy for the band. My manager always had my back. We
started together, basically. He was managing another rap kind of
Beastie Boys group that Greg [Camp] and Paul [DeLisle] were in. So I
was like, you know what? I'm going to steal these two guys. They were
the most talented guys in town. I just started scouting them and kind
of bullied Greg into joining the band. (laughs) That's how it
happened. I started the band in 1994 and have been doing it ever since.
In 1997, “Walking
on the Sun” became a huge hit and suddenly you were all over the radio
and TV. How surreal was that?
It was crazy. I set
a goal for the band. It could have backfired on me, but I had everybody
convinced to give me two years. Let's just work really hard for two
years and I'll get us a record deal. I knew we had the talent. It's
just we didn't really have any direction when we first started. We were
kids. We were in our early 20s and we just wanted to drink, party and
play punk, ska, whatever. We wrote all over the place, but that's what
made that record special. It's really a lot of different things going
on there on that record. When that all happened, it was probably two
years and a couple of months to the day from when we decided. It was a
lot of work. We didn't play around a lot as a band. We didn't go out
and do the gig thing and tour in a van or anything like that. Do the
west coast thing. We did do some shows around town, San Jose, but they
were mostly showcases. I made a lot of friends over the phone in LA
with all the guys that booked the Strip. By the time I met everybody,
we actually did start going to LA to showcase, I kind of already had
ins. It all fell together. It was a lot of lot of work, but I
really enjoy getting on the phone and making friends with all the radio
promotion people. Talking to these A&R guys. Kick the door
in. It was really weird, because I built some really good friendships
that I still have with guys I literally met over the phone originally.
There were a few guys I never saw in person until right before we got
signed. It was like we already knew each other for a long time. It was
really cool. It was easier for us to get really good slots at
the Roxy or at the Whiskey. In LA we were playing with bands like Goldfinger, with bands like No Doubt. We were doing all kinds of shows
like that. We were getting really good slots and all these LA bands
were like, "Who are these guys from San Jose?" I just built a
friendship on the phone with all these promoter guys. It worked out.
was sort of written off as a probable one-hit wonder after “Walking on
the Sun.” How important was it for you that the band prove they had
staying power with Astro Lounge?
To be honest with
you, it probably crossed my mind a couple of times, but I've always had
the confidence in the guys. I never had that kind of feeling. I
guess you've got to believe in yourself. I knew we were going to get
it. Every once in a while people said that kind of stuff. We never
really got it that bad, people saying that, because we came back pretty
quick with Astro Lounge and that just went through the roof.
It's nice to be able to build a career over all these years, to be
able to go play shows and have a nice catalogue of hits. It really
makes for a better show. It also makes for people wanting to have you
if you have so many hits. We've been fortunate. We've done a cover for
pretty much every record. Magic has got "(Don't You) Forget
About Me" from Simple Minds on there. Really love that remake. That's
kind of our signature thing, to do a remake.
like you said, beyond
“(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” the band has done covers before – like
“I’m a Believer,” “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby” and “Why Can’t We Be
Friends?” Why did you choose the new cover, and do you find it easier
or harder to record a song by someone else?
I think for us it was
can we make this better? If we can't make it better, if we can't make
it our own, why do it? I'll tell you how it all started. "Can't Get
Enough of You," I was in Europe touring and one of our reps over in the
UK. We were at a party – we were partying – and he goes, "Dude, take
this cassette." I'm dating myself right now. He goes, "You've got to
cover this song." I had that cassette for probably a year and a half.
I finally put it on, because he told me about this song "Can't Get
Enough of You" by ? & the Mysterians. I'd never heard it. Maybe I had
when I was younger, but as soon as I played it with the band – we were
in rehearsal just screwing around and I put it on – and I was like, oh
my gosh, we have to record this song. He was so right. That's the only
reason we covered that song, because of him. I have to give him credit
for that. "I'm a Believer" was a last minute thing for the Shrek
movie. Our A&R guy Tom Whalley, who signed us to Interscope, came into
the studio, we were just finishing up our third record and he says,
"You've got to cover this." I think they had tried to get EMF or
somebody to cover it and it came out like crap or something. It just
didn't fit them for whatever reason. He came in and he's like, "Stop
what you're doing. You've got to do this." We're like, "Fuck, man,
we're just finishing up." But you gotta do what the boss tells you,
so... As soon as we started to play it: (snaps fingers) magic!
