Smash Mouth’s “All Star” has followed you incessantly for the last two decades. If you’re under the age of 30, it’s a part of the fabric of your life as much as it’s a strand of the DNA that keeps the internet funny and weird. But before “All Star” was an inescapable hit, or the anthem for a misanthropic, titular green ogre in Dreamworks’ mega-hit Shrek, or the inspiration for countless memes on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and TikTok today, it began as a chance for Smash Mouth to prove themselves.
The band began in the mid-Nineties, born out of singer Steve Harwell’s growing fatigue with his rap group F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech). The members were brought together by manager Robert Hayes, who introduced Harwell and the group’s now-former drummer Kevin Coleman to guitarist Greg Camp and bassist Paul De Lisle, who were members of the hip-hop/punk band Lackadaddy, which Hayes managed. Their sound initially reflected the ska-punk of the San Jose scene at the time, but the band’s debut album Fush Yu Mang had one notable exception: the glossy, retro-pop hit “Walkin’ on the Sun.” The third song on the album, it became the group’s only hit, and quickly grew bigger than anyone anticipated, topping the Modern Rock chart in 1997. For almost everyone who heard Smash Mouth, this was their defining song.
The runaway success of “Walkin’ on the Sun” helped get Smash Mouth a major label with Interscope, and also determined the type of band they were now meant to be: catchy, hook-focused alternative rock. Two years later, the band’s attempts to replicate its success would lead to their breakthrough album, Astro Lounge, and, more importantly, the LP’s lead single, an anthemic, sunny, feel-good pop hit that fans, radio stations and movie studios couldn’t help but love. It was called “All Star.”
Shrek would give the song a second life in 2001, and YouTube would launch it back into popular culture nearly a decade later. It hasn’t left since. “All Star” has inexplicably mesmerized the world for 20 years, and the band, their team and even the people responsible for finding new and rather interesting ways of utilizing it are still trying to unlock what exactly is the magic of Smash Mouth’s most recognizable song. This is the story of “All Star.”
I. One-Hit Wonder?
After the surprise success of “Walkin’ on the Sun,” Smash Mouth and their manager Robert Hayes look to the future with hope, and concern. With a new recording contract looming over their heads, they’re worried that their pop experiment may have made them a one-hit wonder — something many already assumed. After focusing on touring for two years straight, they’re determined to prove everyone wrong.
Steve Harwell (lead vocalist): We came off Fush Yu Mang, and we had all that success with that record. Then we were held to a higher standard. I knew the label wanted the next big thing. And I knew that Greg had it in him, but I wasn’t relying [on him] at the time on that because we were in an odd spot.
Greg Camp (songwriter/guitarist): Our fans sort of split in two. Some of them were like, “Whoa, this is great. This is what we want.” A lot of fans were disappointed when they heard “Walkin’ On the Sun” on the radio and they went and bought the album, and then here’s like this bombastic, you know, thrash-y album.
Robert Hayes (manager since 1996): “Walkin’ on the Sun” topped the alternative and pop charts. They had a lot of success there, so they naturally moved towards a more pop sound. “All Star” being the pinnacle of that sound.
Harwell: “Walkin’ on the Sun” changed music. It changed the way people listen to music. I’ve talked to other artists over the years and they said the day that song came on radio, they were like, “We’re fucked.” It was so different and it was so unusual, and it was so special. It just had that sound that we created. Ask anybody that’s tried to copy us, you can’t. You just can’t.
Eric Valentine (producer): They had this dubious distinction of having a very, very successful record, but it was also one of the most returned albums because the very visible single, “Walkin’ on the Sun,” was so different than the rest of the record. People would get the record and it was like, “What is going on? Why is all the rest of this music so different?”
Hayes: [The band] were all actually in a pretty good headspace, you know. They were anxious and eager to do it and excited. They just came off a big success, but they knew the bar was high, so they had to do something great.
Harwell: I’m going to be straight-up with you: we were all living the lifestyle. Traveling the world, touring, partying…
Hayes: Yeah, they were rock stars, for sure. You have to understand, these guys went from being completely broke and having nothing — I would go meet with them at their apartment and I would watch them scrape peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar and put it on a piece of bread just so they could eat — to instantly, “We put out a record, it went to number one.” They’re touring the world and they have more money than they know what to do with. So they thought, “Hey, you know what? This is great, we’re gonna live it up.” So they did. They were partying like rock stars, which, on one hand made it a little more difficult to reel them in and say, “Okay, we gotta focus here. We gotta focus on making a record.” But they were so excited to create music that it really wasn’t a huge problem, because they wanted to do it.
