Bands that record eight demo tapes in a single year can rack up some hefty
studio bills, so they often find other ways to make money: painting houses,
playing weddings. And, if you're San Jose's Smash Mouth, stealing pot
"I don't even smoke pot," Smash Mouth vocalist Steve Harwell said. "We
would steal people's plants the day before they were planning to harvest. And
then we would sell it, and spend all that money on studio time. That's
funded a lot of our studio time."
The pot "scams," as Harwell, 30, calls them, proved profitable.
The capital helped produce Smash Mouth's new album Fush Yu Mang, which contains the '60s throwback jam, "Walkin' On The Sun" (RealAudio excerpt). With that single riding high on modern rock radio charts, the band has now
begun a tour with the summer's other hit sensation, Sugar Ray, currently hot due to their single, "Fly" (RealAudio excerpt).
Harwell, guitarist Greg Camp, 25, and drummer Kevin Coleman, 30, spoke
about "Walkin' On the Sun" and Smash Mouth's whirlwind success from the
back of their tour bus before a recent gig in Washington, D.C.
"I wrote that about four or five years ago for this other band that (bassist) Paul (De Lisle) and I were in, Lackadaddy," Camp said. "And no one
liked it, so I just stuck it on a tape and put it in a box with all the
other songs that no one liked. Six months ago Kevin our drummer came and
asked me, 'Do you have any old tapes that I can play the drums to?' So I
gave him some tapes and that was one of them."
"I listened to it like 40 times in a row," Coleman recalled. "And I said I
can't believe this song is so fucking good. It was like hunting for
treasure. I was like Jacques Cousteau shit, man."
Camp said he took lyrical inspiration from the poorer sections of San Jose, Calif., where he was living at the time. "I was living in a pretty good area in San Jose. In order to get to downtown San Jose, I would have to ride my bike through the 'hood. I would always see a lot of weird stuff. Crack moms, it was a gang neighborhood. I used to think, it's getting worse and worse and worse.
And when you think about the '60s, everyone was happy to be a hippie.
Especially in the areas close to San Francisco, it used to be a peaceful
area and now it's so violent. I'm not a political person; it's just when I
see something I'll write about it, and that's all there is."
Although the song originally sported a more choppy and rap-like cadence,
Harwell changed the flow of the lyrics and added melody. Producer Eric
Valentine (Third Eye Blind, Paris, the Meices) then brought the song to
fruition with the addition of a Farfisa organ and what Camp calls "his kitschy, Esquivel production."
San Jose radio station KOME got a copy of Smash Mouth's demo and caught on to "Walkin' On the Sun" early -- so early, in fact, that the band did not yet
have a record deal. Thus, the band had no album to sell to fans clamoring
for the song on the radio, and Smash Mouth found themselves in the unlikely
position of asking KOME to stop playing the song until they had a deal in
hand and records in stores.
So, with their soon-to-be-hit song, Harwell and Camp began shopping Fush Yu Mang to various record labels, determined to nail Smash Mouth a contract. It didn't take long. In fact, the outward success that fans see now came together within the past eight weeks.
In June, Harwell and Camp met with several companies over a week's time.
As Harwell tells it, one discussion was interrupted by a call from their
lawyer who told them to call influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ
immediately. That day the band was in the office of Interscope president Tom Whalley; the next day they inked a deal with the company for two albums, with options for more; before the next week was out, "Walkin' On the Sun" had been shipped to the top alternative radio stations in the country.
Although Smash Mouth is cruising the country in a velvet and wood
paneled tour bus these days, the band was plugging away to much less acclaim in San Jose for three years before recording Fush Yu Mang. Back then, Harwell and Coleman, who have been friends since elementary school, had to cajole Camp into joining their band after seeing him play in a local cover outfit.
"I gave them my phone number and my address" Camp said, "and they were at
my window the following morning at the crack of dawn, banging on my
window." Camp originally recruited his friend De Lisle to simply round out
a Smash Mouth promo photo, and then persuaded him to actually join the band.
"We recorded, wrote or did something almost every day," said Camp, recalling
the near past when the band was unknown outside its hometown.
"We used to record demos just to keep the so-called fire under your ass,"
Although they could have never predicted the flurry of attention that
"Walkin' On the Sun" has garnered, Harwell said he has always had faith in
the group. "From the beginning, I always knew in my heart that we were
gonna get a deal, it was just a matter of when. We actually set a goal,
which was crazy, of like within a year. So we were like a year and a half