Smash Mouth, sans Greg, is still active. These days, they are best known for their Twitter feed, which looks like it's run by your inappropriate uncle. They spend a lot of time blasting Bay-area sports teams, which in 2016 got them in a Twitter war with the Oakland A's. Greg isn't a sports fan and likes to stay behind the scenes, but even if he was still in the band, it's not likely he could veto the tweets, just as he couldn't keep a Smash Mouth song from landing in a Pizza Hut commercial.
When we spoke with Greg, he was at his Los Angeles home preparing for a trip to New York to work on tracks with his band Sun|Drones. The group is signed to Island Records, which would love another "All Star."
Greg Camp: Yeah. It's been good. It's the gift that keeps on giving, but there's also that rung: The "All Star" song was just the thing. They want nothing less than that now.
Songfacts: So it became a bit of an albatross?
Camp: Yeah. Smash Mouth started off as this kind of alternative, pop-punk thing, and it just sort of slowly went the way of pop music somehow. It sort of crossed over, for whatever reasons. Now, when people come to me for a song, a lot of times they want that formula.
Songfacts: Well, your first album [Fush Yu Mang] was more punk-leaning than your second one was. But the big hit from that first album, "Walkin' On The Sun," was a little bit different.
Camp: Oh, yeah, very different. The song got onto the radio before we got a record deal, actually, because we were buddies with Carson Daly back when he was just a lowly San Jose alternative rock DJ. He liked the song and started playing it, and then he quickly moved to KROQ and he brought that song along with him, so they put it into rotation on KROQ in LA. The next day every record company in the world was calling. That's how the band kind of happened.
Songfacts: Can you tell me about writing that song?
Camp: Yeah. I wrote it for a band I was in before Smash Mouth. That band turned the song down because they thought it was just too pop-y or something. So it sat there on a cassette, and when that band fizzled away, the drummer of Smash Mouth, Kevin Coleman, found the song on a tape that I had lying around at my house, and said, "What about this song?" I said, "Okay, let's do that song." So everything sort of happened by chance with that band and kind of continues to.
But you wanted to know about the writing of it?
Camp: Well, this is a long time ago. This is over 20 years ago that song was written, and it was written during the whole Rodney King thing. The song was basically a social and racial battle cry. It was a sort of "Can't we all get along?" song for the time when I wrote it.
It was just about all the things that were going on around me as a young person. And I'm, like, God, what is going on? I don't understand why this is happening. It's like we might as well be walking around a planet on fire. And that's how it came about.
Songfacts: That brings a whole new perspective to it. Because you listen to the lyrics and you have to process it with this upbeat organ sound. It's got that lyrical dissonance to it.
Camp: Yeah. I wrote it on a chintzy little nylon-string guitar that I had, and it sounded to me more like Santana or something. It had bongos and maracas and stuff on the original demo.
We took it into Eric Valentine, who produced the record, and we just put this more locomotive driving beat to it. It was already simple, so we just did the little Doors-y style riff in there and that's what happened. The singer [Steve Harwell] brought it out to where it was supposed to be. He has this gravelly voice, but it still has a melody, so it just worked.
The commercial was reworked into a full-length song called "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing," which became a hit for The New Seekers later that year. Greg put his own spin on it when he swapped "Coke" for "Toke" at the beginning of "Walkin' on the Sun."
Camp: I know. [Laughing]
Songfacts: How did you pull that off?
Camp: Well, it was pretty racy for the time. Now doors are wide open. You can say whatever you want, pretty much, but back then, marijuana wasn't as household as it is these days, especially here. So it was, basically, "Can't we just chill?" You know, chill out, everybody.
Songfacts: And that is a reference, of course, to the Coke commercial, which came back thanks to Mad Men. Were you allowed to use that without getting in trouble?
Camp: Their lawyers definitely called us for that. Copyrights and plagiarism, you have to have a melody and lyrics and things like that. I didn't do the [singing], "I'd like to teach the world to sing." If we did something like that, then it would have been a lawsuit. They definitely came, but they didn't win.