(L-R) Dennis Rodman, James Hetfield of Metallica, Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue backstage at the 1999 KROQ Weenie Roast. Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Camp: The whole “L on the forehead” thing is actually a true story. I was in a relationship and I was playing in bands and stuff like that. Every morning this person that I was with would have to get up and go to work, and I would be able to just kind of stay in bed because I didn’t work until later. I was playing in bands that made money, like cover bands and wedding bands and things like that. I could sleep all day and, you know, drink at night and party and stay out and stuff like that, so there was a lot of jealousy happening, and it sort of came in the form of, “You’re a loser, dude. What are you going to do, sleep all day? This is going to end someday. You’re not going to do this the rest of your life. You’re gonna have to actually grow up and get a job.”
II. Recording Astro Lounge
Ready to go full pop for their second album, Smash Mouth puts guitarist Greg Camp — who wrote “Walking on the Sun” — at the helm. They partner back up with producer Eric Valentine, who had recently produced Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” and hunker down in a Los Gatos house that had been converted into a big studio to write and record Astro Lounge.
Camp: We had been on the road since spring of ’97, touring for the first record. Not very far into that tour, the record company was already asking for us to start working on the second album.
De Lisle: We [started] working on Astro Lounge right when we got home from our first tour, which was the summer of ’98.
Hayes: Greg was the main songwriter, and he always went with what his gut was telling him. If you listen to the body of work of the first record, Fush Yu Mang, it’s really more ska-punk. “Walkin’ on the Sun” was an anomaly on there, it was just one of these unique tracks that didn’t sound like anything else. If you listen to Astro Lounge, it’s just a little more mature. Ska was on its way out, so there was no real ska there. It morphed into pop.
Harwell: We were kids when we made Fush Yu Mang. We didn’t know who we were. Listen to that record over and over, it sounds like four or five different genres or bands. It doesn’t have a constant melody or tone to it. It sounds like somebody didn’t know what they were doing and were confused.
Camp: The first record was written by all of us, collectively. We would all just get in a room and whatever happened, that’s what you heard on the first record. On the second record, it was obvious that I was more of the pop person in the band, so it’s up to me to take over and just write some songs.
Valentine: I know Steve wanted to get more involved in songwriting. I think they all got a crash course in music business economics when they saw how much money the songwriter makes.
Harwell: Greg was always the type of songwriter that was like, “Leave me alone. Let me do my thing.” Greg never liked to co-write with anybody. He was always Jekyll and Hyde; he just loved to do it on his own, and that’s why I admire him so much.
Camp: They enjoyed the success of “Walkin’ On the Sun,” and that was written solely by me before I joined that band. So they were like, “Well, that formula works. So why don’t you just kind of keep on doing that?”
Hayes: We rented them a house up in the Los Gatos hills in the Bay Area. They converted the house into a big studio, and they lived there and recorded and rehearsed, and they started writing the album there.
Camp: We moved in that direction pretty easily, because it was just me and the producer working out sonically what the record was going to sound like, and the direction of it with a little help from Interscope. Mostly they noticed that there was a Sixties twinge in there somewhere, which was actually the thing that I liked the most. It’s what I grew up listening to, and I was really into instrumental surf music from the Sixties and lounge-y music.
Harwell: When Astro Lounge came, we had enough time under our belt touring, getting better. Fucking maturing, basically. I was becoming a better singer, and our sound started developing. Astro Lounge was the record that defined us, because it was so unique.
III. A Hit Is Born
Smash Mouth believe they have finished Astro Lounge, but label executives Jimmy Iovine and Tom Whalley disagree. Upon hearing the album, the pair do not think the band has the singles they need to surpass their one-hit wonder status. Camp dutifully goes back to the drawing board and returns with two surefire hits: “Then the Morning Comes” and “All Star.” The band returns to the studio with Eric Valentine and session drummer Michael Urbano to quickly record the new songs, and finish the album.
