'Old Habits' die hard for Smash Mouth

Everybody sing along: Hey now, you're a cash cow, get your game on, get paid.

OK, that was a shameless mangling of Smash Mouth's biggest hit, "All-Star." You have to admit, though, for a band with only a handful of chart busters, they've had huge exposure - thanks to commercials, TV shows and movies.


"We are probably one of the most licensed bands out there for movies and TV shows," admits lead singer Steve Harwell.

As you might expect, people ask Harwell if the band has sold out. But before you get too judgmental, ask yourself: Would I turn down free money?


The Who, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin sure haven't.

"I don't believe anyone's selling out," said Harwell.

"I got into this business to entertain and, of course, make a living from it and to be able to have our music heard in whatever way."

In addition to the money - some bands earn more through licensing than album sales, he said - there's also another edge: It keeps your band in the public eye.

Smash Mouth songs have been featured in commercials by Jeep, Nissan and Buick, and they appear on numerous soundtracks, including Shrek, Me Myself & Irene, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Cat in the Hat and The Grinch, to name a few.

Though the band has been quiet for a couple of years, it hopes to renew its exposure with a greatest hits album next month and a new studio album, Old Habits, planned for release this winter.

The ska-punk-retro rock band from San Jose, Calif., formed in 1994. Initially rejected by several labels, members took matters into their own hands, pitching the group's demos to radio DJs. Soon their single, "Walking on the Sun" - a boppy song reminiscent of the frat party hits of the '60s - was a hit.

"Every label was scrambling to find us," Harwell said.


Somehow Interscope execs found them in a hotel - even though they hadn't told anyone where they were - and the band was quickly signed.

Pegged as potential one-hit wonders, their first album (1997's Fush Yu Mang) also featured a successful cover of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Their next CD featured the ubiquitous "All-Star," with that infectious refrain: "Hey now, you're an all-star, get your game on, go play."

As soon as the song was recorded, Harwell said, the band knew it was gold.

"We were going, 'Gatorade, football, baseball, basketball - this song's going to be everywhere.'"

Because all-stars are associated with sports, the song was played in arenas and stadiums everywhere. Fittingly, Smash Mouth was asked to perform it at both the NBA and Major League All-Star games.

After "All Star" cooled off, the band, now fully ensconced as a fun, summertime party group, scored another hit when they were asked to do a cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer" for the movie Shrek.


Later Smash Mouth albums were well-received, but were no pop chart all-stars. Now on the road, the band is hoping for another long ball.

It's finished recording Old Habits, which Harwell describes as more of a rocking, garage-band collection. And the band plans to reunite with its old producer next spring for an album that Harwell promised to be more like Fush Yu Mang.

In addition to original material, Smash Mouth has already recorded two covers - "Centerfold" by the J. Geils Band and "Don't You (Forget About Me)," the Simple Minds hit.

If history repeats itself, additional movie and TV exposure could be forthcoming.

While airplay has been good to the band in the past, Smash Mouth has learned to be more selective. For example, don't expect to see them return to the Kid's Choice Awards.

"Being a guy with tattoos, 38 years old and thought of as a punk rocker, to end up on Nickelodeon is kind of weird," he said. "Everybody's got kids and families - it's all good. But I think there comes a time where you say, 'Is this what we want or is this what everybody else wants?'"