SMASH MOUTH: MORE HITS ON THE MENU

By Paul Freeman [June 2011 Interview]

San Joseís Smash Mouth has enjoyed spectacular success, soaring up the charts with such songs as ďWalkiní On The Sun,Ē ďAll Star,Ē ďWhy Canít We Be Friends,Ē ďCanít Get Enough of You BabyĒ and ďIím A Believer.Ē Their music has also be featured in numerous movies, including ďShrek,Ē ďJungle Book 2,Ē and ďCat in the HatĒ and ďRat Race.Ē

But the bandís front man, Steve Harwell, definitely isnít resting on his laurels. He has not one, but two albums in the pipeline. Heís also working on a cookbook and planning a new TV project.

Heís excited about the new songs, which will be featured on the next Smash Mouth album. Harwell is currently collaborating with new guitarist Michael Krompass (who produced Nelly Furtado) and Shelly Peiken (who has written for Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears)

Krompass joins new drummer Randy Cooke, along with keyboardist Michael Klooster and founding member Paul De Lisle on bass

Original songwriter/guitarist Greg Camp left the band in 2008, released a solo album, then returned to Smash Mouth, but left again this past March.

Harwell lived in Nashville for a while, recording a country album that should be released this fall. He has returned to the Bay Area, for the time being. He affably chatted with Pop Culture Classics.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
Is there a tentative release date for the new Smash Mouth album?

STEVE HARWELL:
Well, you know what? There was, right around mid-July. But we went back and started working with a lady named Shelly Peiken and my new guitar player, Michael Krompass, whoís produced for Nelly Furtado, a bunch of people. Shellyís written for Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, anybody you can think of, from rock to hardcore to rap to everything. Sheís just an amazing writer.

So her and I and Michael, I met her through Michael, and we just clicked and weíve been writing like crazy. So we just kind of put the breaks on the record and said, ĎYou know what? Everythingís just getting better and better.í Weíve already got four brand new, incredible tracks that weíre super-excited about. Three of them are finished, mixed. Michaelís in Nashville, finishing up the last one. Itís probably going to be the first single. Itís called, ĎSheís Into Me.í Itís a no-brainer to me. Kind of like a Smash Mouth meets Uncle Kracker, that ĎSmileí song. Itís just really fun. And itís kind of tailor-made. We basically about an ex-girlfriend of mine, that I just recently broke up with. Those make the best records. So weíre really happy with it.

And we have another song on there called, ĎBetter With Time.í And another song, which is the title track to the record, called, ĎPerfect Planet,í which is really fun. And then we did this really funny spoof track, called ĎJustin Bieber.í What itís basically about is kind of like, ĎWhere are they going to be 10 years from now?í So we kind of do all the clichťs. Itís a fun track, really upbeat, super Smash Mouth. Everybodyís just gluiní to all this new stuff. So Iím just like, ĎYou know what?í I donít think weíre done yet.í Because I want to put a record out that I know is going to work. And do well. Because you only get so many shots.

PCC:
Is this new record going to be a return to the classic Smash Mouth sound?

HARWELL:
Some classic stuff, but itís a little more current. I kind of felt like our stuff was getting a little bit repetitive, on the writing side. We just kind of wanted to get a little more fun, a little more current, basically, just kind of study whatís going on out there right now. But it still has the Smash Mouth sound, of course. You canít get away from that. But thereís a little more current sound to it, which I like. And Iíve got to give credit to Michael, our guitar player, on that, because Michaelís produced Nelly Furtado, like I said. Heís produced so many other bands and toured with everybody from Britney and everybody else. And thatís kind of what he was - the producer/songwriter, kind of hired gun tour guy for a lot of the big bands. So I decided to bring him in as an actual band member, along with our new drummer, Randy Cooke. So now Iíve got three Canadians in my band, go figure.