Songfacts: It doesn't sound like a song - and you can say this about a lot of your work - that was written by a guitarist. Can you talk about how you actually write?
Camp: Well, lyrically I've always liked Bernie Taupin and Elvis Costello and these wordsmith, poetic lyricists, as opposed to someone who just says, "Hey, let's go to the club and get laid." I don't really write like that. I've always wanted words to have a few different meanings that anyone can take and apply to whatever they're doing, because those are the kind of songs that I like.
I'll hear a song and be a fan of a song for years and years, and not really know what it meant, but I know what it means to me. And then I'll hear someone speak about it, or read an interview and realize I had a totally different idea of what that was about. Like "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John. I always thought it was someone who was having a substance abuse problem, and it turns out it was Bernie Taupin writing about Elton John, like, "Hey, man, why did you marry this woman? You're not even heterosexual."
And I went, "Wow! I didn't even know this." I like that. I like the mystery of it. I like people being able to take the song and just add it to whatever their day is doing for them.
Songfacts: OK. "All Star" on one hand is the most obvious song in the world. But then on the other hand, it does go deeper. It's got layers to it, like what you were talking about. Can you talk a bit about that song?
Camp: Yeah. When we were on tour for the first record, it was still when people were writing fan mail in the form of paper and pencils and typewriters and stuff. We would get these big bags of fan mail and we would take them to the Laundromat and do our laundry and read all this mail while we were sitting around waiting for our clothes to get dry. And about 85-90 percent of the mail was from these kids who were being bullied or their brothers or older siblings were giving them shit for liking Smash Mouth or liking whatever they're doing or the way they dressed and stuff. So we were like, "We should write a song for fans."
It was sort of like a daily affirmation. It was designed to be an uplifting, self-confidence building song. The melody was very simple and very much in the scale.
He just started doing this recently. I've kind of become Facebook pals with him, because I just think he's fabulous. He's this big, overweight guy who sits in front of his computer and does stuff like this all day long. The song was written for people like him, who may be a little bit of an outcast or not accepted socially because of their appearance. And he's just going for it. He gets it, completely. He is the person that that song was written for.
Songfacts: The name Smash Mouth is a sports reference. Is that where the title to the song comes from?
Camp: The band was named Smash Mouth before they added me to the roster, so I had no say in the matter. I'm not a huge sports fan. They told me that it means winning, and not necessarily playing by the rules. I like the idea of that, even though it's a sporty thing.
Songfacts: So you weren't going for a sports theme with "All Star"?
Songfacts: Interesting. I guess I think of it that way, because I've seen it in so many sports-related promos and commercials.
Camp: Yeah, it applies to athletes, too. It applies to anyone who's trying to make it while all those people are saying, "Oh, you want to be a professional basketball player? Haha. Good luck. That's going to be really tough. It's like the chances are two million to one." And it's like, "No, no, don't listen to them. Just go do it."
Songfacts: The little sample in there, and maybe it's not a sample, but the voice that says, "Go for the moon," where did that come from?
Camp: A NASA record, actually. These songs that I've written, I usually do them in my little home studio. I would use turntables to get the beats going, or break beats and things like that, and then I would just play the rest of the instruments. And I would always just scratch, like a white boy scratcher. [Laughs]
So that came off of a space record that they put out about Apollo. Basically, it's the countdown and then they would always have these terms. They would say, "One small step," or those sorts of terms on these records - it would be very American. "Go for the moon" is what the guy's saying.
Songfacts: And it's public domain, because it's NASA.
Camp: Uh huh.
Songfacts: Genius. I was a little worried that you had to pay somebody for that. Sometimes a song becomes a hit, and you have to pay up big bucks just for that little tiny bit.
Camp: Yeah. There's tons of stuff, Carl, that we weren't able to use for records because we just couldn't get the release for it, or we would have had to pay a lot of money for it. I would use some sample from, like, a Lawrence Welk record, and then we'd have to try to beat it in the studio with a different thing, which is what we did a lot of times.
