Interview: Smash Mouth

Smash Mouth Logo

There are some songs that stick with you forever.

Smash Mouth’s 1997 blockbuster hit, ‘Walkin’ on the Sun’ is one of the most undeniably infectious songs of the past 25 years. It’s beautiful keyboard flourishes matched with raspy vocals of Steve Harwell, make it one of the true staples of any summertime soundtrack. It’s such a fun, vibrant, danceable and masterfully produced song that has such a great and unapologetic sing-a-long factor to it. Simply put — this is a great song.

And that’s why it makes perfect sense for the song’s creators to hit the road with fellow icons of mid-to-late 90s pop and rock to hit the road for a massively entertaining summer jam called The Under the Sun Tour.

We keep this intro short because recently, Pop-Break sat down with Steve Harwell for a very fun and very in-depth talk about Under the Sun Tour, sword fights with John Popper, Carson Daly and meeting Bono while dressed in drag as they prepare to take The Stone Pony Summerstage on Friday July 25.

Smash-Mouth-approved-image-2014

Pop-Break: How was the Under the Sun Tour been going so far?

Steve Harwell: It’s been going great. Every venue has been packed by 7 o’clock at night. [Uncle] Kracker has been opening up most of the shows. He likes to get a couple of cocktails in early so he likes to get it over and done with. He’s funnier than shit. I’ve known him forever, so it’s good to have him out there. I’ve known him since his Kid Rock days. He’s actually working on a track with me on this solo country record I have coming out at the end of the year. I’ve been working on it for a few years and he’s going to sing on the first single hopefully. [John] Popper’s awesome, he’s like my big brother. He comes out to my bus every single night, hammered. We have to carry him off, but he’s funnier than shit. He’s just the nicest dude. And of course, the Sugar Ray are family. Blues Traveler, they’ve been great. We played Red Rocks and they [Blues Traveler] play there every year and haven’t sold it out in five-six years. It was just frickin’ packed. It was the first time there for us and Sugar Ray. The shows are just great. It’s way better than last year, it’s way better than last year.

PB: With a tour like this was there any ever fear, concerns or trepidation? Like the first you did it, did you worry people might not have the same love for the band as they did say, ten years ago? Then this year, was their concern that the “novelty” of this tour might have worn off?

SH: No, you know? It’s really weird I think that my biggest concern this was, you know when you get too many cooks in the kitchen (agents, managers, etc.), [because] we lost about three months of advancing the tour. We were losing venues on the tour because they were booking the dates. I was little pissed about that, it wasn’t on my end, I knew where the delay came from. It was from another band’s management. It worked itself out and it’s been overwhelmingly killer.

I like it [this year’s tour] because with Uncle Kracker on the bill, he’s got the most current songs on radio. So, he brings his crowd. Blues Traveler brings their loyal following. It’s a great dynamic. I don’t think the novelty will wear out to the point where I’d be afraid to take it out. I think the packaging is the most important part and we pulled it off. We’re already putting next year’s together. We’re already talking to other bands like the B52’s, The Bangles. I want to bring a girl band out next year actually. We’re taking this overseas too. It blew my mind how much better it is this year.

underthesuntour

Last year, Fastball, who’s a great band, was going on so early [and] people were just getting there. Vertical Horizon also. They were basically playing in the afternoon. This year we’re doing 45 minutes a piece, all the bands. We all headline and flip flop the line-up every night. We’re headlining most of the shows on the West Coast. Blues Traveler’s been headlining out here on the East Coast. Us and Blues Traveler have headlined the most. There’s certain regions where you know this band [or that] should headline. Everybody’s cool with it. It’s nice, because it doesn’t bother me because I know it’s already packed out there. When we open the show a couple of days ago it was already sold out by the time I walked out on stage. The pre-sales on this have been good, but the walk-ups have been great. That’s why I’m excited for The Stone Pony show, it was a great show [last year]. I tell you what, we’re on fire right now. That’s the neat thing, the way we’re playing right now, we raised the bar this year. We added some tweaks and cool shit to the show, just little things here and there. It’s been to the point for me personally, I don’t even think about it anymore, I know everyone’s on their game and it’s good because everyone’s trying to outdo each other. It’s competition but in a good way.

PB: I can hear the excitement in your voice, so could you say this one of the fun tours you’ve been on in your 20 year career?

