A Smash Hit

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

“California in a can” is the way lead singer Steve Harwell describes Smash Mouth, and the band’s high energy, guitar driven music certainly does conjure up visions of sunshine, the beach and good times.  With a  new album entitled “Get the Picture,” a song “Hang On” featured in the hit Mike Myers movie “The Cat in the Hat” and a tour that stops off at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this weekend, the band is building on the successes that started less than a decade ago right here in the Bay Area.

Smash Mouth was formed in San Jose in 1994 by childhood friends singer Steve Harwell and drummer Kevin Coleman.  They had played together previously in a garage band and wanted to form a new group.  They saw a local cover band play, and eventually persuaded  two members, songwriter/ guitarist Greg Camp and Bassist Paul Delisle, to join their band.  Recalled Coleman, “We got drunk and we said ‘We want to be rock stars,” so we see these two amazing players and we lied to them, we cheated, we stole and bribed them to join our group.”

The band took the name Smash Mouth, from an expression used by former NFL player, coach and TV commentator Mike Ditka.  Smash Mouth played around San Jose for a couple of years before a self-produced recording of the song “Nervous in the Alley” caught the attention of local radio station KOME in 1996.  This was a good sign, as Smash Mouth was the first unsigned band ever to receive airplay on this station.

In 1997, the band recorded a new 10-song demo to try to attract label interest in Los Angeles.  One of the songs on the demo, “Walkin’ On The Sun,” was added as an afterthought, recorded at the insistence of Kevin Coleman after hearing it on one of Greg Camp’s old demo tapes.  “He has heard an early version of ‘Walkin’ On The Sun’ and he was just totally out of it that we played the song,” said Camp.  “I think everybody thought that he was crazy.”  Nevertheless, it was this song that Interscope Records in Santa Monica latched on to, and soon the band had itself a recording contract.  “Walkin’ On The Sun” was released as a single, and the band’s debut album “Fush Yu Mang” followed soon after.  Both were hugely popular, the single reaching Number One and the album going double platinum.  The band hit the road, touring with Third Eye Blind and Blur among others, introducing the music of Smash Mouth to an even wider audience.

“Fush Yu Mang” was followed in 1999 by “Astro Lounge,” “Smashmouth” in 2001 and most recently this year’s “Get the Picture?”.  Critics have described the band’s style as “ska-infused punk,” “surfy lounge music” and in many other ways.  Kevin Coleman feels that his description is the best: “We don’t adhere to any genre, we’re not trying to fit in.  I think it’s a pop band with a punk rock attitude.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, December 25, 2003

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