Smash Mouth in Sac Town – Q&A

It’s been almost 20 years since Smash Mouth’s ear worms worked their way to the airwaves, but with all the Shrek and “All Star” memes circling the web today, it barely feels like they left. And honestly, they haven’t. The San Jose band of dudes known in recent years for eating lots of eggs and bantering about cunnilingus on Twitter comes to Sacramento Saturday, July 22, as the headliner for the California State Fair. Speaking of Twitter, we ended up chatting with the band on there after a local comedian wrote a surreal indictment on their hit “All Star,” which eventually landed us on the phone with keyboard player Michael Klooster. Born and raised in Stockton, CA, Klooster is no stranger to the City of Trees. We got him on the line before the show to discuss fractals, ogres, Brooklyn hipsters and the seismic impact of “All Star” on the American psyche.

VOICES:River City: What are you guys up to these days? Did I read something about an acoustic iteration of Fush Yu Mang?

Michael Klooster: Yes. I would call it semi-acoustic. Actually finishing it up right now, and it’s really cool.

V:RC: Let’s talk about “All Star.” You enjoyed a good amount of fame with “Walking on the Sun,” and that had sort of a—man, how do you even put a genre to that?

MK: I always trip on that tune, too. It’s sort of almost genre-less. It’s doesn’t sound like anything else. You go, Doors, Santana, at least at the beginning, but this one—it’s weird.

I’ll tell you a cool story. So, my role expanded obviously on the second record where we took the concept of “Walking on the Sun,” 60’s retro and things that we liked, and expanded it into a full record. [Former guitarist] Greg [Camp] wrote everything for the most part.

So the record was pretty much complete. We felt it was complete. And we had this song called “Digging your Scene” that seemed like it was really strong and the label just kind of was like, “We don’t really hear a single.” And this is Greg’s first go-around on a second album, so he was pretty upset about it.

But he went out and was like, “Oh, I’ll fucking write a hit,” and basically I remember him saying that he listened to a ton of stuff that was happening and copied little things about their structure, the types of things they were saying. So I guess that’s why it has that genre-less sound, because it’s hodgepodge from so many little things. It just sort of sounds unique.

But I remember he called me. He wrote two more songs from this “we don’t hear a single” [label response]: He wrote “All Star” and “Then the Morning Comes.” I remember talking to him, he goes, “Yeah, I wrote two more songs. There’s one I really like. One I kind of hate, but I think it’s gonna work.” And that was “All Star.”

V:RC: Do you feel like “All Star” dictated the band’s direction more than you’d expected?

MK: I kind of think that “Walking on the Sun” was the thing that kick-started the direction. After that, if you really think about it, the next record was sort of the same thing, a bunch of 60’s retro stuff. Maybe a little different style and some different ideas that we tried, but I really think “Walking on the Sun” set the tone, and I think “All Star” was the song that just put us on the map. It’s a huge hit.

I’ve been hearing, right now, all these hipsters in New York—your 25-year-old, 23-year-old—the super hipster bars in Brooklyn, when “All Star” comes on the place goes berserk. They’re literally those Shrek kids.

V:RC: That’s it right there.

MK: It’s crazy, man. I mean, we all understood that we had a big hit, but I don’t think that any of us could have imagined the social impact that “All Star” seems to have had. And it’s not a political song, [not] like it meant so much in people’s lives. It just permeated everybody’s musical experience. Especially those kids at that age.

Smash Mouth’s “All Star” is the opening number in the hit film Shrek. [Photo: Open source image.]

V:RC: You guys basically introduced Shrek to America. It’s the first two minutes of that first movie.

MK: Yep. I’ve got another story for that. That was after “All Star” had been a hit for a long time. We were actually working on a third record. It was my last day there, and [producer] Eric [Valentine] is like, “We have one more song to play. This company would like us to play “I’m a Believer” as a cover.” And he showed me this film. But it was pre-completion, so basically all the characters were just blobs, and they had some voices. It was in the process of being made but it didn’t have the clarity of the face or anything. It was just weird.

So I go play this song. And while we’re working, Eric gets a phone call, and he’s talking to somebody that works on the film, and from my line I hear him go, “Oh okay you want to use “All Star.” You do realize that that song has been licensed over 50 times.” He stalls and goes, “Okay.”

That was an insane moment. They were taking a song that had already been used for everything.

V:RC: There’s been this huge sort of meme-ification of the song. You go to YouTube and type in “All Star but” and people have made thousands of iterations of this song that are hilarious and weird. And it’s sort of taken on this embodiment of its own. Have you checked that out?

MK: Yes, I’ve checked out a million of them. My current favorite one is, they used it to show fractals. Like a math sequence where they actually could show that the first five notes of “All Star” can be repeated in a way that it plays the first five notes of “All Star.” You’d have to watch it.

V:RC: Let’s say each band member is a character from Shrek. Who is who?

MK: [Laughs] Wow. Well, I guess [singer] Steve [Harwell] would be Shrek. [Bass player] Paul [De Lisle] would definitely be the donkey. I’m trying to think who would be the others. It’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie.

V:RC: Well of course there’s Fiona. There’s that evil sort of king dude. There’s the Gingerbread Man.

MK: Oh yeah, the Gingerbread Man, that’s right. That’s probably me.

V:RC: How many more do we need?

MK: Two more. There’s the guitar player Randy Cooke. And there’s the guitar player Sam Eigen. [Sighs] Yeah, I don’t know. Dude, I haven’t seen that movie in fuckin’— Sorry, man.

V:RC: No, I think that’s a great response. So Greg left the band like 10 years ago?

MK: I think it’s closer to 8, but he’s still around. For instance, he’s still playing on this acoustic record. Me and Greg lived really close together [in L.A.] and we produced bands together and we write songs. And he’s still involved with the band. Everything is cool, but he’s just not doing the touring.

V:RC: What about the kinds of crowds you pull? What is the face of the Smash Mouth crowd? You’ve been around for 20 years now, so you’ve got to cover the spectrum.

MK: It all comes back to all that “All Star” stuff. But we’ve always been a very mixed crowd. When we were hot, we used to get letters sent in, and a preponderance of them were these letters saying, “I’m 13, and your music is the only music that me and my parents can relate together with. They hate everything else I’m listening to.” But for some reason it’s got universal groove. We’ve always been this band that had older people that loved kind of retro sounds, down to really young people. We were a lot of people’s first concerts.

V:RC: Is there a Smash Mouth deep cut that you really wish the world knew about? A track that nobody really knows?

MK: There’s a lot. “Waste” is one of them, even though it was kind of on the radio for a second. “Waste” in itself, is just one of the fucking baddest songs ever. I really love that song. There’s a bunch of stuff on the third record that never got quite as noticed that’s really great. “Disenchanted.” “Home.” I’m a Greg Camp fan, man. He writes really cool songs.

This interview was edited for clarity and space. Find out more about Smash Mouth’s California State Fair performance here.

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Dave Kempa
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.