SH: This is the funnest and best we’ve ever been. I put us up there with anyone right now. Show-wise, performance-wise, yeah it is. I feel like we’re getting better as we’re getting older. Me, personally, I’m becoming a better singer. I think it’s fucking awesome. We’re booking stuff overseas. Kracker and us are going to Hawaii doing a one-off and having a little vacation. It’s the easiest way to get a free trip – play for an hour and take four days off. We’re going to South America and some Canada dates. We’re going to package this thing and take it around the world. I made a new friend with John Popper. Like I said he’s funnier than shit, he’s the funniest drunk ever. He came on the back lounge of the bus the other night and we were just shooting the shit. He walks up with his cane and it’s got this polished silver etched out style nob on the thing. He tells me to push the button on top and a two-foot long fucking knife down the center pops out! I sliced the fuck out of my finger playing with the thing backstage. He told me he wants to make a harp for me. He’s the most talented harp player I’ve ever seen. He comes out and plays with us every other night. We did a cover of The Kinks “All Day and All Night” for a live album we’re putting out on Sony. He comes out and does the harp solo on it and it’s awesome.

harwell solo

PB: Speaking of records, you mentioned a country album? I know you’re an Elvis fan and a punk fan, but tell me more about country.

SH: I grew up on it. I have Nashville roots. My great grandfather was born there and my family is from Oklahoma and Texas. There’s a lot of hick in me I’ll tell you. I lived there [Nashville] after my divorce. I started this record six years ago. At the time it was me getting to know people out there. The good thing was Smash Mouth has a lot of country fans that are artists. It was a little easier to get in the door. They’re not into letting some pop singer come in and invade their territory. There’s a massive respect thing in the county world. It’s also very much like the mafia over there, if they don’t want you in they won’t let you in, but when they do let you in they fucking bring you in. I was lucky enough to know guys like John Rich of Big & Rich. Then I became friends with a few of the big time studio guys who are just massively respected. My friend, Jim “Moose” Brown he’s one of the best keyboard/guitarist I’ve ever seen, he plays with Bob Seger when Bob goes on tour, he took me under his wing. I ended up moving into this town home and I became friends Hillary Williams, Hank Jr.’s daughter, and she’s like royalty in that town. We became best of friends and we’d go everywhere together. Word got out I was making a record. I just wasn’t trying to piss anyone off and having a lot of people in your corner helps a lot. [While on The Under the Sun Tour this year] I was talking to Uncle Kracker and he said, “Send me all your shit.” His new single just dropped and I asked him to sing on [my] track. He uploaded them and he said [the song “Tennessee”] is a hit, but then asked if he could make some minor changes lyrically. I said sure and was down with it. I’m stoked about it because our voices are good together. I’m going to knock it out before end of the tour.

PB: Any plans for an original Smash Mouth record?

SH: For sure. I’ve been working on a few issues, basically legal shit right now. I was thinking sometime next year. I want everything to go smooth and everyone to be on board. I want to Eric [Valentine], our original producer, to do the record because he hasn’t done it in a long time. He really wants to do it as long he has 100% commitment. And I want the original guys. I want Greg [Camp] to write the record. That’s the issues I’m having. We had a falling out, it wasn’t him and I personally, but there was just legal stuff there. He walked away for a while. We’ve been patching things up and we talk a lot. He’s coming out to the L.A. show at The Greek Theater and sit in and play a few songs. It’s baby steps. We haven’t been on stage together in a few years. I’m excited about it. I wouldn’t change anything right now, we’re clicking on all cylinders right now.

PB: I’m going to say it — I love “Walkin’ on the Sun.” I think it’s the quintessential summer song and it’s still played in regular rotation to this day. As the creator of the song, why do you think it’s still relevant?

SH: That song, when it came out, I can tell you this and I didn’t know [until recently] Jason [Sutter] our drummer, he was in American Hi-Fi, was in a band and was working with The Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys). One of the head guys from The Dust Brothers was actually two seconds away from pulling the trigger on signing us. We didn’t have “Walkin’ on the Sun” yet or even have the record finished.

That song came out of frustration from one bad show on a showcase in L.A. It wasn’t even the band’s fault, it was equipment and stuff. It was crickets in the car driving home in our minivan with the trailer behind it. I told the guys to relax. We had been working our butts off in the studio, just rehearsing. We didn’t play that much in our hometown, we played more in L.A. When we would play in our hometown, we’d sell out these massive clubs with lines around the corner. I knew we had it, but we didn’t have “Walkin’ on the Sun” yet. When we got back I called my manager and he asked how the show went, I told him it went terrible and he told me not to worry. I told him I talked to the band and said “Fuck it, we’re making a record.” I didn’t tell the manager, but a few days before I had called Eric who had produced some of earlier stuff. We had done a few demos with Eric prior to making the record. He told me we still owed him $4,000 but he said, “Give me $12,000 and I’ll make your record.” Remember this was ’97 for $12,000. We did all the packaging and stuff ourselves. So Eric came down to our rehearsal studio everyday for a week or two for pre-production. Eric didn’t want to go in and fuck around, he wanted to knock this out because of the budget we had. Then we played him “Walkin’ on the Sun” and he said, “Oh shit, this could be something special.” That song just had that thing.

