Smash Mouth’s Greg Camp thinks Steely Dan is “pretty snobby”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 17, 2002

The first time I saw Shrek, on DVD at home, some friends of ours had come over with their six-year-old boy. When the opening credits rolled the kid started getting hyper, bouncing around like it was Christmas morning. It could have been the sight of the film’s titular green beastie farting loudly in a pond or brushing his teeth with bug guts that got him all riled up, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the exhilarating effect of Smash Mouth’s “All Star”. The catchy tune, which had already been a huge hit off the group’s 1999 Astro Lounge CD, was written by guitarist and main songwriter Greg Camp.

“That song is sort of like the gift that keeps on giving,” relates Camp, on the line from his home in Santa Cruz, California. As if the resurrection of “All Star” wasn’t enough of a boon for the band, its energized version of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” turned up at the end of Shrek to deliver a Smash Mouth double whammy to untold millions of moviegoers and video renters.

That wasn’t the first time that the power-pop quartet’s infectious vibe lit up the silver screen, however; a revamped version of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” was heard in the previous year’s Jim Carrey flick, Me, Myself & Irene. “Steely Dan didn’t like it,” reveals Camp, “but they’re pretty snobby. That band is, like, technically great musicians, that was their whole shtick, so to have just a bunch of garage guys tryin’ to play like them, I think they took it as a slap in the face.”

Our conversation moves from the big to the small screen when this scribbler follows up a tip in Smash Mouth’s current bio, wherein Camp notes that his Santa Cruz stomping ground has recently become known as the home of a well-known contestant on Survivor 3. “You wanna hear somethin’ funny?” he asks. “I grew up with Lex! I was in a band with him years ago. He’s been trying to get on Survivor for a coupla years now, and he finally got it, so… I just talked to him this morning, and he’s on his way to L.A. for the final episode on Thursday. He doesn’t know if he won yet, but he knows he’s in the final two. He’s a good guy, and he’s had a lotta hard luck in his life, so I hope he gets it.”

As all Survivor freaks know by now, the cutthroat Lex van den Berghe didn’t win the latest series. And in spite of his former bandmate’s supposed inside information, he didn’t even make it to the final two, losing the show’s final immunity challenge to a hardy 56-year-old woman. Now that he’s let a cool million slip through his fingers, the tattoo-heavy van den Berghe probably wishes that his musical union with Camp had never gone by the wayside. Financially, it would have been wise to stick with the prolific tunesmith, who penned no fewer than 10 of the 13 tracks on Smash Mouth’s current self-titled CD. One of the few tunes Camp didn’t write is the disc’s first single, “Pacific Coast Party”, a disco-y ditty reminiscent of ’70s TV shows brought in by Canadian bassist Paul DeLisle.

“He writes a lotta songs,” says Camp of the Ottawa native, “but he’s been afraid to show ’em to us; he didn’t really want to rock the boat as far as the formula was goin’. Then one day I was at his house and I went, ‘Play me some of your stuff!’ and he played that song and a few other ones, and that one stood out.”

Camp figures his group took a big chance releasing “Pacific Coast Party” as the leadoff single from Smash Mouth, and the fact that it hasn’t performed nearly as well on the charts as previous singles like “Walking on the Sun” and “All Star” gives credence to his concerns. But the 34-year-old rocker also claims that his band—which plays Richard’s on Richards next Thursday (January 24)—is sounding better than ever, thanks to the recruitment of former Cracker drummer Michael Urbano. He took the place of original drummer Kevin Coleman—a childhood friend of Smash Mouth vocalist Steve Harwell—who left due to persistent and severe back pain.

“He’s probably one of the best drummers out there,” says Camp of Urbano, “but more than that, he gets what we’re tryin’ to do. He’s the guy who came in and just shaped everybody up, going, ‘We have to have good shows every single show! We have to give 100 percent every time!’ We call him Sgt. Carter.”

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