Songfacts: That's what I was talking about before, how you don't necessarily write like a guitarist, sitting down and coming up with riffs. You've got samples and turntables. The method starts to make sense when you talk about it. Is that what you still do today?
Camp: Yeah, a lot. I still have a very similar setup. I did have a studio for a while, an open-to-the-public studio, and I just found that having so much gear over the years, accumulating all this stuff, I just wanted to play with all the toys, and I got away from songwriting.
About a year and a half ago, my studio flooded during the rain that we had, so I moved out while they did the repairs, and I never moved back in, because once I brought my stuff, just the things that I really use - my computers and guitars and a sampler and turntables - I got back to my normal pattern and started writing a lot of songs again. So I just kept it that way.
So the process is, I'll be listening to break beats. "Hey, I like that beat, I'm going to put a bass line to it. Oh, here's a melody, just popped in my head. Here's some words, placeholder words." And then all of a sudden it becomes a song. There's a ton of stuff like that, finished and unfinished, that's just sitting there to work with and play with.
Songfacts: This was in the analog age when you started, so it wasn't like you had Pro Tools at your disposal.
Camp: I still have my little 8-track, and I use that just for the sound of it, because it sounds better. I still like to hit tape at some point. Now I have the latest Pro Tools, and I'll bring it back to Barefoot, to Eric Valentine's studio, and say, "Hey, can I put all this stuff through the Ampex to get that sound?" And he has generously let me do that. The ones and zeroes get hard on your ears after a while.
Songfacts: So you'll record digitally, as everybody does, and then you'll put it on an Ampex tape player, play it back and make that your master?
Camp: Yeah. For instance, this last record I did with Josh Moran [Sun|Drones lead singer], we did some things where we would record the guitar and drum parts into Pro Tools and then we'd run them back through the tape, and then at the end of everything, we'd run the whole mix through tape when we went to master or mix it. So the whole thing is very analog. In fact, we have a mono version of that album that the record company turned down because it was mono, so we had to spread the effects out and things like that.
But yeah, I'm still a big fan of tape, and I don't even own a real 2-inch or half-inch tape deck or anything like that. But I have access to them.
Songfacts: Tell me about making the video for "All Star."
Camp: Let's see. I think there were two of them. I think one of them was for the movie Mystery Men.
Songfacts: Which has all the famous people in it.
Songfacts: Did you take much of an interest in your music videos?
Camp: I did. I took an interest in it and we would be able to choose whichever treatment. Back then a lot of different video directors would send treatments and we'd just pick one that we liked the best. Steve, the singer, had a little more of an interest in it. He wanted cars and girls and things like that in the videos, so that's why all that sort of stuff happened.
Songfacts: Were you always content to be in the background?
Camp: Yes. I would much rather film the video than be in the video, if that's what you mean.
Songfacts: I'm also thinking of the whole visual presentation for the band.
Camp: Well, if it were up to me, the videos would be different, but you're playing the games of major record companies and people like that, and you want your record to sell and you want to promote your album the right way, so I would leave it to the professionals and the people paying the bills to have the final says.
Songfacts: At what point were you asked to start repeating the "All Star" sound?
Camp: When the song charted. Every time we finished a record and we'd jump on the road, my phone would start ringing and it would be Tom Whalley or Jimmy Iovine saying, "Hey, how's that writing going for the third record? We want more 'Walking on the Suns' and 'All Stars' for this next record." You know, it's like, "Stick with that formula and just give us 12 of those."
Okay. Easier said than done. But that's when I knew that that was the bar and I had to try to achieve that every single time. And it's hard to do, because there's a lot of different things that go along with it. It's not just the song: It's how it's produced and what movie picks it up and what the video looks like and the climate of the music scene - what listeners are into at the moment. You never really know, because these songs, they're written like a year before you hear them, and who knows what people are digging at that point?
Songfacts: Were there songs where you specifically did try to emulate the formula?
Camp: I don't know about lyrically, but production-wise, at that point, I was being pushed to "Make it really Smash Mouth-y." Which means, use these skanky guitars and Farfisa organs and break beat style drum loops and beats. So my demos started turning into Smash Mouth-y demos. All the songs started having those elements and trying to stick with that formula.
And it's hard when you're in a band with three other people. Everybody's going, "Hey, let's make a song like Oasis or Blur," or "Let's go for this Northern soul thing." So they'd all look to me for these things, because I was the songwriter for the band. You get a lot of people whispering in your ears for different things that they wanted, and it gets a little demanding and sometimes the formula loses its path. Then you don't have anything that anybody wants. It just sounds like a big blur.
Songfacts: You guys did a decent amount of cover songs, as well. And you Smash Mouthed the cover songs. How did you feel about that?
Camp: I liked it. They said, "The record company wants you to go in and write with some other songwriters. Who would you like to write with?" And I'm, like, "Hey, it would be kind of fun to write with Neil Diamond." So we ended up doing "I'm A Believer," and then we ended up writing some songs with Neil Diamond. That came true, so that was really cool.
One of those songs ended up on the third record, which was "You Are My Number One." That was one that we sat down with Neil Diamond and did. It was sort of an existing idea that he had and we just took it and ran with it. Some of the other songs that we wrote with him didn't really pan out - creatively, everyone was in a different place at that point. So some of those other songs didn't see the light.
Songfacts: So when you wrote a song with Neil Diamond, he came in with an existing idea. Now, this is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and he's not known much for collaborating - it seemed like he was always writing his own stuff. Can you tell me more about that session and how you put the song together and what it was about?
Camp: Yeah. We walked into his studio, and he was sitting in this chair. There's no lights in there. All he had was a music stand with a light on him, and he's smoking a cigar. He's, like, "Well, let's just start vibing on something," so we started playing around with a couple of ideas. After a whole day of that, nothing was totally clicking. We were not butting heads or anything, but he wanted to say certain things that we didn't really want to say, and he was very adamant about saying those things, so those songs just didn't totally pan out.
But he started playing this other song and we were like, "Wow, that's really beautiful." He wrote it about his son. We started chiming in on ideas for that one, and he's like, "No, I want it like this." And we're, like, "Okay."
So, basically, he wrote a song and we took it and sort of rearranged it a little bit and made it a little more Smash Mouth-y. That's how that one came about.
Songfacts: Was you being the primary songwriter ever an issue in the band?
Camp: For sure, especially when I wasn't writing songs that were equivalent to "All Star." They were like, "These aren't #1 singles."
Everyone started trying to write, also, and some of the songs ended up on the record, but they weren't singles. It was a classic lead singer versus guitar player/songwriter thing that a lot of bands over the years have had, and it creates problems, social issues. I personally don't really care who writes the song - if it's great, let's put it on the record.
So that was really the only thing, but it did become an issue because Steve's the lead singer. He is the face, so you would think that he was the one who wrote all the songs, and he wanted to be that. So sometimes there were some issues.
The bass player of that band [Paul DeLisle] was also a really good songwriter. Everyone contributed something to make those songs what they are. You just keep that focus and stay in your own lane. Everyone had a role when the success was happening, but people started veering into other areas. I wanted to start producing, because that's kind of what I did. When things like that started happening and people started trying to wear different hats, it was like, "Shit, we need to get back to this original thing." But at that point it may have been too late.
Songfacts: Besides the ones we've talked about, what are some of the Smash Mouth songs that have a pretty strong connection with you?
Camp: There's a song called "Waste" that I really like. It's on the second record. There's another song called "Fallen Horses," which we all wrote at a soundcheck in Scotland or something. I started playing some chords, we all started kind of grooving on it, and Steve walked up on the stage to check his mic and he starts singing this thing, and we're like, "Whoa! Somebody record this."
That was the first time we organically wrote something together, and I just love that song because of how it happened, and then the song itself is just really beautiful.
Those two, and I like, "Then the Morning Comes." I really like that one, because it's a story about our touring lifestyle. Then there's some songs on some records that you maybe haven't even heard. There's a record called Get the Picture? that has a bunch of songs on it, and there's one called "Summer Girl" that I really liked. Actually, that song's on Summer Girl. Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask. I don't even know the names of our songs and what records they're on. [Laughing]
Songfacts: I think you're the right person to ask, because you're the one writing them, so you're going to have certain ones that you really remember that are personal for you. "Waste," if you look at the lyrics, I'm sure you remember the story behind it.
Camp: Yeah. At that point, everyone's relationships were suffering from all the constant touring. Especially for me - I was married. I got married a year before we got our record deal and the person that she married turned into someone else. I was just this guy that was working, home all the time, and in a band for fun. And then all of a sudden I'm gone. I'm on the road, and when I get back, I'm in the studio, and then I'm on the road again. And I'm traveling around and doing interviews and doing all these sorts of things that a band that's on fire is doing, and it was sort of like, "I'm sorry I wasted your time. But this is what I'm doing. This is apparently what I'm supposed to be doing."
Songfacts: Thinking about "Then The Morning Comes," that was on your second album, so the touring and all that stuff you wrote about in the song was from after your first album. You guys were pretty big back then, but it was your next album that really made you superstars. You describe in the song how it becomes the same thing over and over. What was going on?
Camp: Well, the first thing you hear is an alarm clock, then it's like Groundhog Day. You wake up in the bus in a new town. You have no idea where you are. You look out the window to look for a street sign or something that tells you what city you're in. It was like that every single day for years.
It was weird. We were just these puppets or something. You open the door to your bus and you walk out into the club or an arena or whatever it was, and try to figure out where you are and what you did the night before and with who. So that's what that song is, just sort of a circus feel.
Songfacts: Did it get better or worse as you got more popular?
Camp: Both. It's a total double edge. How can you complain when you're being successful? You're having your heyday and you're, like, "Wow, this is so great! But, man, I really miss my family." Or "I'm tired," "I'm sick," or "I can't find a place to go to the bathroom." "I don't have any friends."
You're living on a bus with 14 people, so you're like brothers, living in bunk beds. There's all kinds of problems and health issues and weird stuff. So that part of it was crazy.
But as soon as it was 9:00 or whatever and we were on the stage, it was just pure happiness. It was great.
Songfacts: Tell me about leaving the band.
Camp: Well, I really wanted to get into producing and writing with other people and there were a lot of other bands that were coming up behind us that were looking for songs. So I started writing with other people, which caused problems within the band. You know, "Why are you giving these songs to them?"
It was hard for me to say, "Look, we've done our thing. It's time to pass the baton or spread the love or look at what's next in our respective futures and careers."
Steve started getting into different sorts of music, and he was possibly going to be acting. Everyone started doing their own thing, but for some reason, they never suspected that I would be doing something other than making sure that this particular career continued.
So there were a lot of issues in that department, and being a quarter of the owner of a corporation, we all had a 25 percent say of what was next. Like, Pizza Hut wants to use a song. I'm like, "No way. I don't like Pizza Hut. I don't think that we should sell out like that." Back then, that's what it was - you don't put your songs in commercials. Maybe a cool film or something. Even Shrek, I was kind of like, "Well, this is going to put us into this sort of Disney zone, and we're going to have to stay there and we're going to have to be writing for children and families now. I don't think that we should do that."
There were just a lot of things that we butted heads on. Everyone else was, like, "No, we just need to make a ton of money." I'm like, "Yeah, but we need longevity and credibility. We have to keep these things and keep our fans, and our fans are going to turn their backs if we start putting our songs in Pizza Hut commercials." That was my stance. I was voted out on those things.
It just came to a point where I'm like, all right, now I've just got to focus on me for a bit. I wanted to do my own album and I wanted to write with other people and I wanted to start producing bands and I wanted to check out options. It just didn't work out for them that way. They're like, "Well, you can either do this or you can go." And I'm like, "Really? Okay. I guess I'll go."
Songfacts: You described earlier how the roots of your sound are really punk rock, which is evident on a lot of the songs early on. And you became very successful with a different kind of sound. It sounds like you held fast to what you were originally.
Camp: Yeah, which is not what the singer was at all. That wasn't his thing. He liked pop music and country music, and he wanted to be in that spot. The bass player and I grew up listening to punk rock and reggae and classic rock - music that had a little more substance. So I was definitely holding onto the cred as long as I could. Then when it was completely out of my control, my ethic couldn't allow it anymore, so I had to go.
Songfacts: Did you want to become famous?
Camp: I guess in some ways, I wanted to be recognized, but I didn't necessarily want to be Eddie Van Halen or some guitar virtuoso. Nothing like that. It wasn't first on my priority list at all. I would have much rather been the guy setting up the microphones and recording the music or filming the video, rather than being the person on the other side of the camera.
Songfacts: Well, when you're describing the rift with the band, taking the money and becoming more public sounds perfectly logical and are what most people would do. I can understand why you were the minority in that.
Camp: Right. At that point, it seemed like everybody was doing pretty well, as far as finance. We could do whatever we wanted, so I wanted to buy recording gear and set up a studio and record other people and write with other people and help other, younger bands come up, which is what I'm doing now. So it's worked out fine for me. I do still go back and play with Smash Mouth every once in a while now that we're pals again. Water under the bridge. Everyone's fine.
Songfacts: Now, besides your work with Josh, what else have you been doing in the post Smash Mouth era?
Camp: When I was living is Santa Cruz, I started a band with a bunch of my friends called the Maids of Honor. It was really just like four buddies getting together drinking beers and playing rock music, and the sound happened very organically. We put out a couple of albums on our own - we weren't out looking for record deals or anything like that. In fact, exactly the opposite. We just wanted to play around town and have fun, kind of a band of four friends experience.
I also started doing something with my wife, Gina, called the Selectrics. The '60s influences were definitely coming out on that one. I married someone who had a lot of the same musical tastes, and so we started doing albums and recording songs like that. We did a holiday record a couple of years ago.
Songfacts: When did you and Gina get married?
Songfacts: So she did not know you during the whole rise to fame with Smash Mouth.
Camp: No. Not at all. In fact, we met on the set of that television show Charmed.
Songfacts: Really? How did you guys end up there?
Camp: Well, Smash Mouth was on the show. We were playing a show on the beach and the girls in Charmed were doing a radio interview while we were out there playing. My wife was on the show - she didn't have a huge part or anything, but she was there. I met her during the filming of it, and we became friends for six or eight months or something like that, and then we started dating.
The weird thing is that Charmed was shot in Los Angeles, and she's also from San Jose. We grew up about two miles from each other and didn't know each other. I did know her sister and her sister's husband, but I'd never met her back then, so it was very coincidental.
Songfacts: What was it like working with your wife?
Camp: Difficult. Very difficult. But fun. I had a studio in Santa Cruz. We were living together, and I would just disappear to the studio. I would stay there all hours of the night, making music and working with my band and recording other people and stuff like that. She has a great voice, and we would always do stuff together. We'd sit around the house and sing and play and do karaoke and things like that, and she's, like, "I want to do an album." I said, "Cool, let's do an album."
So I started writing songs for her to sing. Nancy Sinatra, Phil Spector kind of stuff. I'm way into that sort of music and so is she. We made an album that sounds like that - all original. Then we did a Christmas EP of similar sound, with obscure versions of classic Christmas songs.
Songfacts: Have you ever had a job or any kind of career that was not related to music?
Camp: Yeah. I used to frame art and do mattes for art galleries. I did that all through my teens and 20s, and then I started playing in cover bands, doing both at the same time. Then Smash Mouth got the record deal, and that's basically it. Other than making music, I was working around art.
Songfacts: Do you think that had any influence on your career?
Camp: Definitely. You're surrounded by starving artists who are framing art to make money to buy themselves art supplies, so I was constantly around a very diverse crowd of people. It was cool, because by hanging out with those people, I was introduced to music that I would have never known and art that I would have never seen, and views that it's okay to be gay and all kinds of stuff. It was great. And they all have amazing stories, because they're artists. I definitely pull from a lot of those characters when I'm writing.
January 11, 2017
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