Hundreds of millions of views worldwide and concerts at biker parties: the strange case of Smash Mouth

A group with a song that, more than 20 years after its release, is still at the top of the lists of most listened to rock songs according to the Billboard list, with billions of reproductions on different platforms, resists the passage of time at biker parties or on club tours around Australia. the americans Smash-Mouth were omnipresent and have remained so thanks to all-starthree minutes of music that a significant portion of the planet’s inhabitants have heard at least once in their lives: the hyper-recognizable voice of Steve Harwell delivering the verses “Somebody once told me / the world is gonna roll me” It has been played in both family and adult movies, at sporting events, in advertisements, on television programs, in protests against inaction in the face of the climate crisis, on the radios of half the world and, in recent years, in an untraceable number of memes. and impossible to encrypt.

But for many people all-star is “the song of Shrek” (in fact, those memes can be considered an offshoot of the huge trolling culture that surrounds the movie of dreamworksa classic for the millennial and Z generations) and Smash Mouth, “the group of the song of Shrek”. The normal diagnosis would be that we are talking about a one hit wonder of a book, a group without fans known universally for a song or a very specific circumstance, something that hardly alleviates the fact that their next most popular song is also part of Shrek: the version of I’m a believer, by The Monkees, who recorded for the film. The irony is that, precisely, at the time, all-star It was the song that came to prove that Smash Mouth weren’t a one-hit band.

In the summer of 1997, 25 years ago, Smash Mouth released their debut album, Fush Yu Mang, a collection of themes in the orbit of the music scene in which they were framed, that of Californian punk. Of its 12 cuts, with some other access skaa single was pulled that quickly put them on the map: Walkin’ In The Sun, a catchy, psychedelic and, perhaps anachronistic, surprising mix of soul, funk and reggae that also stood out as a rarity not very representative of what, at the time, was the style of the group. “They achieved the dubious distinction of having a very, very successful record but also one of the most returned albums, because their single was so different from the rest. People bought it and didn’t understand anything.” producer Eric Valentine reflected in the magazine rolling stonewithin a 2019 report that commemorated 20 years since the publication of All Star.

That report, in which different members and collaborators of Smash Mouth participated, illustrated how all-stara song also unrelated to the group’s old ska-punk pedigree, had been a direct consequence of the popularity gained by Walkin’ In The Sun. The 1999 album on which it was included, Astro Lounge, abandoned the field of its predecessor album to satisfy those buyers who had been disappointed by the limited pop character of its proposal. With this hard production work, significant interference from Interscope Records and huge artistic concessions, the group defied the critics who had already hung the label of one hit wonder considering them incapable of replicating a song so far removed from what they were doing, they were given two cups with a second album celebrated transversely, which, in essence, refounded the band to the taste of all audiences. Also the child.

trapped in time

“Smash Mouth didn’t really sound like any of their late ’90s peers. They were quintessentially Californian, all good vibes, a party band with unexpected ’60s roots playing unabashed pop,” music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, publisher of AllMusic and collaborator of other specialized media such as Pitchfork or Consequence of Sound. For Erlewine, the “cheap, canned organ” heard on Walkin’ In The Sun or version of Can’t Get Enough of You, Babyfrom The Four Seasons, which included in Astro Loungeare an example of the inheritance in Smash Mouth of the so-called AM pop, the old radio formula, “a sound that crystallized in all-star”.

Smash Mouth, at the height of his fame, sharing an interview on Jay Leno’s show with Diane Keaton. It was February of the year 2000.NBC (NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via)

Something that also crystallized in all-star and on the disk Astro Lounge it was the defining image by which the group would be remembered. Smash Mouth were emblematic of youthful nonchalance, of frat parties and end-of-the-millennium adolescent hedonism: there was no or no significant message to be detected in their songs and, in contrast, they presented a euphorically simple universe, as they were in charge of illustrating video clips always set in festival settings or on yachts, with lots of attractive girls parading half-naked around musicians wearing brightly colored hairstyles. Between party and party, however, the group maintained their doubts and debates about the integrity of what they were doing.

all-star was in the crosshairs of Dreamworks for Shrek, an animated film that the group knew little about. It was childish, and that seemed to put a red line on them. “When you let your song into a family movie, you’re in the Disney world and out of the credibility world,” he argued. rolling stone guitarist Greg Camp, composer of all-star. Filmmakers Vicky Jenson and Andrew Adamson, however, assured them that, in keeping with the satire of the traditional fairy tale that Shrek, his idea was precisely to move away from the Disney style and approach independent cinema by way of rock. The previous viewings that the studio offered to Smash Mouth finished clearing up the doubts.