Camp: It was the dead last song written for the album.
Hayes: They came to me at one point and said, “The record is done, here it is. We want you to deliver it to Interscope, to the record company, we’re done.” So I did. We delivered the record, and our A&R guy was Tom Whalley at the time, and Jimmy Iovine was the chairman of the record company. I got a call from Tom and he said, “Hey, I just listened through your record with Jimmy, and you’re not done. We don’t hear a single, so keep working.”
Tom Whalley (former President of Interscope): Careers take a certain path, and the path that theirs took was huge success at commercial radio that drove their fanbase. To not repeat that would’ve set their career back in a far more difficult way.
Hayes: I had to go back to the guys and tell them, “The record company is not accepting the album, we need to keep working.”
Harwell: I’ll never forget this moment: we were at our office in Campbell, California and Tom Whalley, who signed us, flew up from LA. He heard the record, which he thought was done, and he said to me, “I don’t hear the first single. I don’t hear the second single.”
Whalley: Our approach at Interscope wasn’t this clichéd thing of, “You don’t have a hit. Go write a hit.” We would go sit with the band and give them advice about what they needed to do and empower the band to make their own decision. When I explained to them that they didn’t have a song that could follow up “Walkin’ on the Sun,” they took that advice to task.
Hayes: This cycle went on for months and they were super frustrated. [I had] many conversations with the record company about trying to find out exactly what they were looking for, and then filtered that information and relayed it to Greg who was the songwriter.
Camp: Within a couple days, “Then the Morning Comes” and “All Star” were written, and turned in, and they were like, “Okay, we’re ready to do this record.”
Hayes: One night I sat Greg down, opened up a Billboard magazine, and said, “Dude, let’s just go through this. I want a little piece of each one of these songs.” The Top 50, at this time, was Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Vertical Horizon, Barenaked Ladies, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba. He left, and two days later he walks into my office with a cassette tape. I popped it in and there was “All Star” on this cassette. I stopped, and I looked at him. He goes, “What? You don’t like it?” I said, “Are you friggin’ kidding me? This is a smash!”
Whalley: It just was fantastic. The next thing I asked was, “How did you do that?” When a band decides to go back in and write more to accomplish writing a hit song, chances are way against the band pulling that off. It doesn’t happen every day. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. The odds were way against them.
“I knew it the second I heard it. The second I heard the first lyric, I said, ‘This song is going to change music forever.’”
Camp: “All Star” was incubating out there while we were on the road. Paul De Lisle [and I] would [go to] laundromats on the road, and we would bring a bag of laundry and a bag of fan mail, back when people actually used to write on pieces of paper. We would read the mail and do our laundry, and we noticed that there was a common thread in all of these letters: kids thanking us for being their band. They were sort of outcasts. They were kind of nerdy and picked on and stuff like that.
De Lisle: It was a response to all these letters he was getting from kids, and they were just sort of like a pep talk, almost. The song was [for] these kids: “Hang in there. You are the master of your own domain. You control your own ship.”
Camp: Smash Mouth was sort of in between pop and punk at that time. These were kids that weren’t really wearing a uniform in any certain way. They weren’t mods, they weren’t punks, they weren’t jocks, they weren’t sport-os. They were just these kids that liked music, saying that they got picked on a lot. Paul and I sort of verbally set out to write an anthem for them. That’s how it started.
Harwell: The greatest moment ever was when Greg pulled a cassette tape out of his pocket, and told me, “Play this for Tom.” And I go, “What the fuck is this?” He goes, “Just play it.” And it was “All Star” and “Then the Morning Comes,” and when I heard it, I just said, “What the fuck is this?”
De Lisle: I listened to the demos in [Greg’s] truck. They’re obviously both very strong songs, I could tell right away our album’s done. This is gonna do it. But at the time, I thought “Then the Morning Comes” was a stronger song, to be honest with you. I knew “All Star” was good, but I thought “Then the Morning Comes” was the better song. But they were both winners.
Valentine: I think I agree with Paul. “Then the Morning Comes” is just a vibier, slinkier, kind of moodier song and plays more to my personal taste better. “All Star” has this incredible, playful, youthful quality to it, which is part of its appeal. It’s just irresistible to kids. They freak out for it.