It just happened. "Why Can't We Be Friends," we've always been a fan
of that song. But "(Don't You) Forget About Me" was another classic
example. We reconnected with our producer Eric [Valentine] after not
working with him for a while. He was like, "Why don't
you guys fly down? Let's record a track. Let's just record
something." I can't remember the cover song we were going to do, but at
the very last minute, right before we started to record it, we got a
phone call that said, "Oh, so and so just recorded that." The
Breakfast Club has always been one of my favorite movies. And,
"(Don't You) Forget About Me" has always reminded me of summertime. I
was just sitting there and we've all got our thumbs up our asses. We're
all like, "Well, that sucks. What are we going to do? We flew down
here. What are we going to record?" I said let's do that song "(Don't
You) Forget About Me." We recorded that song over six years ago. That
song's been in the archives for a while.
In 2006, the
band broke up and you did The Surreal Life.
When did you decide that you had to get the guys back together and get
back to the music?
Well see, that's the
thing. Everybody kind of got a misconception. We never broke up. Greg
and I just couldn't be in the band [together] anymore. So, I guess you
might call semi-[broken up]. We never stopped touring. We actually
started touring twice as much as we were when Greg was in the band. It
took me a while. It was a little scary. But I always knew that nothing
was going to stop me on this one. Smash Mouth is bigger than all of
us. I don't think Greg ever realized that. There were internal issues
with wives getting involved and it got ugly. Greg pulled some shady
shit in the past and didn't play by the rules at one time or another.
Kind of went against what we agreed with when we started the band. It
happens a lot. Decided not to be a team player. I just couldn't do it
anymore with him. And he couldn't be in the band with me. I'm not
saying we'd never get on stage again, but right now is not the time.
So how are things with the new lineup?
Everything is going fantastic. I had been looking and looking for the
right guy who had the production talent, the songwriting, the guitar
playing, the look, the right attitude. Our new drummer Randy Cooke, his
best friend Michael Krompass is from Canada also – they are both
Canadians. I had another gentleman playing in the band at the time who
Randy also recommended. I really liked the kid, but he was a little bit
too clean-cut for me. He didn't have the edge, but he had all the
talent. But he wasn't a songwriter, and that was the big downfall. I
really wanted a great songwriter. Mike showed up one day. I needed a
fill in. I had met Mike about ten years ago when I was doing a solo
rock record. I never put it out, actually. He was friends of a buddy
of mine that I was making the record with. When he walked up to me, I'd
never played with him. He walked up and I go: Mike Krompass? You
little fucker. What the hell? I knew how talented he was already. The
second he got onstage with us, it literally was magic. Honest to God
truth. We hit it off. He's like my little brother. We butt heads here
and there, but who doesn't? He's one of the most talented producers. I
could compare him to Eric Valentine, who did all of our big stuff, all
day long. He's great. He's a great producer. He surrounds himself
with great songwriters. He necessarily is not a lyricist for the most
part. He is and isn't. But he is just a musician. He's the best I've
seen. Probably literally one of the best producers I've ever been
around. He's very connected with all the good songwriters. I really
wanted to get in and co-write this record. That's what made it really
fun. When we got him in the band, it was a situation where: wow, we're
finally going to co-write a record. Greg never let us co-write.
Yes, Greg had
written many of your earlier songs. Was it interesting to be able to
have all these different points of view behind the songs?
It was amazing,
actually. Mike is much more current with what's going on, because he
produces a lot of current artists. That was a plus. I've always been
the one that has no problem working with other people if it is going to
make for a better product. I always wanted to do it. I did it a little
bit in the early stages of the band, which was the fun times. Then to
get in and have this new energy instantly. Let's put it this way, the
first day, I sat down with this lady Shelly Peiken, who is a very, very
famous songwriter – you can look up her records. Look up her résumé,
you'll shit yourself when you see all the songs she's written. [She
wrote Christina Aguilera's "What a Girl Wants," Meredith Brooks' "Bitch"
and Mandy Moore's "I Wanna Be With You" amongst many others.] She's
really close friends with Mike. I called her up. She flew up to San
Jose. The very first day we wrote "Justin Bieber." Then we wrote
"Better With Time." On the second day we wrote... I can't remember
which one we wrote after that. But it was magic. It was crazy. Then
we came out to Nashville, I wasn't living here yet, which I am
now. Went out to Mike's house and he's got a friend of his, Andrew
Fromm, a great songwriter. And a girl named Jennifer Paige, who had a
hit called "Crush" in the Nineties.