But itís great. The chemistryís incredible. To have guys that really want to get in there and work and write and make music. And they just want to get out there and do it. Kind of for them, itís a dream come true, to be really actually in a band, solid, a band thatís done well for themselves. Weíve built kind of a brand over the years. So itís just time to get it right back on top. Thatís my whole goal.

PCC:
It sounds like a real positive thing with the new blood coming in, but was a difficult to deal with Greg Campís re-departure?

HARWELL:
No, actually, honestly, no. I loved him like a brother. And I wonít ever say anything bad about him. Itís just, it got to the point where Greg-O, heís got a family, heís got three kids now, and Iím not sure how much he wanted to tour. Iím not sure if he wanted to go out and try his own thing again. And just write. And maybe enjoy his family or whatever. Greg is always going to have an open door policy with me, over the years. Itíll come back around. Maybe not this year, next year, maybe five, six years from now. But Iím very, very happy with Michael. Heís become one of my really close friends. I wouldnít trade him for the world. I think heís just as talented, if not more, in different ways. Greg has his strengths. Michael has his strengths.

To me, what Michael really brings to the table is, heís a great producer. He can really produce records. And heís an accomplished songwriter. Heís an incredible guitar player. Heís got a great look. And heís just got an all-out great personality. He wants to work. And thatís what I was not getting after a while. It started getting to the point where, ĎI canít make that show, I canít do that.í Well, I canít do that. I donít want the revolving door. Thatís what I always tell people. I want a solid foundation, like weíve had for years. And I want to get back to that. And Iím personally happier than ever, having this around me. It just makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, instead of getting out of bed, wondering whoís going to do what and whatís going to happen next. And all the he said, she said stuff. Itís unfortunate, because Iíve poured my heart and soul into this, as did Greg for years. And Paul and Michael, our keyboard player. But I think everybodyís entitled to take a break, if they want to take a break or try something different.

PCC:
In terms of not wanting to take a break, what keeps the fire going in you?

HARWELL:
Iím an entertainer. And I love to entertain. I love what I do. I donít get bored, I think, for me, itís easier, because I donít bring my work home with me. Greg gets off the road, goes home and gets right back in the studio. And I think that can actually burn you out. I think he gets more rest on the road than he does at home, to tell you the truth. But for me, Iím like a light switch. When I go on stage, the light goes on. When I get off, the light goes off and I leave that behind me and I go home and go back to Steveís world and just hang out with my friends that I grew up with and just enjoy life. I just got back from the cabin, going boating, and brought some real close friends of mine that I grew up with, and their kids, and just had a blast. And I donít even talk music. I mean, we listen to it, but I donít talk about music unless Iíve got something important to say and itís exciting.

And thatís why I took so much time off to make my country record, too. I took two years off to move to Nashville to start making that. Just finished that. Going to put that out probably later this year, around October or November. I just put the single out. So Iím real happy with that. Itís kind of uptempo, modern country stuff, kind of Kid Rock-ish meets Steve Harwell. Itís fun, in-your-face. But then thereís also some slower stuff on there. A lot of stuffís been going on. Iíve been staying busy, working.

PCC:
What prompted you to want to tackle a country project?

HARWELL:
You know, actually, it came up through Robert, my manager. We talked about it and talked about it. And we were actually on a break, because Greg had come back and we were doing shows and then he... we didnít know what was going on. We were having a little trouble getting music. He really wasnít in the mood or the mode or the head space to be writing. Iím not sure the exact answer to that one. But I was ready to go. So Robert goes, ĎGo make your country record. Youíve been wanting to do it.í So I moved to Nashville, made a ton of great friends in the business, some great people are guesting on my record. Just couldnít be happier.

And it was just really cool, to go there and realize how many country fans are Smash Mouth fans. So it was a little easier for me to get in the door over there. And just writing with songwriters that are just hit-making machines. So it was really exciting, because I never really claimed to be a songwriter. But always knew that I could, if I got around the right people. And now that Iíve been getting around all these people that Iím much more comfortable around, itís just been magical. Itís just been clicking. Shelley and Michael and I, we call ourselves the California dream team right now, weíre writing so much [Laughs].