Harwell: It was Greg singing [the demo], so it didn’t sound like it should. Not talking shit, but I am. It sounded a little feminine, didn’t sound rock-and-roll. Once I got my hands on it, we turned it into Smash Mouth.
Valentine: We brought in a session drummer for the song because we just had very, very limited time. There was a guy that I knew, Michael Urbano, that was just one of those guys where he’ll just play the song perfectly in one pass and you’re just done.
Michael Urbano (drummer): I think that they were having trouble with their drummer. Eric plugs the demo into his mixing console, plays the [demo of] “All Star. I listen to it one time. I write down the arrangement on a piece of paper. I sit down behind my drums, and I played the song twice.
Valentine: There’s live drums on the song, and they’re layered with drum loops, as well, to just give it a more vintage sound. At the time, I was doing that a lot: using recordings of old records, drums from old records, and layering them in with modern drum recordings to try to give it this more nostalgic sound. Some of them are very obscure, and some of them are a little more identifiable. Because somebody else owns those recordings, it’d probably be better if I didn’t say exactly where they came from.
De Lisle: I was deemed the best whistler in the band, so I got to be the whistler guy.
“We write great songs and it’s iconic.”
Harwell: I’m not going to toot my own horn, but nobody else could have sang that song. It would have never been what it is now. I could’ve pitched that song to a million bands and they would have tried to do it, and it would’ve never been what it is.
Camp: I thought that would be a good opener and come right out without having an intro — like a musical intro — we just come right out with vocals and kind of smack you in the face.
Hayes: We were all pretty excited. Once it all came together, it just gave you chills. You knew that there was something really big and special there. We were all pretty pumped, and so was the record company, which made us happy.
Harwell: I saw it in [Tom’s] face. He goes, “You guys are gonna change music. Again.”
Hayes: It was a no-brainer immediate smash hit. It didn’t take any time to resonate. We put it out, it went to Number One.
IV. “Living the Life”
“All Star” felt like a hit from the moment Camp recorded its initial demo, but the song was more of a monster than anyone anticipated, reaching Number Four on the Hot 100. Hayes quickly and widely licensed out the song to be used in everything from movies (Mystery Men) to sports games, and it quickly became inescapable. While some members of the band had a hard time adjusting to their newfound omnipresence, others took just fine to the rockstar lifestyle. Band tensions began to brew, though they still had more to prove.
Urbano: My wife and I are in Seattle, one month later, and I hear, “Somebody once told me” on the radio. I started hearing it constantly. I [say to her], “I think that that’s that song I played on, that Smash Mouth song. I had only heard it three times, and then I heard it three million times within two weeks.
Camp: It definitely established the fact that we weren’t the one-hit wonder that a lot of people were labeling us as, and hoping for us to be. It seemed like a lot of publications and critics and were like, “Oh, this band will be here and gone.” It gave us this reassurance that maybe we have something here.
Harwell: It was definitely a moment where other artists and people finally realized we’re not a bunch of punk kids. We write great songs and it’s iconic.
Camp: We just felt very self-assured that we could go out there and do it, and it changed us as a band. We started getting, you know, having production on our live shows, and people were singing all the words to the songs. It was nice. It was mind-blowing, but nice.
Hayes: One of the things with “All Star,” it was very licensable, I licensed the crap outta that song. You could not walk into a grocery store or turn on the television without hearing “All Star.” It was very, very saturated.
Camp: The harder-edge fans were very disappointed, and felt ripped off because they wanted another punk album. I do remember being out there on the road, and it being on the radio a lot and climbing the charts. Then all of a sudden it started showing up everywhere. You could not escape it. It’s just all over the place. You hear it in grocery stores and things like that. It’s really bizarre.
De Lisle: It’s hard to sort of figure out what the hell just happened to you. Looking back it’s like, “How did we survive that?”
Hayes: They were on tour forever. Like I said, they were very exhausted. They felt like, “Okay, we need a minute here,” before they dove in and started writing. And then they started writing the self-titled [album].
Harwell: We just got into personal issues, and it wasn’t fun at the time. It wasn’t what it was. It wasn’t what it used to be. That kind of stuff happens, but I wanted to get back to having fun. So that’s another day, that’s another interview.
