Tragic Details About Smash Mouth

For those under the age of 30, Smash Mouth is ubiquitous. Over the course of two decades, the band's inescapable hit "All Star" has become a full-fledged phenomenon. It's equal parts viral glory and brilliant musicianship, the rare — if not the only — chart-topping hit in recent history to use a diminished chord. At the time of this writing, the track has more than 714 million Spotify streams, which speaks volumes considering the song came out around the time that Spotify founder Daniel Ek would've been celebrating his Sweet 16.

On the surface, "All Star" might've been the face that launched a thousand memes. It's a safe bet that if you walk into any bar in America, you'll be able to find someone who can recite the lyrics from start to finish, but the song's message has always remained at the core of its allure. There's no other way to swing it: when Smash Mouth told a generation of hopeful young millennials that the world was going to roll them, they meant it.

Smash Mouth's meteoric rise to fame has not been without struggle — but if the 90's icons taught us anything, it's that when the world's on fire, at least it's not boring.

Smash Mouth were 'completely broke' when they started

Smash Mouth hit the ground running in 1997 and achieved the Holy Grail of music success: a chart-topping hit on their debut album. "Walkin' on the Sun" made the group unequivocal stars. As manager Robert Hayes told Rolling Stone, it was like a switch flipped, and they went from "completely broke and having nothing" to "[having] more money than they know what to do with." This success was actually a long time coming.

When the band formed in 1994 after being introduced by Hayes, all of the members had been struggling for years in other projects. According to Rolling Stone's oral history, singer Steve Harwell had grown disillusioned with his burgeoning rap career as a member of F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech). Similarly, guitarist Greg Camp and bassist Paul De Lisle were trying to find success with their hip-hop band Lackadaddy. Camp had even been playing in a cover band just to make a few bucks. "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," Hayes told Rolling Stone.

Camp told the Orlando Sentinel that the band recorded "Walkin' on the Sun" without a record deal. A mere 24 hours after they convinced Los Angeles rock station KROQ to play the track, Interscope came knocking.

The real meaning of Walkin' on the Sun is pretty dark

"Walkin' on the Sun" was a hit that almost never happened. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Camp revealed that he originally wrote the song for his former band Lackadaddy, but they "hated it." The demo was relegated to a cassette where it was forgotten until it was discovered by Smash Mouth's original drummer Kevin Coleman. "Once we recorded it ... we came back and listened to it," Camp said. "We were all like 'If people get into this, it's going to be pretty big."'

Camp was right. "Walkin' on the Sun" dominated the airwaves following the release of Smash Mouth's debut album "Fush Yu Mang." In 1998, it peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 Airplay chart. What most people don't know is that the song has a very dark meaning. Camp told the Los Angeles Times that he wrote the track about the 1992 Los Angeles riots as he was riding his bike through a neighborhood one night and felt "kind of afraid — where I normally wouldn't be afraid."

"There was a lot of racial tension everywhere because of the riots," he said. " ... I looked around and said, 'Why does it have to be like this? It's time to write a protest — a '90s let's-all-get-along type of song.' And so I kind of wrote it while I was riding my bike."

All Star is the true story of a bad relationship

In the '90s there was a sort of cultural shift. One day, the world woke up and decided that the best way to diss someone was by putting their fingers and their thumbs in the shape of an L on their foreheads. Then again, we're the same generation that habitually screamed "wassup" for three years straight. Smash Mouth didn't invent it, but they were inspired by it.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Greg Camp revealed that the iconic "L on her forehead" lyrics — which arguably set the tone for "All Star" — was "a true story." It's actually a tale as old as time: a band dude dates an unsupportive partner who tries to convince him to quit on his dreams and get a so-called real job. At the time, Camp was making money by playing in wedding and cover bands. He'd stay out late partying, but his partner had to wake up early to work a regular job. She didn't approve of his lifestyle. "There was a lot of jealousy happening," he said. "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." 

More than 10 million album sales later, that person is looking pretty dumb.

Steve Harwell tragically lost his infant son

Smash Mouth's 1999 album "Astro Lounge" helped the band solidify their success beyond that of a one hit wonder. Not long after its release, "All Star" peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard "Hot 100." Two years later, DreamWorks used the track in the title sequence of the animated film "Shrek," which made $42.4 million on its opening weekend. The band was at the undeniable height of their career, but then tragedy struck.

According to Pollstar, Steve Harwell's infant son, Presley Scott, died of "complications from acute lymphocytic leukemia" three months after "Shrek's" premiere. MTV reports that the six month old had been sick "for only a few weeks," and his condition deteriorated rapidly. At the time, Smash Mouth was in North Dakota ahead of their gig at the state fair, and Harwell received an "emergency phone call" informing him that his son had been rushed to the emergency room.  Harwell sped home to Las Vegas, and the infant died in the early hours of the morning, prompting Smash Mouth to cancel a string of their tour dates and appearances. 

