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Smashing Success

[whitespace] Gregory Camp
Jay Blakesberg

Rockers from West Side find fame walking on the sun

Gina Arnold

The sure sign of a city's worth is the quality of its arts. Most great cities, for example, have produced a rock band whose music is synonymous with its charms: New York had the Ramones, L.A. had the Eagles, San Francisco the Grateful Dead. Until recently, alas, San Jose's only claim to fame was the Doobie Brothers (who broke up in 1978), but with the advent of Smash mouth, whose debut record, Fush Yu Mang, just went platinum, San Jose's back in business.

Smash mouth is the purveyor of a damned infectious single called "Walking on the Sun": it's been ringing out of radios all over the world for the last six months, and in addition, you can hear it in the trailer for the movie Wag the Dog as well as in An American Werewolf in Paris. The band, which has been touring nonstop for the last year (and will continue touring the world through 1998), has opened for U2, played in England and Puerto Rico and topped the charts in Spain, Singapore, Greece and Mexico City. In short, Smash mouth may even overtake the Doobie Brothers in popularity. But unlike the Doobie Brothers, the band's four members all grew up in San Jose and still live here. Guitarist and principal songwriter Gregory Camp, for example, attended Lynbrook High; he currently lives in the Rose Garden. The main change he's observed in San Jose over the past couple decades is architectural.

"I was raised in West San Jose, up toward Campbell," he says, "and we'd come to downtown San Jose by bus, and there was literally nothing here--no horizon. Now there's all these big buildings, and when you go away for six months, there's always something brand-new when you come back."

The music scene, however, is on a slower growth curve, Camp says. "There's been a lot of changes over the years here--the Laundry Works thing, Marsugi's, F/X, whatever--but basically, there's just never been enough places to play, especially all-ages places. The Cactus Club is really the only one, and it's not enough. We were going to play a gig here while we were off, and the Usual wanted us to play there. First we were really into it, and then we thought, It'd just be full of Usual-usuals and a few of our critics, and the kids who are the people who really like us wouldn't be able to get in."

Name: Gregory Camp
Age: 30
City of Origin: San Jose
How Long Here? 25 years
Hobbies and Interests: music, snowboarding
Favorite Place in the Valley: Downtown San Jose

Camp's referring to the fact that Smash mouth took a lot of flack from locals after signing last year with Interscope. "But we've found out from other bands that just goes with the territory," he says. "People give us shit for signing to a major, but the truth is our record was totally DIY."

Despite the problems, Camp still thinks San Jose is a good place to have begun a band. "It's good because you're a big fish in a little pond. In L.A. you're a minnow. There's tons of good musicians here, and it's easy to find them. We're the only band [from here] most people have heard of right now, but there's lots of great bands here, like the Odd Numbers and the Monkeys. I just went the other night and saw a great band at Agenda; they were called Dub Nation.

"The future of music in the valley?" he says. "Well, I don't know what will happen, but what I'd like to see happen is for a lot of new clubs to open for kids to be able to go to and for a lot more record executives to come up here and see some of these bands."

(Smash mouth appears Jan. 31 at the Warfield in S.F.)


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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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