In 2001, DreamWorks calls the band’s manager with a request to use “All Star” in an upcoming children’s film. The question leads to hesitation from the band, who worry about their brand becoming associated with a children’s film, especially if it flounders at the box office. The film’s producers and directors are determined to have Smash Mouth and, more specifically, “All Star,” be a major part of the movie. The decision to move forward and license the song is, in restrospect, brilliant, both for the film and the band.
Vicky Jenson (co-director Shrek): Most music [for animated features] was composed, or the songs were created for the movie. Most of the Disney animated movies had original songs and were thought of as musicals. Both Andrew [Adamson] and I loved independent film and were influenced by ones that used current song that helped illustrate an emotional moment. It wasn’t really done in animation.
Hayes: I got a call from Michael Austin, who is the head of Dreamworks. And he said, “Hey Robert, before you put out your album, I would like you to consider doing a song for this animated movie that we’re doing. It’s got a big, green ogre in it and it’s gonna be a smash. It’s called Shrek. And we want you to do a version of ‘I’m a Believer.’”
Camp: When DreamWorks came to us, some of us were a little apprehensive, because once you get your song into like a family movie you merge into this Disney zone. It’s like you’re out of Warped Tour Land and Credibility Land.
Hayes: I brought it to the guys, and they immediately just said, “No. We don’t wanna do that. We don’t wanna do a cover song for some cartoon.” So we turned it down.
Camp: It’s totally different now. But back then, you’re shooting yourself in the foot for offering your song to a commercial or television. That wasn’t very cool to do back then.
Hayes: They kept working on their record; Dreamworks kept calling, “Come on, we really want you to do this.” We kept turning them down. I said [to Austin] “I need to see this. I need to see this movie.” It was very coveted; they wouldn’t let it out of their hands. They literally put someone on a plane and flew it up here to play it for us. We watched it and thought, “Wow, this is gonna be a smash. This is a great movie.” The guys were still hesitant, because they didn’t want it to conflict with their own record that was coming out.
Harwell: We’d been approached for multiple movies that were supposed to be the hot shit and they fucking fizzled out. They were all just shit movies.
Jenson: Every time we had a screening, we would discuss the music. “All Star” continued to feel appropriate for the tone of Shrek. We would have screenings where we would test out the personality of Shrek. Every single one, we adjusted his attitude so we had [versions like] the “teddy bear screening.” When we hit the right tone for him, the songs continued to establish him as a guy who feels he’s upbeat, feels he has it all figured out. He’s happy in his solitary existence and has no clue that he has a lot to learn about it. “All Star” was a really fun, upbeat way to really understand Shrek right from the get-go. For some reason, this one familiar song continued from screening to screening to screening as the movie became more and more animated, finished the look of it and filled in all of the gaps. It just continued to define the character.
Steve Harwell, Paul De Lisle, Michael Urbano and Greg Camp of Smash Mouth with Shrek. Photo credit: Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage
Hayes: We delivered the third record to the record company, and once again, “Sorry guys, we don’t hear a single.” So we went back to the drawing board, that whole thing. As we were getting ready to put it out, 9/11 happened. We have a single called “Pacific Coast Party,” [that’s basically] “Hey, we’re all partying over here on the West Coast,” and the East Coast was in rubbles.
We decided to hold off on that, which seemed like a good time to go back to Dreamworks and say, “Hey, we’ll do this for this Shrek movie.” I called Dreamworks back. The movie was actually closed. But I convinced them to open up the film, and also license “All Star” for the opening sequence. We did “I’m a Believer” for the closing sequence and “All Star” for the opening sequence. And it ended up being the biggest animated film ever.
Harwell: We had no clue how big Shrek was going to be. We had no clue. That was just a launching pad. The song was already a Number One single, and then Shrek came out and we sold millions of records off that alone. The song was reborn again.
Camp: It skyrocketed the band into a different world.
Hayes: It’s a double-edged sword for the band, because some of the guys totally embrace it and they love it. A couple of the other guys hate being associated with a movie all the time.
Camp: All of the sudden, we have people dressing us and putting makeup on us and taking us out to these fancy awards shows and things like that. We had to clean up our act a little bit. We weren’t dropping F-bombs everywhere and drinking and smoking and doing all the things that we normally did. We had to change things up a little bit.