PCC:
So you might continue with the country music? Itíll be a parallel life, alongside your Smash Mouth projects?

HARWELL:
For sure. I donít know who says you have to do just one thing. Youíve got your Darius - Heís still doing Hootie & The Blowfish and heís still doing country. Youíve got Kid Rock, whoís out there rappiní, but heís still also Hank Williams Jr. stuff. Countryís changing drastically. Thereís a lot more pop artists coming out of Nashville now, a lot of country artists writing for pop artists. Itís just really been fun.

A couple years ago, I did my first song, called ĎFake I.D.í and itís much more of a Steve Harwell type of an uptempo, fun song, wrote it with John Rich of Big & Rich and, lo and behold, my so-called buddy ended up snagging it from me. And just put it out as their first single. So Iím dealing with that right now. So it can be a little crooked out there. You do have to watch your back a lot, in certain ways, because it can be pretty cutthroat, too, at the same time. I do consider him my friend. Iím a little bummed. Iím not really pissed about it. After he had won the ĎCelebrity Apprentice,í his label came right back and said, ĎYou guys got to put a record out.í Not as John Rich, because heís already tried two solo records and itís failed. So him and Big Kenny, the other half, they kind of reconciled some of their differences and the demo that we had cut, already had John on it, because he sings on my version of it. So they just basically just took me off and put Big Kenny on it and also added Gretchen Wilson on there. Sheís kind of part of their crew.

So I was watching the CMT Awards a couple of weeks ago. I was in Nashville recording. And lo and behold, just before Iím walking out the door, I just clicked on the TV and here they are, opening up the awards with ĎFake I.D.í And I was just like, ĎOkay, I need a drink.í

PCC:
You hadnít had any warning about it from Rich?

HARWELL:
None. I actually heard it through a friend. A friend of mine called me, said, ĎDude, what the f--k is ĎFake I.D.í on the radio right now? John Rich from Big & Rich.í I said, ĎWhat!?í So I tried to contact John and his manager. He hasnít called me back yet. So Iím not sure what he has to say to me. It would have been nice for him to call me, man to man, and say, ĎHey, weíve go this opportunity, blah-blah-blah.í But Iím still putting it on my record. My version is 10 times better than theirs anyway, so Iím not worried about it.

PCC:
Thatís a good attitude. Have you had to put up with a lot of disillusioning kind of things along the course of the career, despite all the success?

HARWELL:
Yeah, I mean, it does happen. But the pop world, rock world, doesnít do what the country world does. The country world, in their minds, and I guess itís okay, they believe that hey, two people can put the same song out at the same time, on their records, and itís not going to hurt, itís only going to help. Iím having trouble seeing that, seeing the positive out of that, but hey, who am I to say? Iím new to their world and they donít live in my world. But more power to them.

PCC:
So now youíre back in San Jose?

HARWELL:
Yeah, I live on the border of Campbell and Los Gatos. Iíve got a great place. Iím really happy. Itís so great to be around all my friends, guys that I grew up with in elementary school, high school. I love Nashville, probably end up moving back there maybe in a year or two, maybe just part-time. I do have a lot of great friends there and do love it a lot. Itís a wonderful town and thereís a lot of wonderful people out there. Thereís only a couple of bad apples. For the most part, everybodyís just super gracious, open arms. And they love to party [Laughs]

PCC:
Who were the recording artists who inspired you to start out in music?

HARWELL:
For me personally, it sounds kind of kooky, but I was kind of the outcast in the family. I was the only kind of semi-musician in the family. And from growing up watching Elvis Presley and watching David Lee Roth. Thatís the day I said, ĎI want to do this. I can do this.í And Iíve always had kind of a quirky side, kind of a jokester, comedic side to me. And always like being the center of attention. And I just love entertaining. I love to be able to go out and control a situation, like a crowd. I love to entertain. I love to see people smile and dance and have a good time. And, if I can get them to take something home, after coming to see us, then Iíve done my job.

