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KRROFest preview: Viral sensation, move to U.S. spurs success for Sick Puppies

Australia trio among KRROFest bands, including Alice in Chains

May 9, 2013

These days, almost everybody who uploads a video to YouTube is hoping to become a viral sensation. Whether they’re the biggest pop star in the world or just a parent with a cute kid, they’re hoping that their video will propel them into some kind of stardom.

But long before most people had even heard of a viral video, Australian rockers Sick Puppies were part of an Internet sensation.

The video was called “Free Hugs,” a concept created by Juan Mann where individuals offer hugs to unsuspecting strangers. Mann befriended Sick Puppies singer/lead guitarist Shimon Moore, who began shooting video of Mann and his fellow huggers. This footage was later edited together with the song “All the Same” from Sick Puppies’ 2007 album, “Dressed Up as Life.”

Besides the goodwill created from Mann’s campaign, Moore says the 70 million views of the video was a lifeline for the then-struggling band.

“That video changed our career,” he says. “(It) blew us up, and every record label that we had gone to see a half dozen times with our hats in our hands came back to us and said, ‘Would you like to sign now?’ It turned everybody around.”

Years later, Moore, along with bassist Emma Anzai and drummer Mark Goodwin, are poised to make another giant leap with a new, still-untitled album set to hit stores July 15. The band, which will play at KRROFest on Tuesday, reportedly wrote more than 80 songs before hitting the recording studio. Moore says it’s their “best record so far” — mostly because “it’s a much louder record” than their previous releases.

Question: You and Emma (Anzai) formed this band way back in 1997 while in high school. How did that happen?

Answer: Emma was one year above me, so we were never in the same classes. But there was one day when we both booked the music room at lunchtime. When we both showed up, neither of us were willing to leave. She asked me if I knew any Green Day songs, and I did. She then asked if I knew any Silverchair songs, and I did. We played them all, front to back, and by the end of the week, we had finished playing all of their songs, so we started writing our own.

Q: Are you a bit surprised that 15 years later you’re still playing together?

A: I wouldn’t say surprised. I’m definitely grateful. I never really know where this thing is going to take us. We’ve never had a big plan. I knew I wanted us to get to the point where we were doing it all the time. Not to get famous, so to speak, but to reach the point where bands that we were influenced by got to be. We just wanted to be able to play around, see people, meet people and visit countries. We’re just really grateful we can do that.

Q: When did you first come to the United States? Was it sort of nerve-wracking?

A: It was 2005, and I think it was everything you could possibly feel. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. It was nerve-wracking. It wasn’t really scary, but it was like palatable excitement and adrenalin and all of that stuff. I was 20 years old and hadn’t been really outside of the country, and here I am moving all of my stuff to a new country. It was pretty crazy.

Q: So your first visit to the U.S. was to move here?

A: Yes. We came over with our guitars and a couple of suitcases. We signed a month-to-month rental, and we bought some really bad furniture off Cragislist. Then we headed off to Costco to find the cheapest household items we could find. We stayed here for three months, because that’s all you can get on a visa, and we kept renting while we were back home. Then we came back, and on that second trip we got a record deal.

Q: Did your family and friends think you were crazy to move here?

A: All of my family are from the entertainment industry. They’re active musicians and directors, so they supported us. There’s not really a very large industry in Australia. It’s a very small, clique-y industry, and there isn’t a lot of work. And what work you do get doesn’t pay as well as here because there isn’t much of an economy for it. It’s not a thriving business like it is here. There isn’t a lot of cities and there isn’t a lot of population, so there isn’t much you can do. So they were all pushing me. It was constantly, “When are you going to the States? When are you going to leave? When are you going? You gotta get out of here.”

Q: These days, everybody wants to create a viral video. You were actually a part of one of the first ones with the use of “All The Same” in the “Free Hugs” video. What kind of impact did that have on your career?

A: It had the biggest impact. Think about it. You still remember that it is one of the first viral videos. It’s kind of funny to me the impact of that video had on our career because it was really homemade. It was a good idea, and well-made, but also homemade. That makes a palatable difference. It connected us to our audience in such a big level, and it still has. People still remember it.

Q: Alice in Chains is headlining not only this show, but some other festivals you’re playing this spring. Are you a fan?

A: I love their stuff, but I didn’t discover them until I was touring and playing with them. I met the guys on the bus and backstage before I really knew their songs through and through.