Interview: Steve Harwell

There have been many possible paths to Smash Mouth. Maybe you heard their groovy first hit “Walkin’ on the Sun” when it first came out in 1997. Or maybe you couldn’t avoid their infectious smash hit “All Star” a couple of years later. Or, if you’re younger or have children, maybe you were introduced to the band from the Shrek soundtrack which featured “All Star” and their cover of “I’m A Believer”. Or maybe you first heard about the band from the various Smash Mouth memes floating around the internet.

This interview with Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell was for a preview article for for Smash Mouth’s concert at the Ventura County Fair on 8/3/17. It was done by email, with answers received on 7/19/17. (Jay Blakesberg photo)

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming show in Ventura?

Steve Harwell: Same rockin’ party type show we always deliver. We’ll have more friends at this show because it’s So-Cal.

JM: From your perspective as a Northern Californian, what’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about Southern California?

SH: So-Cal is funny because I usually dread going there because of the traffic, etc, but once I’m there I love it. It’s basically an Amusement Park for people in the entertainment business.

JM: The first Smash Mouth album just turned 20 years old. What are your reflections on that album?

SH: How young & fresh we were, and how everything was so fucking exciting because everything was new to us. The unknown is probably what brought the most excitement, but at the same time some angst. We were able to work with Super Producer Eric Valentine and he has a sense of calmness around him that really helped. Everything was in front of us and we really had no idea how well it would be received.

JM: I understand that an acoustic version of that album is in the works. Can you tell us a bit about that?

SH: For our 20 Year Anniversary we decided to record an Alt-Version of our debut Fush Yu Mang. It’s mostly acoustic but it has electro elements, too. Everything is done except I have three more songs to track vocals on. All the songs sound amazing – we have breathed new fresh life in these 20 year old songs I think fans will dig. Of course our best and one of the most well-known songs around is on there (“Walkin’ On The Sun”).

JM: How did the song “All Star” come together?

SH: It came time for our sophomore LP and the record label was itching for another blockbuster hit like “Walkin’ On The Sun”. We kept turning in songs and Jimmy
Iovine, then at Interscope Records, kept telling us he doesn’t hear a hit. It was getting super frustrating but this was coming from Jimmy, the guy who produced John Lennon. We wanted to say “What do you know?”, but that was kind of difficult – ha ha!

Our main writer Greg Camp wrote “All Star” almost as a joke. It was, “OK, you want a #1 pop song, here you go.” Heck, Greg sat on it for two days before he let anyone hear it because he wasn’t sure if it was brilliant or horrible. It def did not sound like anything else on the radio at the time. But our manager loved it and so did Jimmy. Boom, we had a hit!

JM: “All Star” has popped up in a bunch of places, including at the end of the movie Rat Race. Was that as much fun to film as it looks?

SH: Rat Race was nuts because for the first time we had to deal with a movie shoot schedule and a dickhead Director. We realized later he had to be a jerkoff, but it got tense at times. We were also much younger and less sober at the time – ha ha! We got to hang with Jennifer Love Hewitt, so that was rad.

JM: Smash Mouth’s early albums were produced by Eric Valentine. What influence did he have on the band and its sound?

SH: Eric was able to take what we did and really hone in the style we were shooting for. And he had already produced songs that became successful, so we trusted his ears. We haven’t found a producer since even close. His temperament appears soft, but with some quick subtle words he was able to get us to do what he wanted. There was so much respect involved we NEVER questioned anything he suggested. He was actually our keyboard player before he brought aboard Michael [Klooster].

JM: How did the band get the gig to record “I’m A Believer” for the Shrek soundtrack?

SH: The reason the Dreamworks people contacted us was for us to cover “I’m A Believer” for the film. When we went to view Shrek without any music laid down, they asked us for “All Star”, too. We were like, “Sure, but it’s already been in a handful of movies. Ya still want it?” They said yes. We then learned later it would be in the opening scene. The song already made us a ton of revenue, then Shrek gave it a resurgence.

JM: What are your feelings on the band being so closely associated with Shrek?

SH: We thought it was a bit odd initially, but since then we have fully embraced it because we now have kids who watch Shrek.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

SH: Much different today then when we came up. We had ZERO access to the music industry, radio etc,… Now artists can pretty much do everything themselves.

I’d say don’t even focus on managers or labels. Focus on your songs and creating something super special people will gravitate towards. Nobody in this biz has a magic wand. It’s either amazing or it’s not.

Make sure you work on your craft every single day. But also know you MUST make $ so you have to focus on a career outside of music, too. You basically have to be Super Human to pull it off, and passion should fuel that. If the passion isn’t there it won’t work.

JM: Besides the acoustic album, what are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

SH: We have a few singles we’re working on right now with our original guitarist and the man who wrote “Walkin'” & “All Star”, Greg Camp. Everything is sounding awesome!


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