Smash Mouth - Interview with Greg Camp

Chart-toppers Smash Mouth are riding high right now, but it hasn't all been gravy. The San Jose, California quartet have been called one hit wonders, punk wannabes, and hometown losers in their quest for pop supremacy. Even after the success of the retro hit "Walking On the Sun," a Kinks-style slab of Farfisa organ-drenched surf-band schmaltz(from the band's 1997 debut album Fush You Mang) , the band still took mega-heat from critics and pinhead punkers hoping to quell Smash Mouth's apparent overnight triumph.

But with Astro Lounge, Smash Mouth not only scored more hits, but made an album that solidified their status as a new pop force. Gone is the simplistic punk-ska purism of their debut album, replaced by songs that run the artistic gamut; there are epic ballads ("Waste"), pummeling power pop ("Who's There"), retro lounge romps ("Diggin Your Scene," "Then The Morning Comes"), rambunctious rock ("All Star"), kitsch Tiki music ("Satellite"), new wave ("Radio," "Come On Come On" ), and doped-up Brit-centric dub ("Home").

Smash Mouth songwriter/guitarist Greg Camp still nurses a love for Eddie Van Halen and Jose Feliciano, two guitarists suitably eclectic for his far-ranging tastes. A crafty, sure-fingered player who seems to breeze through styles, Camp claims he's no whizz kid. Instead, he's a product of hard work, clean living, and an open mind.

But one thing he's not open about is the possibility that Smash Mouth won't be around for years to come. They have stayed the course and kept the faith. Now Smash Mouth are reaping the rewards and laughing at the naysayers. They are the sharpest tools in the shed, after all. Astro Lounge is a real songwriting triumph. Was that a goal, to write solid songs as well as songs that would appeal to a mass audience?

Camp: Of course. Before, the media was calling us the one-hit-wonders. And we were determined to prove them wrong. Once we actually wrote all the songs, we wrote the one that would sell the record. That is when we sat down and wrote "All Star" and "Then The Morning Comes." Those were the last songs we wrote for the album. We really had radio in mind. We wanted another number one song. Even though "Can't Get Enough Of You" charted, it didn't go to number one, so the critics said we were just one hit wonders. So we set out to prove them wrong. Astro Lounge covers so many styles and sounds. Are too many bands today afraid of the kind of melody and sentiment that you create in a song like "Waste"?

Camp: One of my punk-rock friends had just broken up with his girlfriend right when I had demoed that song. I played it for him and he started crying and told me to turn it off. He couldn't handle it. If I can make one of my toughest friends cry that is pretty cool. Why is that kind of song a rarity now?

Camp: People are into metal-rap now and screaming their heads off and bashing the fuck out of their instruments. That is what kids want to hear. We're into that kind of music too, we just don't play it. When we all put our two cents in you get that Smash Mouth sound. I have never been afraid to write pop music. A lot of people are afraid of that. They want to keep their credibility and they want to yell. They are selling records, but they don't have number one songs. We have more staying power than a lot of these bands. We are doing our own thing, we're not doing the flavor of the month. I hear XTC, Madness and Elvis Costello in your sound. But what are the more esoteric influences?

Camp: Lee Scratch Perry, Bunny Wailer, the Ventures, Dick Dale, Tornados, Phil Spector, Billie Holiday, all kinds of weird stuff. It sounds like you have always had faith in the ability of your band.

Camp: Yeah, people were saying that we were punk posers, but at the same time we didn't play punk rock. We didn't conform to that whole thing, which makes the ones calling us the posers the real punk posers. We have always had a lot of confidence in the songs. We did it all by ourselves. We didn't have a fan base. Nobody liked us in San Jose. We just completely said, "Fuck everybody" and did it anyway. It's pretty cool. What do you think is your best song?

Camp: "Waste" is it. I think the best songs are always written within a half- hour. Just simple chords, not a whole lot of words, just to the point and a hook. In the history of the songs I write, the best ones seem to be the ones that take no time at all. "All Star" was quick. "Walking On The Sun" was quick. "Waste" was written in almost in three-and-a-half-minutes. Where does all the lounge stuff from?

Camp: I have a really big record collection with Martin Denny, Esquivel. I love these old cheese-ball, futuristic space-age guys. It's really funny to me. Being on the road, people throw these mix tapes at me. I don't know the names of these artists but I love all that stuff What else do you like that people might not expect?

Camp: I really like Jose Feliciano. That was one of my first concerts. Then I got into Andre Segovia. I liked that Feliciano was blind and a great songwriter and he could play that flamenco style and he had a pop sensibility. I loved that "Chico And The Man" song, too. Why did you sell "All Star" for a Gatorade ad before the album was even off the charts?

Camp: The song was written for kids, so when we saw the commercial and how determined the kids in it looked, we thought it sent the message even further into people's brains. It's not like we are selling ourselves out or anything. It turned out to drive that idea home. We were always told that we would fail. A lot of kids who write us letters are cheered up by the song and they really relate to it. The song is saying that we went through the same things. Some of our parents said that we need something to fall back on and it's one in a million that we can make it in the music business. You have to settle for desk job. We still hear it. So that song is a daily affirmation for everybody.

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