OSWEGO — Pop-rockers Smash Mouth are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough sophomore album “Astro Lounge” with nationwide tour dates, none hotter than their headlining performance at the Oswego Harborfest Budweiser Stage on Friday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m.
Bass player and original member Paul De Lisle spoke with The Palladium-Times this week to talk about their 2019 tour, their time in upstate New York and lessons learned on the road since forming in 1994.
The California-based band kicked off its 2019 touring season down I-90 with a July 12 performance in Schenectady. Their tour itinerary stretches coast to coast from the California Mid State Fair to Bash on the Beach in Minnesota ahead of their June 26 Harborfest gig.
“We’ve just been traveling and doing so many shows that it’s turned out to be all road,” said De Lisle, reached by phone in Milpitas, California on Tuesday. “We’re getting on a bus the day after tomorrow [Thursday] and we’ll be on the bus for two weeks in and around upstate New York. So, yeah, it’s great.”
De Lisle said Oswego’s waterfront community takes him back home, having grown up in Canada, just across the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario.
“We’ll come into Oswego a couple days early, so I was thinking of renting a car and hanging out with my cousins,” De Lisle said. “It’s beautiful — I love it up there.”
The current incarnation of the band includes all original members — Steve Harwell (lead vocals), De Lisle (bass) and Greg Camp (guitar) — minus drummer Kevin Coleman. The founding Smash Mouth members are joined on by Michael Klooster (keyboards) and Randy Cooke (drums).
Smash Mouth exploded on the scene with the 1997 album “Fush Yu Mang” that rose to double platinum status with the now-classic singles “Walkin’ on the Sun” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” a cover of the 1974 War song. After returning home from the tour to support the record, De Lisle said the band faced a common critical and commercial crossroads.
“Everyone thought we were a one-hit-wonder because our first album sold a couple million records,” De Lisle said. “The old saying goes, ‘you have your whole life to write your first album and six months to write your second.’ I give us credit, especially Greg, for staying focused and seeing that early.”
As principle songwriters, De Lisle and Camp accepted the mounting commercial and critical pressure as a challenge and started exploring new sounds while they were still on their first album’s tour. Their return home to California saw them set up equipment in a rented, secluded house between the band’s San Jose stomping grounds and Santa Cruz.
“That’s where we wrote and rehearsed ‘Astro Lounge,’” De Lisle said. “That was a really good idea because it worked and we could play anytime we wanted to.”
De Lisle said the songwriting has consistently come out of the collaboration between himself and Greg Camp.
“I get one or two [tracks] a record because his are better than mine,” said De Lisle. “He’ll send me something usually without the bass, though, because I write all my bass parts and vocal harmonies.”
De Lisle estimated approximately 60 percent of his first drafts make it past Camp’s scrutiny and said Camp is “always honest” in his feedback and “always right” in his adjudication.
“The ones he doesn’t like, they weren’t good enough, but the ones that he does like, then he’ll give it 100 percent of what he’s got,” he said. “He’ll champion it and make it the best he can, as I will with his.”
Staying conflict-free for the better part of the band’s 25-year run, this formula seems to have worked in spades. This year, the band is celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Astro Lounge,” which ranked sixth on U.S. charts and featured some of the group’s most memorable and popular tracks: “Then The Morning Comes,” “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” and the ever-iconic “All-Star,” which became first well-known on the soundtrack of the 1999 cult classic film “Mystery Men.”
“This sounds so cliché but it really feels like yesterday,” De Lisle said. “Greg and I were listening to it again and it holds up pretty well.”
The band announced at the end of 2018 a remix of “All Star” would be the centerpiece of a new album this year, but De Lisle declined to give any more details on their potential plans.
Smash Mouth is also notable for frequent collaborations with other groups. Last year saw them swap covers with indie rock band Car Seat Headrest, with Smash Mouth recording a rendition of “Something Soon” and Car Seat Headrest covering “Fallen Horses.”
De Lisle said the band recently collaborated with ska band Fishbone and Darryl McDaniels of hip-hop group Run-DMC for songs that haven’t been released yet.
“I like doing these a lot — it’s really neat,” De Lisle said.
The band recently rearranged its set list for their 2019 tour dates, with the “Astro Lounge” 20th anniversary in mind. De Lisle said there are five or six songs the band has to play in order to meet audience anticipation, but with a canon that spans seven albums and an acoustic re-recording of “Fush Yu Mang” in 2018, he said always enough material to keep their set list “fresh.”
Other than that, De Lisle said Oswego will have to wait for their performance on Friday to see what else the band has in store.
“People always ask, ‘do you ever get sick of it?’ and it’s like, ‘Of course not!’” he said. “We have these hit songs that people love. It’s an honor.”