Unlike other celebrities who have lost a child, Harwell did not grieve publicly, but he did create The Presley Scott Research Foundation for Leukemia with his then-wife Michelle Laroque. The nonprofit has since been dissolved.

Smash Mouth spun too 'out of control' for Michael Urbano

Smash Mouth has gone through their fair share of lineup changes — but the role of drummer seems to be the most difficult to fill. The band's original drummer Kevin Coleman was forced to leave because of back problems. Steve Harwell told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that it started affecting their shows and got bad enough that they "didn't even want to go out there." For a while, they worked with another drummer named Mitch Marine, then eventually landed on Michael Urbano.

Urbano is the type of drummer every band wants. He was originally brought in as a session player when Smash Mouth was recording "All Star." According to Kerrang, he listened to the song once and recorded his part in two takes. He ended up sticking with the band for the next few years, but quit after they released their sixth studio album, "Summer Girl," in 2006. So what happened?

Urbano told Rolling Stone that it felt like "things were spinning out of control." After six albums, the band couldn't agree on their future. "I think that there were just differences of opinion about what we should do, and what direction we should take," he said. Though Urbano still occasionally performs with the band, his official exit was a harbinger of problems to come.

A feud made Greg Camp quit the band

Tension in a band is inevitable. There are only so many hours you can spend with someone before you want to ditch them on the side of Route 66. That doesn't make Greg Camp's 2008 exit from Smash Mouth any less shocking. The star penned the band's most successful hits but decided to hang up the towel because he couldn't get along with Steve Harwell. 

Camp told The Mercury News that tensions rose as he seriously began to pursue his dream of making a solo record. At the time, he was also working on a Smash Mouth album. Harwell got angry that Camp was saving songs for himself rather than giving them to the band, and the pair found themselves at an impasse.

"... Either me or one of the other people in the band had to leave, and if that person left, then that band wouldn't be together anymore," he told The Mercury News. "My friends are in that band, so I didn't want everyone to lose their jobs just because two of us didn't really get along."

Camp took a decade to cool down before rejoining the band. In 2019, Harwell admitted that their relationship never quite recovered. "The fact is that Greg and I have had struggles. It's painful, and I miss it," he told Rolling Stone. "... It just happens. Sometimes you just get tired of each other a little bit."

The ultimate '90s battle of the bands is still kicking

One of Smash Mouth's most enduring tabloid rumors is an alleged rivalry between Steve Harwell and Third Eye Blind frontman Stephen Jenkins. According to Spin, the feud was reignited in 2014 after both bands played the BottleRock Festival in Napa Valley, and Harwell reportedly told Third Eye Blind to "suck my d**k" from the stage. In the past, Harwell has gone on record to say that Jenkins is "not a good person," so what's the deal?

There's no explicit reason for the on-going feud, but The Washington Post suggests that Harwell may have carried the baggage from his side project Radio Angel. The band counts former Third Eye Blind guitarist Kevin Cadogan as a member, and Cadogan has a nasty history with Jenkins. Per MTV, the guitarist sued the Third Eye Blind frontman (and the band and their manager) after he was fired in 2000 (he also claimed the band stranded him in Utah and left him to pick up the hotel tab). Cadogan initially asked for millions and reportedly settled for an undisclosed amount.

How Harwell fits into this is unclear. Maybe he rides hard for his friends, though his manager suggested it's just a friendly local rivalry. "Steve always talks [expletive] about Stephan Jenkins," he told The Washington Post. "They're both Bay Area guys." Either way, after more than 20 years, it's time to put the past away.

The bread-throwing incident that made Steve Harwell crumble

Every artist has to deal with hecklers. They're just not usually dealing with them after selling more than 10 million records. Alas, the hecklers start coming and they don't stop coming — and while there's no rule that you can't heckle your hecklers back, you probably shouldn't threaten them with violence.

In 2015, Smash Mouth made headlines for something other than "All Star" memes and Steve Harwell's heartwarming friendship with Guy Fieri. This time, Harwell had an absolute meltdown on stage at Taste of Fort Collins, which The Wrap describes as a "family-friendly food festival" in Colorado. Vendors gave out free loaves of bread during the festival, which fans started throwing around the crowd and stage as Smash Mouth performed. You know the cliché. Rock stars have bras thrown at them, not bread — and Harwell was angry. As the band played, he lashed out, calling the crowd "little p****y b*****s" and threatening to "beat the f*** out of" whoever kept throwing bread. At one point, a security guard even held him back before the band segued into "All Star."