Sure, I loved that
She's a great
songwriter. I got to work with a lot of different guys, even some local
country guys who were great pop songwriters. The song "Live to Love
Another Day," I wrote that with Randy, our drummer, Mike, myself and
another really popular country guy. I cannot remember his name [Jim
McCormick], but he's a really big guy. It was nice to have all these
different perspectives. It was electric, I'm telling you. It was
electric. We wrote this record pretty damned fast, compared to records
in the past. Just to be able to get back in it and feel the confidence
of: We did it. We got it. I knew we had it. Once we finished the
record up, at the last minute I said I want to put "(Don't You) Forget
About Me" on this thing. It just seemed to work. I said, okay, we're
done. I had my hand in the whole process. I used to be like that, but
you get to a point in the band... I was cool with Greg being
the main songwriter... we all had our own roles. We did it for a long
time. Then he decided to really stop writing, and I don't know why he
did, I don't know if he had writer's block or was just not confident in
himself any longer. I tried to pump him up all the time. I always gave
him the benefit of the doubt. I said I know you can do it, buddy.
[But] Greg just stopped working. There are reasons for it that I
can't talk about, but there are reasons for it. Like I said,
getting in and doing this record with the new bandmates and outside
people, there is plenty of pie to go around when it comes to writing hit
songs. I'm not a greedy man at all. I just wanted as many hits as I
could get on this thing. That was our whole point. There are a couple
of songs on there that are personal to me. But for the most
part, I just wanted to make a fun record. We all did. It was a blast
making this record. I hadn't had this much fun since probably doing
Fush Yu Mang.
One song that sort
of stood out to me was “Out of Love,” which seemed like a bit of a
stretch for you. Was it fun to do a more traditional love ballad?
probably one of my favorite songs that I ever sang in my career. It was
a personal relationship. I had a really bad relationship I went through
about a year and a half ago. Kind of volatile, you know? We were madly
in love, but when we went out partying, it was like oil and water. It
just wasn't healthy. To this day, I still love her to death, but she
won't take my phone calls. (laughs) She blocks every phone that
I call from, let's put it that way. But she's a wonderful person. We
just weren't meant to be together. We went to high school together. I
always had a crush on her when we were younger. We reconnected after I
got divorced and instantly fell in love. Spent every minute together.
So it was kind of an apology to her, in a way, but also expressing my
point of view. I was just as much to blame as she was, if not [more].
I took the high road and took all the blame for the relationship. It
was a weird time, but I think something really beautiful came out of it,
that song. I really loved it. Another song on there is also about the
"Future X Wife"
perhaps? No, I guess that's a different kind of romantic...
That song came about
really funny. We were in LA writing at the A&M studios. Shelly and
I... I kind of had a little crush on Shelly, she's a really pretty lady,
but she's happily married and I'd never, ever go down that path... I had
a little crush from afar and she knows it. I think we both knew a
little bit, kind of in a fun, friendly way. She was sitting there and I
said you want a cocktail? She said, "Yeah, I'll have a cocktail with
you." We were having a blast. It was going so good that we were just
like, "Well, let's have a little party. We're kicking ass right now."
I looked at her and said, "You know what? You're like my future
ex-wife." She goes "What the fuck did you just say?" "You're my future
ex-wife." She goes, "Oh, my God, we've got to write that song." Right
then. Within an hour later, that song was written. It's getting so
much positive response. So many people are going, "Dude, you've got to
put that song out as a single." That song is the shit.
What did made you
want to write a song on “Justin Bieber?” I know you guys have done songs
about pop culture icons in the past, like "The Fonz." Why is a song
like that fun to make?
