Can A Hug Take A Band From Obscurity To 'Oprah'? Sick Puppies Say 'Yes!'

Aussie rockers get famous from YouTube clip showing random acts of kindness.

In a fast-paced world of Blackberrys and blogs, who would have guessed that something as simple as a hug from a stranger could propel a small Australian band from obscurity to "Oprah"?

Sick Puppies frontman Shimon Moore's story began when he befriended a sandwich-board advertiser named Juan Mann, who he encountered in a Sydney mall one day. Mann was outfitted in two giant signs offering up free hugs, of all things.

"I saw this 'free hug' sign amongst the people, I went over and gave him a hug and started talking with him, and we became really good friends," Moore said. The friendship inspired Moore to make a video compiling footage he shot of Mann bestowing people with embraces, which he set to the Sick Puppies song "All the Same."

Moore posted the "Free Hugs Campaign" video on YouTube, where within days it received over 250,000 views. Now, a little more than a month later, the number continues to soar past the 5.75 million mark. "It's got nothing to do with us anymore, it's something that the people are really taking in their own hearts and lives and doing something with," Moore said.

It appears that America has embraced not only the message of Juan Mann but also the Sick Puppies, a band that until very recently was struggling just to stay afloat. "We went to pretty much every label that would see us and we showed them all our stuff," Moore said. "They all said, 'We like it, you're good,' and they would organize showcases, but at the end of the day they all said, 'We don't get it,' and we said, 'Well, we do,' and we kept going."

Now, a month after their initial posting of "Free Hugs," Moore has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with Mann, and the band is scheduled to play on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." As for the record companies that once turned them away, "They're all calling back," Moore said proudly.

The Sick Puppies — Moore, bassist Emma Anzai and drummer Mark Goodwin — covered Silverchair, Green Day and Rage Against the Machine songs before they began writing their own material. Their first success came when they beat out 3,000 other bands in a local radio contest and won an Australian record deal and an opportunity to go on tour.

While the band enjoyed success in their homeland, they longed for something more. "When we had the option of doing something else, we did. So we put all our money together, took out loans and came over here and did it," Moore said.

Preparing for the move forced Moore to take on a few odd jobs — thus his fateful mall meeting with Mann.

"The reason Juan started this was to show what one individual is capable of doing by spreading a little love, and his mission is completely accomplished," Shimon said. "People come up to him now and say, 'You've made a difference in my life.' "

Sick Puppies are currently playing shows around Los Angeles. They recently released a self-titled EP online, and their full-length album is due in early 2007.