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 G reg 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
Members include Greg Camp (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.
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.
Addresses: Record company —Interscope Records, 10900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1230, Los Angeles, CA 90024, (310) 208-6547, fax (310) 208-7343.
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 KO music festival. “We played Kamp KO 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 Billboards 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 Casio-tone 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.
Fush Yu Mang, Interscope, 1997.
Astro Lounge, Interscope, 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.
members: greg camp, guitars (born west covina, california, 2 april 1967); paul delisle, bass (born exeter, ontario, 13 june 1963); steve harwell, vocals (born santa clara, california, 9 january 1967); michael urbano, drums. former member: kevin coleman, drums (born san jose, california, 21 october 1965).
best-selling album since 1990: astro lounge (1999)
hit songs since 1990: "walkin' on the sun," "all star," "then the morning comes"
Tagged by many critics as a likely one-hit wonder, Smash Mouth instead evolved into one of the most successful mainstream pop rock acts of the late 1990s, consistently scoring hits with its party-flavored fusion of 1960s rock and 1980s punk.
Prior to 1994 Steve Harwell had been rapping in a San Jose band called F.O.S. ("Freedom of Speech"); F.O.S. drew inspiration from House of Pain, the early 1990s Caucasian rap group that enjoyed a crossover smash with "Jump Around." After House of Pain fell out of vogue, Harwell gave up on F.O.S. and instead began jamming with local drummer and longtime friend Kevin Coleman. Harwell and Coleman eventually hooked up with guitar player Kevin Camp and bass player Paul DeLisle; the quartet became known as Smash Mouth.
Smash Mouth subsequently recorded two demo tracks, which earned significant airplay at local radio station KOME in April 1996. That summer Smash Mouth played a KOME festival along with high-profile acts such as Beck and No Doubt. Interscope Records quickly scooped up the rising band and, in 1997, released Smash Mouth's debut album Fush Yu Mang. Fush Yu Mang owed much to the contemporary California punk sound of bands such as the Offspring, NOFX, Green Day, and Rancid, but it was the song "Walkin' on the Sun" that foreshadowed the formula that Smash Mouth would ultimately ride to the top of the charts. An ode to 1960s hippies, "Walkin' on the Sun" boasts a bright and decidedly retro instrumental sound, with splashy organs and fuzzy guitars reminiscent of 1960s garage and surf rock. Delivered in a half-sung, half-rapped style by Harwell, the song's lyrics eulogize 1960s idealism: "Twenty-five years ago they spoke out and they broke out / Of recession and oppression and together they toked / And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire / Just singin' and clappin' man what the hell happened." Smash Mouth's fusion of 1960s rock with the sensibilities of modern punk had major appeal, and "Walkin' on the Sun" became a number one modern rock hit.
Smash Mouth further refined its commercial formula with its cover of "Can't Get Enough of You Baby," featured on the soundtrack to the 1998 movie Can't Hardly Wait. "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" was a garage-rock classic made popular by ? and the Mysterians. Liberal in its use of retro organ flourishes and driven by Harwell's raspy vocals, Smash Mouth's "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" retains the party spirit of the original, while smoothing out the rough edges for commercial appeal.
Critics were skeptical that Smash Mouth could carry its successful formula across a second full-length album, but the band proved its doubters wrong with the even more successful follow-up, Astro Lounge (1999). The lead single "All Star" reached the top five on the singles charts. Propelled by Camp's snappy guitars and Harwell's unique quasi-rap delivery, "All Star" was omnipresent in the summer of 1999. The song's catchy chorus ("Hey now, you're an All Star, get your game on, go play") made it a favorite at sporting events, including Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, at which Smash Mouth performed in 1999. The follow-up single "Then the Morning Comes" had a darker vibe than previous Smash Mouth hits, but its infectious chorus ("The way that you walk / It's just the way that you talk like it ain't no thing / And every single day is just a fling") made the song a staple on radio as well as on MTV. On the strength of its two successful singles, Astro Lounge sold more than 3.5 million records.
For the second time between album releases, Smash Mouth struck gold with a movie soundtrack appearance; in 2001, the band appeared on the soundtrack for the DreamWorks film Shrek, covering the Monkees' "I'm a Believer." The song benefited not only from its inclusion on the soundtrack of the high-profile animated film featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz, but also from its use as a musical number for the final scenes of the movie. Crooned by Eddie Murphy's donkey character in the film, "I'm a Believer" abounded with familiar Smash Mouth energy—a fitting end to the climax of the fairytale film. The movie as well as its unofficial theme song both became major hits. "I'm a Believer" also appeared on Smash Mouth's self-titled third album released in 2001.
Smash Mouth's repeated success with movie soundtracks scored the band further high-profile gigs, including the Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) soundtrack, for which Smash Mouth offered up the new "Ain't No Mystery," recorded with the Tower of Power's famed horn section. Smash Mouth also appeared on Disneymania (2002), a collection of popular Disney soundtrack favorites reinterpreted by contemporary artists; Smash Mouth offered a funked-up version of "I Wanna Be Like You" from Disney's animated film The Jungle Book (1967).
Much to the consternation of its critics, Smash Mouth was anything but a one-hit wonder by the early 2000s, having cemented its place on mainstream radio with its retro-influenced sound and string of hits.
Fush Yu Mang (Interscope, 1997); Astro Lounge (Interscope, 1999); Smash Mouth (Interscope, 2001). Soundtracks: Shrek (DreamWorks, 2001); Austin Powers in Goldmember (Warner Bros., 2002); Disneymania (Disney, 2002).