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Smash Mouth rides the next wave of 'Classic Rock' into Batavia Downs on June 21

By Howard B. Owens
smash mouth
Smash Mouth
Submitted photo.

The music of the 1990s is still going strong, the way Zach Goode, lead singer of Smash Mouth, sees it.

Twenty-five years ago, San Jose-based Smash Mouth topped the charts with songs like Walking on the Sun and All Star, a pair of multiplatinum albums, and scoring multiple Top 40 hits, a string of success that continued into the early part of the new century.

Goode is in a unique position to observe the 1990s music scene. He worked it with some regional success in San Diego's vibrant punk, metal, and alternative rock scene and then took a deep dive into the Smash Mouth catalog three years ago when he replaced founding lead singer Steve Harwell. (Harwell left the band in 2021 due to health issues. He died in 2023.)

Once in the role, Goode studied Smash Mouth's records inside and out and knew, he said, just how well-written the songs were.

Zach Goode
Photo by Cindy Hayes.

"I was really familiar with the hits," said Goode, himself a songwriter.  "I didn't know all their back catalog, and as I listened to some of the stuff, I was like, 'Wow, if you had a different vocal on this, it could be a Beck song.' Some of the stuff is totally cool and artsy; it's retro and space-age, so it's really cool.  It still sounds futuristic.

"It's really good songwriting. I think some of the songs Greg (Camp) wrote (are really good).  If he wrote a song about a car, you know, that song is going to have three or four verses, a beginning, a middle, and an end. It wasn't just like a trendy, catchy earworm. He tells a story, and all the songs are very clever."

Camp left the band in 2008 and has returned periodically, but has worked on other projects, released solo material and is currently a songwriter and producer based in Los Angeles.

Canadian Paul De Lisle is the lone original member of Smash Mouth still with the band.

A hallmark of Smash Mouth's albums is the variety of genres they mixed together, which helps the entire catalog sound fresh today, from punk and hip-hop to ska and alt-rock. They even touched on bossa nova and disco.

"It's kind of a matter where all of the elements kind of came together -- the lyric, the production -- Eric Valentine's production was incredible -- and obviously they had hits, so that's what sets them apart from some bands."

Smash Mouth continues to attract a large crowd based on all of those hit songs, even if recent chart success has been elusive.

Since Goode joined the band, Smash Mouth has recorded 14 new tracks, including a Christmas album, along with a few singles. The latest single is Ride On, a disco jam celebration of California.

The band is working toward turning out a new album, hopefully by the end of the year, but between touring and all the band members living in different parts of the country, there are logistical challenges to overcome.

Meanwhile, they continue recording singles.

"I have about five songs I wrote that I submitted that are kind of in the queue," Goode said. "We're just slowly recording new songs and putting them out there. That's kind of the new paradigm in the music biz, right? Just to put songs out and work them for a while and then do another one. No one is in a real big rush to put out a new album unless you're the Taylor Swift of the world these days."

Those early Smash Mouth records were pretty special, as Goode understands, and that's the bar the band knows it must meet and what they're aiming for, Goode suggested.

"It's not easy, you know; it's like there's a certain thing that they had," Goode said. "That's not easy to replicate. I mean, even they couldn't replicate it, you know? Every song would be a number-one hit if they could be, but it's not that easy. There has to be a little bit of magic involved."

Three years into his new gig, Goode is grateful for the step up from a local band with no crew to support the performers to one with professionals all around and large, appreciative crowds that know all the band's songs.

"It's really nice to travel with these guys who know how to do their jobs," Goode said. "You're able to just focus and put on a good show. 

"And wherever we go, ten thousand people show up, and they know all the songs. It's been a blessing. It's just great."

He also appreciates how the fans have embraced him as a new frontman for a beloved band.

"I was expecting a lot more pushback," Goode said. "I mean, sometimes, people aren't happy when you replace a band member, especially the lead singer, especially an iconic singer, so I was braced for the worst, and right from the beginning, people were just super accepting and nice."

As the new frontman for one of the top groups from the 1990s, he's stepped into a world that includes, among others, Everclear, Sugar Ray, the Spin Doctors, Fastball, Live, and the Barenaked Ladies.  These are bands, he notes, that may no longer have the chart success they once had but still are in demand and draw big crowds.

"They might not still be on the radio every day but there's a huge generation of people (who are fans)," Goode said. "The older classic rock bands are not going to be around forever, unfortunately, and the 90s bands are the next wave of classic rock."

Smash Mouth headlines at Batavia Downs on June 21.  For tickets, click here.

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