Hayes: Greg has always been a very anti-the man, anti-corporate. He’s true artist, so he doesn’t like those connotations. Steve is a performer. He’s an entertainer. He’s like “See this face? Sell it. Put it on lunch pails.” There was different point of view there.
Harwell: I was born to be a frontman and entertainer. Greg knew he couldn’t do what I do. And I knew I couldn’t do what he did. But we worked so good together, and that’s why the band worked.
Hayes: From a managerial standpoint, I can say this: They sometimes really hated making the money, but they never hate spending it.
VI. Well, the Memes Start Coming and They Don’t Stop Coming
After their self-titled third album was released in 2001, Smash Mouth’s output began to slow down and future efforts never matched the success of their biggest singles. By 20116, the band’s line-up began to fluctuate; Urbano, then Camp, left the group. Unbeknownst to Smash Mouth, the young fans who turned out to be the target demo for “All Star” when it was released and featured in Shrek became the leaders of social media’s early viral content boom. Their continued love and nostalgia for the song became a cultural touchstone, something millions of millennials who felt the same way would understand immediately.
Rich Alvarez (co-writer, Mario in “Mario, You’re a Plumber”): YouTube was a different beast back in the late Aughts. We started uploading just for fun back in 2006. When we uploaded our first Stupid Mario Bros. video, you couldn’t make any money off it back then.
Chris Muller (co-writer, Luigi in “Mario, You’re a Plumber”): The people who had the time [to create videos] were kids and students who were just goofing around with their friends.
Alvarez: For Stupid Mario Bros, we had parodied a few songs before we did “All Star” and it was all the songs we loved listening to in high school, like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” We loved “All Star” since childhood, and since YouTube was different at the time, we weren’t thinking about catching a trend wave.
Muller: I personally don’t remember there being a whole bunch of jokes about “All Star” [around 2009]. We were essentially trying to do a tribute to Weird Al Yankovic.
Alvarez: I think it was at least a year later when I started seeing people use “All Star” and Shrek to make a meme. That’s commonplace now.
Muller: We didn’t learn [we were first] until a few years ago when these retrospective meme histories started getting popular. People started tagging us on social media.
Neil Cicierega (creator of Mouth Sounds): I heard mashups before they got legitimized by Girl Talk and mainstream pop culture. I remember one of the early ones I heard was a Nine Inch Nails song and Ghostbusters, or something like that, so I always associated mashups with comedic music. After a lot of the stems for songs started getting leaked — the files having been included in the Rock Band games — it became really easy to get the parts for songs and start messing around.
Jonathan Sudano (YouTube personality, see below): Before my YouTube channel took off in 2016, I didn’t have much of an online presence, but I had always been a musician. I had been interested in mashups, seeing what songs worked together.
Camp: One of the main things, just technically, the song — the key it’s in, the tempo it’s in, the melody that it has — can be used and mashed with just about any song. Try any song and it will fit with it. It just magically happens.
Cicierega: One of the songs that was featured on Rock Band was “All Star.” I was not the first person to mashup “All Star” with other music, but I think I was one of the first to recognize that it’s a very easy song to mashup with almost anything because the melody of the song is almost all one note, for the most part. There’s a little bit of variation, but it always returns to the same single note that works with any song that’s in the same key.
Sudano: The first [mashup] that I did was “All Star” with John Lennon’s “Imagine.” I had the idea at karaoke night with my friends at a Korean BBQ place. We were just singing “All Star” and then we realized it works with other songs. I just made a little video on Facebook, and a lot of people suggested I migrate [the videos] to YouTube.
Camp: It’s very humbling. You can go on YouTube just about every day and see a few new things that someone’s done or mashed up.
Hayes: You gotta understand with these guys and other bands from their generation, there wasn’t an Internet when they started. They didn’t have the luxury of going online and seeing everything in real-time. There was no Twitter or Facebook or any of the social media sites.
Harwell: I noticed it when I would get phone calls. I’m not a big social media guy, at all, but I would get phone calls where management and friends are like, “Dude, are you fucking watching what’s going on?” Other artists are calling me going, “Dude, you guys are fucking on fire right now. This thing’s going crazy right now.”