Going to concerts as a kid, I always fantasized about being that guy. And, lo and behold, pretty soon, youíre meeting the guy that you wanted to be. To be able to meet David Lee Roth, and to actually be friends with some of the guys, like the Sammy Hagars of the world, a lot of these rockers, a Scott Weiland, who I think is one of the best front men ever. Super rock star. Just to be able to have friends like that and to be able to know you can say you know them and can pick up your phone anytime and call them and vice versa, itís just a dream come true.

I mean, if I wasnít doing this, Iíd be building hot rods. Iíd be building bikes and hot rods, and probably be just as happy in some ways.

PCC:
But the rock stardom, was it pretty much as expected? How did it live up to the fantasies?

HARWELL:
I donít consider myself a rock star. And I donít ever call myself a rock star. A lot of people expect that from you when they talk to you. I get that a million times when, say, Iím in an airport, walking by and somebody comes up and stops you, theyíre kind of shaking a little bit, because they donít know what to say. And Iím just like, ĎHey, itís all good, man!í And then, pretty soon, Iím having a beer with them at a bar and theyíre looking at me like going, ĎDude, why are you so cool? How come youíre not being a dick?í And then I say, ĎWell, you want me to be a dick?í [Laughs] Thatís not really who I am.

The problem is, there are a lot of artists out there who want you to feel like theyíre better than you. They want you to fee like, when they walk in the room, theyíre untouchable and they get off on that. But thatís not me. I want my fans to go home and say, ĎThat is the coolest guy in the world. Heís just an average dude.í

A typical example -Bob, Kid Rock. You go hang out with him at a bar. Nobody f--ks with him. Everybody in Nashville knows everybody, because a lot of the celebrity country singers, people go out all the time. And itís just like he just came out of your next-door neighborís house or whatever and you guys are going to go jump on your bikes and go do something. But heís just Bob. I call him Bob. Thatís his name. I just go, ĎHey Bob, what are you doiní?í ĎHey, Steve, whatís going on? Letís go hang out.í Heís just a really mellow guy. He didnít forget where he came from. He loves where he came from. And heís a really down to Earth guy. Thatís why heís so liked. Thatís why people like him. Thatís why heís so connected with his fans, because they know he is touchable. And he is going to have a conversation with you and heís not going to just say, ĎOh, not now, kid.í Heíll sit there and stop and have a half-hour conversation.

You know, Billy Gibbons... I did a show with ZZ Top a couple of years ago. And I shit you not, it was after the show - we opened up for them - and all the other guys disappeared. Billy Gibbons stood out there four hours. Four frickiní hours, until the very last person left - pictures and signing. I just looked at him and went, ĎThatís why this guy is always going to have fans. Thatís a true dude right there.í So I take notes from that. I look at my band and go, ĎTake some notes from this right here. This is a guy that really cares about his fans.í

PCC:
Having that kind of humble attitude, was it surreal when you started hearing your music in movie soundtracks?

HARWELL:
Itís very surreal, especially when you walk into a Chiliís and itís like ĎCue the music!í You now? I mean, I walk into malls and all of a sudden, itís like, ĎOkay, in five, four... cue the music!í You know? [Laughs]. Itís classic, man. Itís like, ĎOh, God, here we go.í

PCC:
ĎShrek,í what kind of impact did that have on the band? Was it kind of a mixed blessing in some ways?

HARWELL:
It just catapulted us to a whole other realm. At the same time it kind of changes your sound a a little bit, because now people are going, ĎOh, theyíre more of a poppy, family bandí or whatever. But when you come to see us and you really know all of our records, we have such a diverse catalogue. Itís a fun set of songs to play. I mean, our music goes everywhere.

Ironically enough, I was at one of my best friendís parentsí house, visiting his father, whoís kind of ailing right now. We were sitting out front and my buddy Jeff, heís like my biggest fans and heís like one of my best friends. And he put his car stereo on and he has this list of all of his favorite Smash Mouth songs, covers that weíve done, that weíve never released. And I literally was sittiní back, going, ĎF--k, I forgot about that one.í ĎOh, forgot about that one!í I mean literally. And then when you look at the catalogue weíve created, itís not a small catalogue. I donít remember recording some of it [Laughs], but it came out good.

PCC:
So once you hit the top, is there any sense of being able to relax? Or is it just a constant pressure to maintain that level of success?

HARWELL:
I think everybody feels that. For the most part, you ask any entertainer and I donít think they can get enough of it. But I donít need it. I would be satisfied just moving to Mexico and just relaxing on the beach for the rest of my life or whatever. But I love to entertain. I love it. I love to get off the plane. I love when the lights go out. I still get nervous before every show. Steven Tyler said it best, on ĎLarry Kingí one night. He said, ĎThe day you donít get nervous before a show is the day you go home.í To this day, I still get butterflies right before we go on. I canít eat. I get really impatient. I start pacing. But then once the lights go out and the intro music kicks on, Iím just like, ĎOkay! Here we go!í

PCC:
Doing VH1ís ĎThe Surreal Life,í was that just another way of entertaining? Or were you hesitant to get into it?

HARWELL:
I was really hesitant. What happened with that - and this is really the truth - I turned it down four times. The only reason I took that show, first of all, they thought I was going to go and be some crazy, drunk wild man. I didnít even touch alcohol and I just flew under the radar and they actually hated me on the show, the producers. They had promised me my own pilot, for my own show. And then, because I didnít give them what they wanted, they backed out. They said there was a clause, this and that. It could have got ugly. Could have sued them. It wasnít the biggest mistake I ever made, but I should have never fell for it. They paid me a shitload of money to go on there and thatís fine. But it wasnít about the money. It was about me getting my own show. So I started to get legal with it and then Iím like, ĎYou know what? F--k you guys, man.í

PCC:
Not worth it?

HARWELL:
No, itís not. There are enough lawsuits.

PCC:
Is there another TV reality show in your future?

HARWELL:
Yeah. Right now, Iíve got a few things going. Partnered up with a couple friends of mine, Iíve got a new tequila coming out. Itís called Pedregal. Incredible tequila. Incredible marketing plans. Weíve already got tons of distribution. Everybodyís wanting to put it in their places. High end. Really nice stuff. Really excited about that.

And then we also have a cookbook, which we just finished. Itís called ĎSmash Mouth: Recipes From The Road.í Itís basically all my favorite chefs and restaurants around the country that weíve eaten at. And with every restaurant that we go to, there's always a funny story attached to it, somehow. So itís kind of a table book. Itís a good read. But it also has great recipes. Friends of mine like Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, Emeril, a lot of my friends that are chefs, along with just restaurant-owner chefs. Weíve got hundreds of recipes, drink recipes, stuff weíve created.

I also started, we just shot the pilot for, itís called, ĎRecipes From The Road.í Itís a TV show, where we take my bus, wrap it all up where itís got all the advertisement, all the sponsors, all the brought to you by, travel the country, play music, pop into restaurants. I go in. I cook with the chefs. Create new dishes. Feed everybody in the restaurant. Basically shut it down and just have a party. Impromptu concerts. Other celebrity guests come in, like if weíre in Nashville or somewhere else, bring a couple of people in to do some songs. Kind of like, letís say, ĎDiners, Drive-Ins and Dives meets Smash Mouth meets Extreme Home Makeover,í because weíre going to be doing a lot of charity work at the same time. If somebody needs something done, weíll go raise the money on the show. Proceeds from the book are going to go to charities. Childrenís hospitals, stuff like that. And itís just going to be a really fun trip. And just to see us pulling in randomly, weíre not going to tell people weíre coming. The owner might know, but they have to keep it on top secret. And then we just grab tons of people off the street, bring Ďem all in. Letís say itís a pizza joint or a Mexican joint or a frickiní whatever, barbecue place. Thereís so much fun stuff. Weíve been working hard on that.