Well, it's about
everything. It is pop culture. We talk about everything from Twitter
to Facebook to streaking to clothes you used to wear. It is not about
Justin, but it's about the bigger picture. Where is he going to be ten
years from now? Is he going to be the next Brad Pitt? I don't know.
What's he going to be doing? Is he going to be the next Justin
Timberlake, who goes into acting and has another huge career? You never
know. I thought it would be fun. We're definitely not poking fun at
him. You get it. I thought it would be funny. I'm hoping he hears it
and gets a kick out of it. We had a blast writing it. There, once
again, it was Shelly and I and Mike. She said, "Let's write a song and
let's call it 'Justin Bieber.'" It's just funny, you know? In no way,
shape or form would I be poking fun at the kid. He's a hell of a
talent. It's just little things you bring up over the years – you see
things come and go. A lot of these things stick. I think he's one of
them, so... Anyways, that was a fun one to write.
So it sounds like
the recording process was a good time.
The whole record was
fun, bro. I don't think I had a shitty time in the studio at all. It
was just a blast. Especially being able to sing songs you co-wrote, you
know? There is a more confident level there. It makes it easier to go
into the studio and get on the mike and sing those songs when you know
you co-wrote them. There is a bigger bond there with that song. There
is more to attach me to it. Sometimes it is tough to take another song
and recreate it to where you make it yours. I've run into that over the
years with stuff that Greg has written. It has taken me a day or two to
knock a song out. It gets frustrating, but then once you get
comfortable in it and you start living with it... as long as your
producer is not in a hurry, I knew I'd always get it done at the end of
the day. Once it gets in your head and sinks in, it just falls together
after that. But being able to go in and sing something you co-wrote,
it's really easy tracking this record, personally. That's one of the
cool things about it.
It seems from
listening to your songs that the two most important things in the world
are summer, parties, women and booze. Do you feel that is not giving
the band enough credit for being serious, too?
Honestly, I've got
nothing wrong with it. I've always considered us kind of a sun and fun
band. At the same time, there have been moments when I'm like, "Are
people really listening to how good some of these songs are?" Still to
this day, I don't think we've gotten the credit that we do deserve as a
band. Hopefully it will come soon. But I pride
myself on having shows and bringing people onstage and making it a
party. The last thing I want is the crowd standing there with its arms
folded. I want them going nuts. I want them singing along with us. I
want to have interaction with them. It's paid off for us, not only for
being requested for a lot of corporate shows – we probably do more
corporate shows than any band out there, just because we have this
reputation as a fun band. Back when I was in my 20s, you were up there
making an ass of yourself half the time. You get more mature. I do
pride myself, and I think the rest of the band does too, on having clean
shows. We don't say a bunch of knucklehead shit to get our point across
or to be cool. We let the songs speak for themselves and just the show,
How do you feel
the new band compares live?
We've never played
this good, I'll tell you right now. We've never, ever been this good of
a band. It's to the point where, I have to knock on wood here (he
does), but it's to the point now when you get on stage, we talk
about it every night, it's got that feeling like you don't have any
reservations about getting up there. You're just like: Let's go. Let's
go do it. It's on that level of musicianship and the amount of fun and
the confidence level that we have. We have a team now so dialed in
with our sound guys and our crew guys. It's a big family. There's no
second guessing, hey man, what's it going to sound like? Is this going
to mess up? Is that going to mess up? That can put a damper on a
show. The thing I used to dread the most was walking up, getting on the
microphone and something goes drastically wrong. That can ruin a show
in fifteen seconds. It's really hard to recover from that kind of
stuff, personally. It's been fun, smooth sailing. Also, it doesn't
hurt to have a new record to be able to play. We're starting to. We
play "Magic." We play "Flipping Out." We'll probably bring "Future X
Wife" in. We're going to bring "Padrino" back. We're going to bring "P.C.P.
[Pacific Coast Party]" back and probably "Nervous in the Alley" off of
the first record. We're going to revamp our show for Australia. Start
a whole new set list in Australia, and then carry that back to the
States and tour on that set list.
Around 2001, in
the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, rock music got very
serious – making it hard for good-time bands like you and Sugar Ray and
Barenaked Ladies to get radio play. Why do you feel the world is ready
for some more lighthearted music now?