FushYuMang

Going back to the other night, Jason and I had a little buzz going on back on the bus. Jason said, “Dude we were making our record. I’ll never forget our guitar player came in asked if he had his this song on K-ROQ? When I heard that song I threw my hands up in the air and said we’re done.” They were trying to make a song like that, that kinda feel. He said, “You guys changed music that day because it’s one of those timeless songs.” It was a cool story. I get that from a lot of people they say that song “stopped time almost.”

That classic keyboard part, that was last minute. That was Eric saying, “I got this idea” and he actually played it. Even after that he was stoked about the record. That got big so fast, it was the number one most requested song [on K-ROQ] and we were unsigned on the day Carson [Daly] went to Kevin Weberly, who was the #1 program director in the country at an alternative station at the time. He played it for him. I was in the waiting room and then we drove back to Carson’s house. He was behind us and he yelled from his car, “Turn on K-ROQ!” We were unsigned and had been turned by every label the day before. Everything was done, all the packaging, all they had to do was duplicate it. When they played it, my old “brick phone” cell phone went off like an alarm clock. Everyone who turned me down was calling. I told Greg [who had gone to the labels with him] “What the fuck!” That day they played it and it became number one most requested on K-ROQ. I thought, “Hmm, I think my life just changed.” (laughs) Interscope Records sent a limo to a hotel on the Sunset Strip, I don’t know how they found me. They must’ve called every hotel and asked for Steve Harwell and Greg Camp. They sent a limo and called me and they said they didn’t want us leaving. I knew I had them by the balls. I told them I had a number one most requested song and a done record, my phone is literally ringing off the hook as I’m talking to Jimmy Iovine. Our manager jumped down on a plane and we signed a massive deal and I bought my first BMW a day later. I never had a new card before! (laughs).

PB: In the 20 years you’ve been with the band what’s been the coolest experience it has afforded you? Whether it be meeting someone famous, working on a special project or just something you’d never thought would happen in a million year.

SH: In a million years, honestly? I never expected it to go down the way it went down. You have to understand something, Carson Daly was our DJ at our local station. He was 19 and he worked for K-ROQ’s sister station. On his days off he convinced K-ROQ to do overnights and his ratings were so good they hired him and became their number one DJ and that’s how he got MTV and all that shit. So, to come up wit Carson and have K-ROQ, to have them be the first to do it [play the record] and have Carson involved in it and to be standing with him in Times Square when he got hired for TRL after all this went down it was so gratifying to know we did it together. Look at him now, he’s a superstar. He’s going to be the next Matt Laurer on The Today Show. That’s probably the coolest thing.

The second would be meeting Bono when we were touring with them. The only bad part was it was Halloween and I was in drag in a beehive and with fake blood on my dress. I looked like one of the ugliest women in the world and it’s not the way I wanted to meet him, but I’ll take it.

PB: How’d he react?

Astro_lounge

SH: He just laughed. Him and The Edge walked in and I thought, “Oh my God this Bono, why do I have to have a fucking wig on?” Touring with them was special. There’s been a lot of special moments — even our first tour with Sugar Ray. That was amazing. You went from the whatever to the White House. The whole way it went down is very special to me and it never gets old. When you tell the story in detail, people say I’ve got to be kidding them, because it hasn’t happened since. Now, it’s all YouTube. For us, to be able to hear yourself on the radio, you don’t have a record deal and you’re on the number one station in America, that’s mind-blowing. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything. I think we changed radio for a minute there. It was a sound you didn’t hear. We own our sound whether it be a mixture of the way we do things, my voice, lyrical content, arranged, produced, there’s something special there.

But, going back to the tour, I’m really excited for The Stone Pony. We had such a blast last time. It’s going to be awesome.

Catch The Under the Sun Tour at The Stone Pony Summerstage on Friday July 25th. Click here for tickets.

Related Articles:

Interview: Eve 6 (Brent Johnson)

Interview: Lit (Lauren Stern)

Interview: Spacehog (Bill Bodkin)

========================================================================================================================================
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites