Smash Mouth

SMASH MOUTH has been on the road for so it’s amazing that frontman Steve Harwell knows what city he’s in, let alone the time zone. It’s 9 a.m. and he’s refusing to leave his hotel bed in Seattle. “Who does interviews at 9 a.m.?,” he asks groggily. “I shouldn’t be awake, let alone trying to hold a conversation.”

Harwell deserves to sleep in. The band’s been out since July and is about to embark on its most frenzied schedule yet with concerts, a “Late Show with David Letterman” appearance, a trip to London and a video shoot. Then they join the U2 tour for a spell and wrap up the year with more headlining dates. “It’s the tour with 30 legs,” he said. “I keep growing more legs. My pants are really hard to put on.”

All that touring and a monster hit single, “Walking On The Sun,” has added up to a hit debut record and a growing fan base. In spite of the frenetic pace, Harwell and bandmates Greg Camp, guitar; Paul DeLisle, bass; and Kevin Coleman, drums, are holding up well. “It’s great, it’s fun as hell and we love doing this,” he said, sounding sincere if not awake.

The guys in Smash Mouth are not a bunch of neophyte musicians and their collective experience in the biz is helping them keep their heads on straight. The band has been together since 1994, but it wasn’t the first gig for any of the musicians. Harwell had been in a rap band and had a record deal with Scotti Bros., Coleman says he’s been in bands all his life, and Camp and DeLisle had both been playing professionally for years when they came together. “We live in San Jose,” said Harwell. “It’s not like we had anything better to do.”

According to some early interviews, Camp and DeLisle used to be afraid of Harwell. “That’s because they were big pussies when I met them,” said the burly singer. “They were scared of themselves. I’m not scary. I’m probably the easiest going guy you’ll ever meet. I wish they would have stayed scared. Now, Greg’s got so much edge, it’s sickening. I changed him too much. Now he’s just a punk.”

Harwell is an imposing figure, but in his defense, Smash Mouth fans insist he’s a sweetheart. There’s even a fan-maintained Web page on the Internet expounding on Harwell’s lovely disposition and the band’s genuine friendliness. “We save the intensity for the shows,” he said. “When it comes to fans, we’re just thankful. We want to treat them well and let them know how much they’re appreciated.”

Until a few month ago, most of Smash Mouth’s fans were in the vicinity of their home town. The band spent most of it time playing around the San Francisco Bay Area and recording demos in Camp’s apartment — something which led to his eviction. Harwell and Camp took the two-song demo to San Jose’s KOME-FM and the station wound up playing one of the tracks to death. Listeners were more than ready to buy a Smash Mouth record, but there wasn’t one to be had.

It was all the encouragement the band needed. Their first record, Fush Yu Mang, was recorded independently with the intent to shop it to the major labels. If there were no takers, fine; the band would release it without ’em.

Greg Camp

About a week after the album was finished, Harwell’s attorney set up some meetings for him with various A&R people in Los Angeles. “I dropped the record off to a friend at KROQ and that’s when all hell broke loose, said the singer. “A week later, I was in a meeting at Almo Sounds and we were listening to the record and my attorney calls. He says, ‘Hey, you better call your friend at KROQ.’ I thought it was a joke. I though he was trying to make a scene. It turned out that they were going to add ‘Walking On The Sun’ the next day.”

Harwell’s friend at KROQ called another friend at Interscope and that led to A&R exec Tom Whalley calling the band. “We met with him and the next day, we did the deal,” said Harwell, who knows a good thing when he sees one.

When he’s not doing radio and press and meeting every imaginable obligation that goes with a never ending tour, he’s tracking the business end of Smash Mouth. “I knew the ropes. I like the business end a lot. I like the talk of money. I check out Soundscan and all the charts, all the box office. Being in a band is like playing the stock market.”

Just like Wall Street, the music industry is unpredictable, but Harwell seems to enjoy that aspect as well. “I just want to keep going, see where it takes us,” he said. “Even though you try to plan you career, a lot of times you can’t. Mostly, I like the attention. I wouldn’t mind having that last awhile.” B