I just felt it. I
felt like it was coming around. I've been saying this for a couple of
years. This is going to come full circle. People are going to want to
start hearing [fun stuff]. Music is pretty stale right now. It's
really manufactured to me. I get what these kids are raving about. I
respect all these musicians. But it got to the point for me where I
didn't want to listen to radio. I just didn't want to listen to it
anymore. I was just tired.
asking some questions about your musical favorites and background just
to get a feel for where you come from as an artist. What was the first
record you bought?
First record I ever
bought? You're killing me right now. I'd have to say probably Van
Halen I. Mom and dad had all the Elvis records, so I didn't have to
What was the first
concert you ever saw?
Van Halen, 1980. I
was a kid.
What music do you
put on when you are in a bad mood to cheer you up?
There's nothing wrong
with some good AC/DC. Stone Temple Pilots. The Cult. Depeche Mode.
The Cure. Yaz. I like a lot of the older stuff, because I used to be a
total mod, too. I was really into all those bands from Consolidated
to... all those bands back in the day. I still am. Basically, there is
nothing really current. If there was anything current that I listen to,
I listen to a lot of country. My taste goes everywhere. A lot of my
friends here in town are artists. I write with a lot of these guys.
I've been working on a country album for the last three years. That's
almost finished. Doing a solo album on that, just to expand my horizon
a little bit.
What song can
automatically make you cry when you hear it?
I'll tell you
which one. "Out of Love" [from the new album]. (laughs) Shit,
I cried in the studio singing it. It was an emotional day. It came out
in the end.
What do you listen
to when you are in the mood for romance?
Oh, man. Probably
just porno music. (laughs) No. You know, that's a good
question, brother. I've never really though about that. I don't know.
You know what I used to really be into? There was a band, I don't know
if you remember, called P.M. Dawn.
Yes, of course.
"Set Adrift on Memory Bliss."
That was a good
love-making album, right there. That was a good record.
What record would
you say you have listened to more than any other in your life?
Black [by AC/DC]. Or Van Halen II.
"Beautiful Girls" would be a perfect cover for you guys, by the way.
Yeah, we used to play
it live. I've talked about covering that, actually.
Are there any
you are ashamed to have in your collection?
No, because I
was also a total closet hair rocker, too. Ratt, Cinderella, White Lion,
BulletBoys. All those bands, I was really into, man. No, I don't
think so. What would I say I'd be ashamed of? I couldn't tell you,
what are you talking about? (laughs)
What song do you
most wish that you wrote?
Oh, that's a fucking
great question. I would have to say "The Lady in Red" [by Chris DeBurgh].
I love that song.
What is it like
knowing that several of your songs, particularly "All Star," have had
such long rides? It's almost like a standard at this point.
It's funny, because
you really realize how big something is when you're walking into a
Chili's and it comes on when you walk in. (laughs) Or, you walk
into the Macy's or something. Yeah, to be able to turn the radio on and
hear "All Star," hear "I'm a Believer," hear "Walking on the Sun..."
They come on the radio, [or] I'll be listening and "Why Can't We Be
Friends?" comes on or "Can't Get Enough of You" or "Then the Morning
Comes." They are all still being played. But "All Star" and "Walking
on the Sun" and "I'm a Believer" are probably the ones that played the
most. Believe it or not, live is a toss up. The crowd goes crazy for
"All Star," but they also go bananas for "I'm a Believer." The minute
you hear that signature keyboard part come at the beginning the crowd
goes nuts. It's nice to have that amount of songs and be able to get
that kind of reaction from the crowd, you know? People always ask me if
I ever get bored of playing these songs? I say would you? Why? It's
pretty much a different crowd every night. Of course you're going to
have fans that are going to come and see you for the next twenty years.
Once again I'm not trying to date myself, but it's cool to go out and to
have our young fans bring their kids to the show. To have our close
buddies come out or people I've met over the years that were eight years
old and they bring a photo of them with me when they were kids, and now
they are 20 years old. That's the cool part about music. The special
part for me is to be able to build that interaction with our fans over
the years and see how much it effects people's lives.