Sick Puppies has come a very long way since they formed back in 1999 by Shim Moore and Emma Anzai while they were still in high school. Their hard work and dedication to their craft has garnered them legions of dedicated fans, who’s input has helped them navigate the treacherous waters of the ever-changing music industry. For their third and most ambitious studio album, ‘Connect’ serves as the perfect title . The trio is all about connection–with their fans, each other, their own psyches—and each of the dozen songs on ‘Connect’–from intense, epic rockers to mellower yet lyrically anguished ballads–is introspective yet also universal. From the first single, “There’s No Going Back” to the band’s most political song, the ironic “Gunfight,” Connect will exhilarate old fans and captivate new ones. The L.A.-based, Australian-bred band struck an elusive musical and lyrical balance of past and future on Connect, as band co-founder/singer/guitarist Shimon Moore explains: “There are two ways to shoot yourself in the foot—never changing… or changing too much.” With Connect, Sick Puppies came into their own, thanks in no small part to five years of touring and a full year of songwriting, finding their musical medium without sacrificing intensity or their trademark, dead-on lyrical acuity and introspection. Since the release of ‘Tri-Polar’ (nearly half a million units to date and over 2 million single sold) and its slew of radio hits—the #1 Rock track “You’re Going Down,” the Top Five Modern Rock/Active Rock hits “Odd One” & “Riptide” and the cross-format anthemic smash “Maybe.” ‘Connect’ (out July 16, 2013), with its melding of room-filling rockers and edgy yet poignant lyrics, is poised to be the lineup’s best-selling record yet. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Shim Moore (vocals/guitar) to discuss the creation of ‘Connect’, the band’s songwriting process, life on tour and much more!
Going all the way back to the beginning of your story, how did music first come into your life?
My very first memory of music is a mix tape that my Dad made for me because I used to go up to visit my Mom in Brisbane. He made a mixtape for me to listen to on the plane. The first time I heard “Riff Raff” by AC/DC, my ears switched on! It was all over after that! He had a big record collection and I listened to everything on there from David Bowie to The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to the Sex Pistols. The would say the biggest musical influences I had are Silverchair and Incubus, as far as general songwriting and melodic sensibility. I really admire Daniel Johns singing and guitar playing, as well as Rage Against The Machine for the grooves.
What was it about music that made you take the plunge and pursue it as a career?
To be honest, it was the only thing I was good at! [laughs] I could have done acting or I could have done music. I got the opportunity to start a band with Emma [Anzai] and music is something you can share, create and work. I mean, you can always pick up a guitar and play anywhere and with acting you can’t do that, as there has to be a whole production and have to be injected into it. With music, you can play anywhere and you have more ownership of it.
Here we are all these years later and you are several albums deep. Your latest release is called “Connect”. How did you arrive at this title and what does it mean to you personally?
It is a number of things. First off, there was the song “Connect,” the title track. It seemed fitting when it became clear we were making a record that was a bit of a musical and lyrical step forward, in the vein of classic, good songwriting stuff. We were also going onto www.sickpuppiesworldcrew.com, Twitter and Facebook, which is all about connectivity, so it just seemed to make sense for that. But also, when you really break down what music is in the first place, you realize it is a tool to connect emotion, people to each other or any number of other connections, so it just sorta rounded up everything.
What were your expectations for this album? Was there something you realized you wanted to achieve early on?
Just to make the dopest fuckin’ thing that we could, man! [laughs] We wrote over one hundred songs and the great songs really showed themselves. When you write a song that is a step up, you can hear it as soon as you hear it back. Once we realized we could write songs like that, we put in a lot more work. For every fifteen songs you write, only one great one would come up. We had a lo of good songs that had good riffs or melodies which were nice or good but good doesn’t cut it. They had to be great, especially when you have the opportunity, the time, the studio and people making a record with you. That was really it, we just wanted to make the best thing we could. We let the songs do the work rather than try to sound like “You’re Going Down” every song or trying to sound like Rage Against The Machine. We just were like “Let’s just write songs, the best songs will end up on the record and then that is what our band is going to sound like.” That is the best we can be.
Did you end up with anything left over from those writing sessions that may one day see the light of day?
Well, not really. There are a couple of riffs we might jam on. Ya know, once you create this thing in the blender, throw everything you have in there, the cream rises to the top, you take the cream and put it out there and sell it to people, you don’t really need this anymore. You can just get rid of it.
What is the typical songwriting process like for Sick Puppies these days? Has it changed much since those early years?