At the end of the day, Festival organizer Jason Ornstein brushed it all off. "We just had to laugh at it, because he just really made a fool of himself," he told The Coloradoan. Needless to say, Harwell probably did not bake Sourdough like everyone else during the pandemic. This was clearly a traumatic experience.

Steve Harwell struggles with cardiomyopathy

If Smash Mouth has taught fans anything during their decades-long career, it's that rock stars are fallible. Steve Harwell has been battling health issues for years, and it all unfolded under the notoriously unforgiving watch of the tabloids.

According to Page Six, Harwell was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscles, in 2015. The condition makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body, resulting in symptoms like fatigue, swelling, breathlessness, heart palpitations, dizziness, and fainting. These symptoms reared their ugly head in 2016, when Harwell collapsed on stage during a performance at the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival in Urbana, Illinois. Per Page Six, he was wheeled away in an ambulance, as his band finished their set with "All Star" and "I'm a Believer." The show must go on.

A year later, the Smash Mouth singer was hospitalized again after struggling to breath during a soundcheck. According to TMZ, he took an Uber to the hospital, where doctors gave him oxygen and IVs. The diagnosis? Cardiomyopathy. The band was forced to cancel a couple gigs, including one that sold out. Harwell's health problems would only get worse from here.

Was Steve Harwell okay behind the scenes?

Steve Harwell has been open about his struggle with cardiomyopathy. Collapsing on stage is something that's impossible to hide, but according to the rocker's ex-fiancée Esther Campbell, there may be more to it. Harwell may be dealing with an alcohol issue behind the scenes. According to TMZ, Campbell was granted a temporary restraining order against Harwell in 2019 (though she claimed that Smash Mouth's management tried to dissuade her from filing). In the filing, she alleged that Harwell exhibited "threatening behavior," which she attributed to a drinking problem. She asked the judge to force the rocker into rehab or AA.

It looks like Harwell did seek help, at least according to Campbell. When she filed for a second restraining order in 2020, she claimed the singer had quietly gone to rehab but relapsed earlier in the year. According to TMZ, that's when he became "verbally and mentally [abusive]" yet again, even stealing her phone and car keys. Campbell also claimed that Harwell suffered from bipolar disorder and wasn't taking his medicine (something Harwell has never spoken about and TMZ could not confirm).

Campbell has been clear that the singer's alleged behavior was "vindictive, angry, vile, and mean," but Harwell's team has yet to comment on the situation. It's unclear if they ever will.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA's 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Smash Mouth's performance went viral – and not in a good way

For a band that's been nominated for Teen Choice Awards, Smash Mouth has a knack for controversy, at least in recent years. In 2020, the group sparked outrage when they performed at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota to a crowd of thousands who seemingly flouted the CDC's social distancing and mask guidelines.

At the time, coronavirus cases were soaring in the United States and the global death toll had surpassed 160,000. According to Rolling Stone, this led most of the festival's headliners (including Willie Nelson and ZZ Top) to drop off the bill. Smash Mouth raged on, fanning the flames as Harwell blurted out: "We're all here together tonight, and we're being human once again. F** that COVID s**t."

The fallout was fierce. The band was sent literal hate mail in the form of at least one angry letter and a smashed CD, which they mocked on Instagram (before deleting the post). Apparently, the pandemic gave people time to pen handwritten letters and search for celebrities' mailing addresses. It got so bad that Smash Mouth's manager defended the event, telling Billboard that there was a "very strict social distancing and mask policy" for workers.

When all was said and done, the CDC linked the rally (which had upwards of 400,000 attendees) to more than 600 cases. One study estimated that the true impact could've been more than 250,000 cases, but we'll probably never actually know.

Steve Harwell's health issues led to his early retirement

In October 2021, Steve Harwell announced that he was retiring from Smash Mouth. Variety summed up the news in one gut-punch of a headline: "Smash Mouth's Steve Harwell will no longer get the show on, get paid." It was a sad moment for fans, but one that seemed inevitable. Earlier that month, a video of the band's chaotic performance in upstate New York — which saw Harwell yelling, slurring words, and making crude gestures — went viral. This time, it felt more serious than watching a rock star yell about breadcrumbs. As TMZ points out, Harwell "seemed completely dissociated" at times. 

Not long after the performance, the band's rep told the New York Post that Harwell's behavior was a result of numerous health conditions, and he was retiring to "focus on his physical and mental health." According to TMZ, these health issues included his cardiomyopathy diagnosis, which led to complications like "heart failure and Wernicke's encephalopathy," which affects "motor functions, including speech and memory."

"Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of being a Rockstar performing in front of sold-out arenas and have been so fortunate to live out that dream," Harwell told TMZ. "To my bandmates, it's been an honor performing with you all these years and I can't think of anyone else I would have rather gone on this wild journey with."

It's all ogre now, but at least the royalties for "All Star" are probably forever.