Hayes: As Twitter and Facebook and these social sites came into play, we had to dive into that market. Having a song like “All Star,” that was in such a big movie like Shrek, we quickly realized that, “Hey, there’s a direct correlation here. And we can tap into this.”We do a lot of research, and we do a lot of work. It’s not just by chance, it’s not just, “Oh, look, this happens to be the biggest song.” That comes with a lot of marketing, and a lot of grinding.
Harwell: The song just won’t go away because it’s just one of those songs. It’s like fucking Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s like fuckin’ Lynyrd Skynyrd. You have certain songs that bands make that just don’t go away. We were blessed with that, and it was “All Star.”
Hayes: I think for the most part, they get it, they understand who they are and where they are. They appreciate that people are actually paying attention, and taking the time to listen and mix and meme their song.
Sudano: I’ve become an acquaintance of Greg Camp. He’s pretty stoked about the whole thing.
Camp: I’m sure that some people genuinely like the song. But for the most part, it’s kind of a dorky thing. It’s fun. It’s funny. We’re a band that you can make fun of, but we’re okay with that.
Sudano: I know Steve Harwell isn’t really a fan of me. I don’t think he likes it when people joke about him and make memes about him. But I think I kind of assisted them in getting a bit more internet clout. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Harwell: Sometimes I feel like it’s a little disrespectful, and at the same time I feel like it’s an honor to have people go out of their way to do this. I get more enjoyment out of seeing other artists cover it at concerts. I think that’s a really cool thank you, to us. But I think any time anybody goes out of their way to make their own version of it, that’s also a thank you because they go out of their way to do that. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t love it.
Cicierega: I don’t think it’s a bad song. I think a lot of the humor comes from [Steve’s] very gruff singing style. If you hear that on its own without a backing band, it does sound funny. You’re not supposed to hear it by itself. You’re not supposed to hear it with other music because that can just highlight how bizarre it is to hear that singing style out of its element.
Alvarez: “All Star” is the one song is you can start singing the first verse [anywhere] and everybody knows what you’re doing. Everybody knows what you started. And everybody will then continue to sing the entire song with you.
Muller: You can sing it in a karaoke bar and everyone will sing along.
Urbano: In my opinion, it’s a testament to Greg’s songwriting [and] how great his lyrics are. There’s so many double entendres in that song. It’s extremely clever. It’s really heartfelt. If you listen to the words, there’s relevance to the world today. He’s referencing global warming in part of the song. The guy is brilliant.
Camp: [Global warming] was just one of those things people were talking about on the news. People were recycling and everybody was trying to do their part. Then there were some people saying there was no such thing as global warming. It was right around when you started questioning if the news was real. I have no idea why that has anything to do with the song, to tell you the truth. It just appears out of nowhere and there it is. I think [the song] is talking about “Yep, there are some serious things happening in the world but fuck it, you’re an all-star. Don’t worry about it.”
Cicierega: Smash Mouth and using “All Star” has become the equivalent of a popular blues riff in rock music. It’s a banner of an entire subculture.
Part VI. Get the Show On, Get Paid
Even as members leave and return to the band over the last decade, “All Star” remains Smash Mouth’s one unbreakable tie. Everyone involved with the track has has a continued, complicated relationship with the song and still struggle to pinpoint why it continues to capture people’s imaginations two decades later. With the consistent interest in the band and “All Star,” Smash Mouth continues off-and-on performances with its most famous line-up and keeps the possibility for a future hit open.
Hayes: We spent a lot of time keeping this song alive online and on Twitter, and making sure that it’s out there in the public eye. The band’s Spotify numbers are through the roof. If you look at their next competitor, it would be, like, their friends Sugar Ray or something. We have had over a hundred million more spins a year than they do. “All Star” is just an evergreen, huge song that’s just never going to go away.
Harwell: I knew it was going to be timeless. I knew it the second I heard it. The second I heard the first lyric, I said, “This song is going to change music forever. It’s going to be licensed in every sport, everything you can think of.”
Camp: It’s bittersweet. Once you do something like that, everyone expects you to keep on doing it. Your bandmates, your managers, your record label, everyone’s just like, “Yeah, just do that again. Just write another one of those.” And it’s not that it’s impossible, but the combination of all the things revolving around the song “All Star” is very difficult to achieve twice. It was everything it was supposed to be at that very time and to achieve that again is a very tall order, you know?
