Hey now, you're a rock star

This e-mail that I got from Eric Laine, a member of the Sad Salvation house band. I think that something here is the core of Sad Salvation. I just had to post it.

[warning: this is a rant of medium length]

It's hard to know how to take stories like this, which is from the Smash Mouth official bio. Can it possibly be true? Sometimes all it takes is having a "friend" at one of the country's top radio stations. One song on one station, and "within days" the album they recorded themselves is coming out on a major label. This is the rock'n'roll dream--all it takes is one good song in the hands of the right people. Not everyone has a radio-friendly song like "Walkin' on the Sun," and certainly not everyone has a friend at KROQ, but if this story is even remotely true, it is both inspiring and disheartening. How can something so simple be
so impossible?


Smash Mouth first made a local mark when their demo track "Nervous in the Alley" hit big at San Jose's KOME radio. The group soon self-recorded their debut album, Fush Yu Mang, and Harwell drove the finished disc down to a friend at KROQ radio in Los Angeles. Within hours, KROQ added "Walkin' on the Sun," and the song rocketed to number four on that night's countdown. Ironically, Harwell never thought to tell anyone where he was staying, so music labels put their interns on overtime until someone finally found him at a Sunset Strip motel. Within days, Fush Yu Mang was set for national release on Interscope Records, and "Walkin' on the Sun" was headed for the number one spot on the Modern Rock Radio charts.

Smash Mouth sold over two million copies of their self-made debut

Left out of the "official" story are some details: Steve Harwell, the singer, had released a rap single under the name F.O.S. prior to the formation of Smash Mouth. F.O.S. had a record deal, and Steve had a manager and a lawyer. (How were the manager and lawyer getting paid? That's hard information to find.) If you're a musician with a released single, a manager, and a lawyer, having a "friend" at KROQ seems much more believable. A simple story becomes more complex as details of the true business of music emerge. Here is a guy, Steve Harwell, who was very serious about making a career in music. He had already tried and failed once before Smash Mouth came to be.

Smash Mouth seemed to come out of the blue in 1997. They were described as a San Francisco Bay Area band, but anyone who was living here in the mid-90's had never heard of them (maybe because they were from San Jose). But the real reason they came out of the blue is that their career was manufactured by a self-recorded album, a radio station contact, and other assorted industry employees. This was a band of insiders--people who hired other people to kick-start their career. It's not Lana Turner being "discovered" at a Hollywood malt shop (a myth in its own right)--it's also not like R.E.M. driving across America in a van year after year playing to 20 people a show.

The Smash Mouth story is more like hiring a coach (who happens to be a former Harvard Law professor) to help you with the LSAT. Of course, you still have to be smart enough to pass the test, or savvy enough to record a song as catchy as "Walkin' on the Sun." It's both inspiring, and disheartening. The dream of pop music is achievable--if you have talent and a team of professionals.

My dream was to make music for a living. I had always thought this dream was an artistic ambition. I think I was coming at it from the wrong direction. It's a business ambition. Art needs no business to exist. But if you want your art to pay your bills, you must make your income dependent on your art. This is what I didn't get. I had thought that if the art was good enough, the career would just...appear. It's easy to make music (for me at least, thank god), but it's never, ever easy to make a living. This is the crucial missing element from my music "career"--treating it like a job--making it my livelihood. I now believe that almost anyone can record a brilliant album in their basement or garage. It takes a career-minded person to hire a manager and a lawyer.

"Hey now, you're a rock star. Get the show on. Get paid."
-- Smash Mouth


Popular Posts