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March, 2013 Issue

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Smash Mouth

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Story By Ian Kirby

When it comes to drawing a crowd for a major concert on campus, it can be tough to find an act with appeal wide enough to hit the mark with the diverse demographics of today's student bodies. The hottest celebrity hit makers can usually draw a great crowd, but often at great cost.

The alternative is to find those bands out there who have garnered massive familiarity yet may not be in the center of the spotlight, but are still out there looking to work and to play great shows. Why not consider an act that can bring a full load of hits, but is still realistic for program boards without enormous budgets?

Smash Mouth is an act your students will remember, or certainly their songs. If the average college student was born between 1992 and 1995, then songs like "Walkin' on The Sun," "Can't Get Enough Of You Baby," "All Star," "Then The Morning Comes," and their cover of The Monkees "I'm a Believer" from the first Shrek movie will be firmly rooted in the collective consciousness of their childhoods. This is an act that will hook into a sense of nostalgia for your students, a feeling probably fresh for folks not long into adulthood. It's one of those acts that will draw people who aren't necessarily fans of the band previously, simply because of their prior fame and the notion of seeing the original performers play songs that they are so familiar with.

With 10,000,000 albums sold, Smash Mouth is a definite draw. Not to mention schools can piggyback on the upcoming buzz and likely success of their upcoming "Under The Sun" summer tour, which will feature some of the best 90's acts we all remember and will be Co-headlined by Sugar Ray.

Steve Harwell is the recognizably smooth and cool voice of Smash Mouth, and takes the time just before heading out for an Australian tour to talk with readers of Campus Activities Magazine®.

Originating in the San Jose area, their roots are as a ska band. "We were young and that was what was happening in the scene back in the day. We kind of followed suit. We were doing some Beastie Boys kind of stuff, as well as ska, and we molded ourselves into that local scene."

It wasn't long before the band decided they weren't going to just spin their wheels in the local bar scene. "We kind of disappeared from there not long after we started. There were all of these local bands that played the same places over and over, in a cycle of going nowhere and our goal right from the start was to get a record deal. We decided just to hide out and rehearse. We would just write songs and get better, while we were working our regular jobs."

Slowly the band started playing around more and were the first unsigned act to get major radio play in their home town. "That was what really kicked things off for us." A couple of the other members had played in other bands and were known to the local scene, but Steve was a new face. "People were like 'who is this guy?' I caught a lot of flak for that and there were many haters, but we just worked on getting better. Songwriting was the real goal for us."

Picture of Smash Mouth on stage

The band's big break came in an unexpected way, from a local connection that was destined to be a big deal, and pay off huge for them. "Well, I personally knew Carson Daly from way back, when he was a disc jockey at the local San Jose station, KLME and we had been friends and worked together before.

"Fast forward to 1997, after we had cut the track for 'Walkin' On The Sun.' In one day I had shopped a record deal and gotten turned down by five labels. The very next day I said 'you know what, screw it, let's just go to Carson at KROQ. We played it for him and he's like, 'What is this?! Dude.' He took it to Kevin Weatherly, the program director, who is still there, at the biggest alternative rock station in the country. Kevin said, 'Put it on the air right now,' and Carson goes, 'but they're not signed.' Kevin says, 'I don't care; do it.'"

The song went to number one, and it wasn't long before the phones were coming off the hook (this was back when you could still hang a phone up). "We immediately got signed and our first major tour was with Sugar Ray. We made our first record, Fush Yu Mang and after basically going number one overnight, we were thrust into the tour world, having never even been on tour before. Most bands go out and tour in vans for the first 5 or 10 years only dreaming of something better and right out of the gate we were on a million dollar tour bus. We got such a great record deal, we really could have gotten anything we wanted. 'Walkin On The Sun' was lighting up the charts going to number one so quickly it just opened the door."

It is often said everything from fashion to dance and yes, music is cyclical. What's old becomes new again, and it appears that the 90's are primed to make a resurgence, much like the wave of 80's nostalgia some time ago. "I can see the wave coming again, and that's why we put this summer's 'Under The Sun' tour together, because we all think it's time."

The tour will be packaged as a 90's extravaganza, with acts like Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Fastball, Vertical Horizon, SR-71 and others hitting over 40 markets. If the success of last year's 90's nostalgia Summerland Tour (which also included Sugar Ray) is to be any indication, the Under The Sun tour could be a smash-ing success (couldn't resist). "We'd love to do this every summer, with Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth headlining, and swapping out other great 90's acts to support us," Steve says.

While you still have your Biebers and Gaga's, nowadays multiplatinum artists are much less common, since the collapse of the traditional record industry and the rise of digital music. There are not many acts out there working the campus market who can be referred to as bona fide multiplatinum artists, but this is definitely one, ten times over, and that's albums not singles. "We been really fortunate to have had the success we have with our records, and we have become a go-to band for folks in the television and film industry. With record sales being the way they are now, the licensing side of things has been a real boon. Things have come back full circle to folks just buying singles online now, the world of whole album sales has all but disappeared."

Selling albums isn't the sole measurement of an act's success any more, but even dropping regular hit singles isn't what is truly keeping bands alive today - it's touring. Sure, the hits help, but just because acts like Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray aren't topping the charts with regularity any more doesn't mean the work they have done and success they have had has diminished their ability to please crowds, or support themselves. "I was just reading a great RollingStone.com article featuring Mark McGrath who talks about the haters out there, who call him washed up or whatever (http://bit.ly/mcgrathRS). Mark is totally fine with it. He wouldn't trade his success for the world and he's not going to stop because of what some petty people think. He's not sick of playing the same old songs because he should be proud of them, and we are too. We may not be playing a new hit every week, but when we go and play our songs crowds react like it's still the 90's, because the songs are so familiar to them."

Steve says the rules may have changed along the way with how bands make money, but the game is still the same. Make crowds happy. "My manager made a great point the other day. He said 'You know, back in the day you guys were selling so many records a week (in the hundred of thousands) that you weren't worried about what you made touring. You toured to promote.' And he's right, we didn't care about what money we were making on tour, we never even thought about it. It never even crossed my mind. It was all promotion for record sales and that's how things ran for years. Now, it's completely opposite. Bands have to rely on touring to pay the bills, so it has made a complete 360, and made every single live date that any band does that much more important. That is why we are so excited not only for this summer tour, but to get out there and play at colleges and other dates as well."

The band works often in the corporate market, performing arts centers, fairs and festivals and yes, of course, colleges. When it comes to putting on a show, this act knows how to handle different age groups, more or less conservative crowds and differing venues, but they always bring the same hits. Maybe if over 10,000,000 records sold doesn't convince you they can pack your house, because that is grandpa's old measuring stick, upwards of 50,000,000 YouTube hits should (http://www.youtube.com/user/SmashMouthVEVO).

BOOK IT: For more information on this iconic 90's band, contact Brian Swanson at Monterey International at 312-640-7500 or brian@montereyinternational.net