The first record was all jamming, the first record in Australia. The second record, which was the first U.S. record, “Dressed Up As Life,” was more acoustic guitar. Pretty much, since then, you sit down with an acoustic guitar and you know when you play a riff on acoustic, when it is plugged in it will sound a certain way because you know how to be a band and when it will sound like a big fat riff! From there, you maybe come up with a chord progression, a melody or a single line because you might sing something like “It’s All The Same” and decide that is what the song will be called. Then you talk about it and discuss what it might mean. When you sit down to write the song, you probably spend half of the time discussing what it is about, what are we going to say and where we are going to take it. Then you have to map it out. That is how it usually happens, not that it happens this way every time, but as a general guide. Then you have to chip away at it. It is like having a big chunk of stone and saying “I want to see that sculpture.” Then you have to make it happen!
What was the biggest challenging of bringing “Connect” to life?
Definitely, the writing. We would write all of these songs. Once you write a verse, a chorus and the lyrics and you do all of that work. By the time you get to the end of the first chorus, you have it and you have to write that second verse, more lyrics and a bridge. Half the time, you fuck around with the bridge and say “If this song makes the record, we can always rewrite the bridge because the bridge is just the bridge getting you to the next space. When you get to the end of the first chorus you know pretty much if it is going to be a song that is going to make it. Most of the time, it’s not because twelve songs out of one hundred, most of them aren’t going to make it. You write these songs and you go “Oh fuck! This isn’t one of them!” but you have to finish it! Just getting through and finishing the songs was a challenge. The ones that didn’t make it were good but you just knew they weren’t quite right. You could hear it and feel it when it was right! That was the hardest thing. I mean, we worked for nine months or more, altogether.
You just hit the road in support of this record. Is writing on the road something you focus on?
Not really a focus, no. When we did the first record, we tried to write on the road because we thought that was what bands do. We saw a My Chemical Romance documentary and they were writing “The Black Parade” on the road. We all thought “Wow! That’s what bands do! They have laptop studios!” So, we did that and we didn’t end up writing many good songs and that was because we were focused on it. We didn’t have a lot of energy because we were playing a show every night and two different acoustic shows during the day for radio stations for weeks and weeks at a time. As you can imagine, you get really tired. You don’t have the energy to be creative and you have to be creative to write a song, it is a different type of energy. You have to sit there, be patient, hum to yourself, think and wait in silence for half an hour, That takes a lot of energy! If you don’t have the energy and are trying to think, your mind wanders and you find yourself thinking about “Oh, I wonder what is going to happen on Breaking Bad?” and you zone out! [laughs]
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician and as a band through the years?
I think we have all evolved in the same direction as a band. I think we have all sat down and said “Ok, we want to make a record that is more musical and isn’t just riff after riff, screaming, screaming screaming.” We have it and we recognize we need to write some of those songs because we didn’t want to make a soft record but we didn’t want to make the same, active rock album. We wanted to make something that would satisfy everyone and make everyone go, “Ah, they are really stepping it up!” We want to play those types of songs and play songs that really affect people, and not just make them bang their heads. We already have those songs and it is great! People come to the shows, we play them and we are never going to stop playing them but there is no point in writing the same cookie cutter shit! We sorta evolved into wanting to have more space, more music and more dynamics. In terms of individuality as players, I think it is a matter of all of use getting better at our instruments gradually. Songwriting helps with that a lot because you have to find different chord shapes, different scales and other things. You really have to push yourself and that makes you a better musician. I guess we have all gotten slightly better by touring because that hones you in quite a bit.
Where do you see yourselves heading musically in the future?
It really depends on how well this record is received. We are very aware of what our fans want. The reason we went so far musically is because we went onto our World Crew fan website and asked them. We said “If we did this are you cool with it?” We asked if we made more songs like “White Balloon,” which is on the last record and is kinda musical and Zeppelin-y in a way, if it would be cool. They said “Oh yeah, we love that song!” So we said, “Alright, we can do it!” If they just said “No, no, no. We want more “You’re Going Down.” We would have known we couldn’t do it but they said “Yes! We want to hear Emma singing. We want the musicality. We really want you to push it, as long as you have a few other songs as well!” And of course we are going to do that! We really work in parallel with our fans and as they age and their musical tastes change, so do ours and we just make sure we stay in touch with them.
That is really cool and certainly a rarity, even in this day and age. How about music outside of Sick Puppies. Is there a type of music or a particular project you can see yourself wanting to pursue in the future?
You mean like a solo thing?
Not necessarily a solo record but perhaps exploring new musical ground by way of a side project or even something you just want to explore personally as a musician.
I am sure that as opportunities come, like the one we had writing the song for WWE, which is where “You’re Going Down” and “Street Fighter.” If we could do a song for the soundtrack of a movie, that would be great! We would love to do that! You know, you go and watch a movie and they want you to write a song based on the way it made you feel. That would be fun. Right now, I am sure if an opportunity comes up, we will take it but Sick Puppies is my priority.
How is life on tour different for you these days versus what it was like on past runs?