PCC:
And youíre actually hands-on with the cooking?

HARWELL:
Oh, yeah. I love to cook. Love it. And the cool thing is, I pick up really quick. So if Iíve got a chef, if weíve got the same ingredients for both of us, Iím walking myself through, as they are, too And then we kind of have a little cook-off, see which one came out better. Itís really fun.

And itís not just about cooking. Itís about giving back to the people around you and letting the fans know that, hey, we can all hang out together. Weíre like the family band. Weíre going to do some impromptu stuff, where we show up at houses, throw massive barbecues, maybe put a barbecue station in the back yard for them and then throw a concert party, just random stuff like that. People send it letters. Maybe Iíll have Guy run out and make cameo appearances. Just really fun stuff. Kind of mix the rock Ďní roll with the cooking with kind of invasion [Laughs].

PCC:
So with all thatís gone on in the career, what have been the most satisfying aspects of the whole thing? And what have been the most challenging parts of the career?

HARWELL:
I think the most challenging part in my career is just growing together as a band. The most challenging part of keeping a band together is communication. Once you start losing communication, everything else starts to kind of crumble. There has to be a team leader. Sometimes you get to where everybody else wants to be the leader and thereís these little power trips going on. So itís a really fine line. I formed the band. I make most of the decisions. I prefer to. I feel like I make the right decisions, for the most part. A lot of times when you get everybody putting their opinions in - which I value - it can get a little bit crazy, actually. Just to put it simple.

That and also probably the hardest thing, just a divorce. Iíve been through a divorce. Gregís been through a divorce. Paulís been through a divorce. Divorce is the hardest thing, to have a relationship for so long, where you feel like that personís going to be with you forever. And one day you come home and catch them doing something they shouldnít be doing. And thatís what really tests your will as a person. Because, at that time, youíre like, ĎF--k it. I donít want to do this no more.í You know? But then something deep down inside of you keeps you going.

Music basically saved my life, after my son passed away [at age six months, of acute lymphatic leukemia, in 2001]. It was devastating. I didnít know if I was coming or going. I didnít know if I was going to make it through the night on certain nights. But my ex was like, ĎGet out there and go to work. Iíll be fine.í Her parents flew in. Her mother stayed with us for a long time. And I had my wife on the road a lot. So we worked together. I think we did a pretty good job. At the end of the day, did it cost me my marriage? No, I donít think it had anything to do with it. I think her and I just were kind of growing apart. But I wish the best for her. But music was literally what got me through, keeping my head on, instead of going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, you know?

PCC:
And the most satisfying aspects of the career?

HARWELL:
The most satisfying, to me, is just to be able to give back, to do something for somebody that maybe doesnít have something. For me, the most satisfying thing is to just see a smile on a kidís face. At the meet-and-greets, youíll meet kids that donít really have what the other kids have. And I always tend to pay a little more attention to them. Sort of make it their time. I like to see people have a good time. And, for me, it really is all about the kids. I love to see kids enjoy themselves and go home and remember something, when they grow up and go, ĎMan, I remember that guy brought me on stage. That was the coolest thing in my life.í Thatís the most gratifying thing. Record sales, yeah, thatís great. Success, thatís great. But I get it more on a deeper level, you know?

PCC:
What goals are yet to be fulfilled?

HARWELL:
I still want a family. I want to be a parent. I want to be married. Iím not really the single guy type. But that and really just to keep my career going. Iíd really like to have some country success. Iím really, really looking forward to this new Smash Mouth record having major success, because I have such great, new, committed band members that really want it. They want it as much as I wanted it, when I first started. That fireís just burning.

Iíve always got something to prove. But itís more to myself. I really donít need to prove anything to anybody else. Itís more of a personal thing.

For tour dates and other Smash Mouth news, go to www.smashmouth.com.