“Sometimes they hated making money, but they never hated spending it,” he declared about this episode to rolling stone their manager Robert Hayes, in Smash Mouth since 1996. According to Hayes, the band realized the intelligence of this move when they occurred the 9/11 attacks and his following songs, such as Pacific Coast PartySuddenly, they seemed to be born obsolete in a new United States with little desire to celebrate anything. “The party atmosphere that made Smash Mouth so endearing also doomed them to a particular trajectory. They did not care about progress, but living in the moment. Times change and you are playing the same thing in front of diminishing capacity”, analyzes Stephen Thomas Erlewine. The same time capsule that forever trapped the nu metal threatened to capture Smash Mouth. Nevertheless, all-star Y Shrek a purgatory of their own had been reserved for them.

Steven Harwell, the controversial frontman of Smash Mouth, during a concert at Coney Island in 2018.
Steven Harwell, the controversial frontman of Smash Mouth, during a concert at Coney Island in 2018.Bobby Bank (Getty Images)

In free fall

In an episode of the Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtthe character of Titus, a professional actor and singer, is hired by a far-right conspiracy theorist to record a song: Boobs in California. The lyrics, in addition to dealing with exactly what the title announces, glosses the benefits of life in California, such as “listening to Smash Mouth on the radio”, to claim the lost Arcadia of its author, the old form of macho fun, heterocentric and depoliticized that the conspiranoid misses. When that chapter was broadcast, Smash Mouth had not yet given what would be, fatefully, his most mediatic concert in many years: the one they offered at a biker convention in South Dakota on August 9, 2020, contravening all health recommendations due to the delicate situation of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

After the show, in which vocalist Steve Harwell launched several invectives against “the covid shit”, the authorities came to connect up to 250,000 cases of infection with the thousand people who attended. Some old fans outraged with Smash Mouth even uploaded photos of their destroyed records, which the group shared on networks in an ironic way, although with hardly any people laughing at them.

In the previous years, Smash Mouth had already been completely destroyed by the tsunami Shrek. “All of a sudden, we had people dressing us up, doing our makeup, taking us to fancy award shows and stuff like that. We couldn’t swear anymore, or drink, or smoke,” guitarist Greg Camp told rolling stone. Camp left the group in 2009 and the band, despite having lost its main songwriter, continued to live a paradoxical downward spiral: each time they performed on worse stages, while, with the change of the decade, all-star became popular again by memes. Among them, the work of the youtuber Jon Sudano, who established as a comic routine that of recording himself in front of the computer singing and fitting the lyrics of the song with extreme seriousness on the basis of other themes, such as Bring me to life, by Evanescence, or Hello, of Adele. Currently, Sudano has more than a million subscribers on his channel.

In the recordings of Smash Mouth concerts from the 2010s hosted on YouTube, however, it can be seen how the group capitalizes rather little on that renewed fame, performing, above all, at what seem like block parties before modest audiences. . A chronicle of a concert of the band in Milwaukee in 2015, published by the page Milwaukee Record, points out how all members of the public seem to be there to enjoy it in an ironic way. “A lot of people showed up wearing Shrek ears. One person managed to send a floating human-scale Shrek doll to the stage, which Steve Harwell signed and sent back to the crowd,” he describes.

However, the worst-press concert in Smash Mouth history would come in October 2021, in New York, when Harwell threatened members of the audience to murder his family, for reasons unknown, and performed on stage what appeared to be Nazi salute. The concert, which some attendees described as “the most chaotic” they had seen, was the singer’s last before his departure to recover from problems that a spokesman described as “physical and mental” and “the different types of addiction” that has suffered over the years.

Far from the band’s continuity being in doubt, Smash Mouth have moved on with bassist Paul de Lisle as the last original member. In Harwell’s place is now a new singer, Zach Goode, whose recording debut was a cover of Never Gonna Give You Upby Rick Astley, which the band defended in an interview on Variety as “the clash between the two biggest memes in the world”, in an attempt to embrace the fame to which the networks have relegated them.

In YouTube comments to the new release, many fans express surprise at Goode’s strong vocal resemblance to Harwell, saying they wouldn’t have noticed if they hadn’t known he was someone else. A gigantic Smash Mouth concert at the Corona Capital festival in Guadalajara (Mexico), with 50,000 dedicated people and a very refined sound, as can be seen in the videos of the performance, has served as a forceful opening to this new stage. “Even without its two key members, the Smash Mouth brand is more recognizable than its names.

People remember All Star, not the quintet. That’s ideal for a new incarnation to continue touring for an indefinite period of time.” There will be those who want to question many of Smash Mouth’s decisions, but, if the chorus of his immortal song encouraged “to continue with the Show and collect”, no one can accuse them of not applying the story.

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Hundreds of millions of views worldwide and concerts at biker parties: the strange case of Smash Mouth