It is a little more relaxed. We made a point to make it that way because we got burned out on the last tour at the end of the last album cycle. We just toured for too long with not enough breaks. When we got to this record, we sat down and decided to take more of a holistic approach so we could do better shows and be better people. I got married and I have a wife to take into consideration. So, certain things changed like me being healthier with veggie shakes and stuff like that. We have a dry bus now, so all of those things really help it out.
Looking back at the history of Sick Puppies, what do you consider the biggest high and low?
The biggest low was probably at the end of touring “Tri-Polar” because we were so burned out. I was burnt out. There is a tunnel vision thing that happens and you go kinda insane. You lose perspective on who people are and what things mean. Someone might say something and you say “What the fuck does that mean!” [laughs] And it was totally in your head! It drives you slightly crazy! [laughs] It isn’t a mental illness thing, you just are on auto-pilot because there is no other way to function. You are just going and there is no break. The plane moves, the bus moves, the show moves and the crowd moves. Everything is moving, so you just lose perspective. I think the good stuff, for me, is meeting people you are a fan of and finding out they are a fan of your band. For example, the drummer from Pantera, Vinnie Paul. Mark [Goodwin] met him one time and was introduced by a mutual friend. He asked him which band he was in and Mark said Sick Puppies. Vinnie Paul spread his legs, dropped down and started playing “You’re Going Down” on air guitar! He said “I love that song!” It is a huge compliment! It’s funny, Dave Grohl was outside earlier today. It is all we have been talking about all day. I was walking back from lunch and he drove past on his bike with his family. I’m looking at him like “It’s fuckin’ Dave Grohl!” I am just looking at him because what are you going to do? Not look at him? [laughs] I look at him and he looks at me and says “Are you playing tonight?” and I thought “How the fuck do you even know who I am!” I put it together afterwards! He knows my band! Fuck! [laughs] Even if I never see him again, just that moment and little things like that are really cool! Those are the highs!
Do you feel there are any misconceptions about the band at this point in your career?
I think the idea that we are really hardcore is kinda silly! We did “You’re Going Down” that is very in your face. Misconceptions? Hmmm. I don’t think so. Well, I guess we will find out if there are any misconceptions once this record gets digested a little bit. In terms of it’s reception, most people have been really positive so far. They have enjoyed the songs and they can hear what we are doing. It’s been really good.
What do you guys have in mind for the next single or video release?
We don’t know, we don’t know! We are waiting to hear what the fans say because we have only been touring for a couple of weeks. Once we get to the end of the September run, which will be mid-to-late October, we are going to have a good feel because we are going to be playing a few more songs off of “Connect” and have a real feel for what they are responding to! We chose the second single off of “Tri-Polar” because of the fan response. Everyone was singing this song and they changed our minds. We were going to go with “Riptide” but instead went with “Odd One”. It worked out because we were listening! So, we are waiting to hear back from our fans!
You have mentioned your connection to your fans many times. That connection is a very cool one. For those who may look to you as an inspiration, what is the best piece of advice you can give to those looking to make music a career?
I have to say that 90% of the time, you have to spend working on your songwriting, playing your instrument and making your music. If you want to be a serious musician, you want to do it for any decent reason other than to get paid or get chicks or whatever. If you want to create something, it will always get heard eventually. People now are spending 90% of their time promoting, whether it is Facebooking, making videos or tweeting and their music is not very good. I mean, it is OK, but it is cookie cutter, laptop made music. There is nothing wrong with making music on a laptop using shitty instruments or cheap stuff, if you make it sound good because you have put the work in. If you work really hard, you can make music. I say that because I did it. I bought a 16 track digital recorder to make all my demos and I had to play everything live. I couldn’t cut in, I couldn’t tune it and I couldn’t Pro Tools it. I could have bought a computer but I bought this thing because I wanted to be a better musician. I wanted to be able to say, when someone walks in, “Yeah, I actually played this shit.,” because that is what you have to be able to do. You could walk into a place and someone can press play and says “Here is my song.” If you said “Connect it with me. Make me feel something, instead of just pressing play.,” 90% of them couldn’t do it. They will tell you about a million Facebook fans. A lot of times, people are only listening to how many Facebook fans you have or if you have a viral video. If you have a great song, no one cares about any of that other stuff! There is no one I have met, and I have met a lot of people in the recording industry, who doesn’t want to be inspired. If you have a song that makes them feel good and go “Oh, man! I want to sell that because it will make everyone feel good! It will make me a lot of money but that is why it will make me money, because it will make everyone feel good and that is what is supposed to do!” What they are doing instead is selling their Facebook fans. “I have a million Facebook fans, so when you put it out maybe 10% will actually pay for it.” They do the math and it is all about money. However, it is boring! It’s not good music! The best advice is that if you make something good, it will be heard! It’s a guarantee! It happens! It doesn’t not get heard! Greatness gets there!
Thanks so much for talking with us, Shim. We really appreciate your time! We will be spreading the word!
Absolutely! Thank you for helping promote the record! We really appreciate your support!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.