Harwell: Everybody wants to hear another “All Star.” It’s not going to happen. Greg and I just had this conversation a couple weeks ago, and I said, “I want to hear the new thing.” I said, “Dude, write the new thing. Write the next one. But not ‘All Star.’ You cannot write ‘All Star’ again. It’s a one-time thing. But write something special and new.” It’s easy to say but it’s hard to do. I kinda wanna reinvent the wheel for the third time.
Camp: It’s been difficult in a lot of ways because of it. It’s a great song, and it continues to be out there. But there’s no way it’ll ever happen again in our scenario.
Harwell: I’ll say it out loud, but Greg doubts himself a lot. I’ve always told Greg, “Dude, when you wanna be, you’re the best songwriter I’ve ever fucking seen.” When he wants to be. There’s gotta be a certain place in time for him to do his magic, and I’ll never take that away from him.
Hayes: Greg left the band about 10 years ago, now, officially. He’s been back, performing live several times. I think he writes songs for independent films and stuff like that.
Camp: To me, I would just like to write songs that sound like Smash Mouth songs for Smash Mouth. Some people in the band wanna take the band to a different sound, and so we’ve been writing with outside songwriters, and inviting submissions from other people and things like that, just to kinda see if there’s something else out there that the band can morph into.
Harwell: Greg’s ability made it way easier because I knew he could write. I knew I could front the band. I knew I had the best bass player. At the time we didn’t have the best drummer, but we got that later. It just kind of developed, but this band is like a marriage. It’s really hard. It really is.
Camp: It’s not like [Steve and I] hate each other. We just don’t always like each other. We do have a lot of respect for each other.
Urbano [left band in 2006]: Things were spinning out of control. I think that there were just differences of opinion about what we should do, and what direction we should take. It was time for me to go.
Hayes: The relationship’s good. They’re all friends. Everyone’s cool.
Urbano: I totally love those guys. I’d happily play with them again. I played with them like a year ago.
Harwell: The fact is that Greg and I have had struggles. It’s painful, and I miss it. The fact is, Greg and I are not at the same point that back in the day we used to be at, but that happens in bands. It just happens. Sometimes you just get tired of each other a little bit.
Steve Harwell and Paul De Lisle of Smash Mouth in 2017. Photo credit: Larry Marano/Shutterstock
Camp: [Steve] and I both have a couple different ideas about what the band is supposed to be. He wants to move on and change the sound of the band in a progressive way. He wants to be more current. I’m of the belief that the band has a brand and has a sound, and I’d like to stick with it and not stray too far from it. Whenever I turn it a song that sounds like the sort of songs I write for Smash Mouth, they don’t work for him anymore. He’s out working with other people and that’s totally fine.
Harwell: I know he’s great at what he does, and I’m great at what I do. Period. Bottom line. End of conversation. That’s it right there.
Hayes: The band has continued on and will continue on, for as long as these guys can do it.
Harwell: From day one, I always told Greg, I said, “You build the car, and I’ll drive it.” I always looked at music as a sport, as racing.
Harwell: When we play concerts, the minute you get to “All Star,” the crowd goes crazy. Then you got Chainsmokers and all these other bands covering our song during their concerts. They grew up on our shit, and that’s what makes me so proud.
Jenson: Several years ago, I was having lunch at a restaurant in Laguna Beach with my husband and he could hear a band warming up. My husband goes “Hey, that’s a Smash Mouth song.” We didn’t think of anything of it. We thought it was a cover band. Then as we were leaving, all the band boxes said “Smash Mouth.” So I walked up to the lead singer and I go “Hey, we put your song in our movie!” My husband introduced me and [Steve] gave me a big hug and goes, “It’s been both a curse and a blessing.”
Harwell: “All Star” was meant to be ours. And that’s why it was so big, and still is. It was meant to be Smash Mouth, and that’s the great thing about it. I know for a fact we’re going to do it again. We’re going to make the next one. I know it. In my heart, I know that for a fact. It’s just… It takes time.
Camp: I’m numb [to it], almost. I think there was a point where I’m sure we were tired of playing the song. But now Steve just walks out on stage and says the word “Some,” and the crowd will finish the song for you. They’ll sing the entire song. My hair still stands up when that happens. It’s pretty amazing that some song you created in your garage at a workbench, 20 years later it’s just all over the place and it’s not going away.
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