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Sick Puppies make rock anthems for the ‘oddballs and outcasts’

By Steve Wildsmith | (stevew@thedailytimes.com)

Teens and young people on the fringes of the popular crowd have a friend in the band Sick Puppies.
The Australian three-piece, founder and vocalist/guitarist Shim Moore told The Daily Times this week, knows the pain of standing on the outside while looking in, but there’s an individuality to such a position that should be embraced. Moore himself, who had a record contract by the time he was 17, found himself the object of derision while in high school — ironically, from the popular kids, he said.

“They were just playing football or video games, but they had no idea what they were doing even though they were the popular kids and they were cool,” he said. “I was friends with other musicians and computer nerds who were really smart, and I never met a kid who was good at something who had a problem with me. If you want to be cool and fit in and have friends, you usually end up listening to what other people have to say; I wasn’t very popular, so I didn’t care what they said.

“Definitely I think our music has been used as the soundtrack for the odd ones and the outcasts. You wind up making yourself a victim as a result of those kinds of people, but you need music like that to go against it. No one else can make you a victim unless you let them.”

The same can be said of the three members of Sick Puppies, who have refused to let themselves be victimized by the music industry. Moore and bandmate Emma Anzai met in high school and started hanging out and jamming together, and playing area clubs quickly led to almost overnight success. The band won a national radio competition with Triple J (Unearthed), got a record deal and released a debut, but when the label folded, the pair — now joined by Mark Goodwin — decided to pool their resources and move to America.

They gained traction with the song “All the Same” was used as a soundtrack to a video known as “Free Hugs.” The song is from the band’s North American debut, “Dressed Up as Life,” which Sick Puppies cut after arriving in Los Angeles; it was a labor of love, but “Free Hugs” wound up garnering more than 11 million views on YouTube, telling the true-life story of a man who walks around holding a billboard that reads “Free Hugs”; when the police put a stop to his self-annointed crusade, he fights back with a petition that allows him to give out those hugs. The video earned Sick Puppies exposure on Oprah, Jay Leno, “60 Minutes” and CNN, and it pushed “All the Same” to the most-requested singles position at a number of radio stations.

Virgin Records signed the band, released “Dressed Up as Life” and put out its successor, 2009’s “Tri-Polar.” Earlier this year, Sick Puppies released “Connect” on Capitol Records, and as with everything the power trio does, the album was as honest as they could make it, Moore said.

“We could have made a very high-chord record; I mean, we can do that and we can play heavy, but we wrote those songs because that’s where we’re at,” he said. “We wrote everything on the acoustic guitar, got them down to a lyric or a riff and talked about what the songs were going to be about, what we believe in and what we wanted them to say. And then we sort of bashed it out.

“We pick the songs to record after we’ve demo’ed them acoustically, and just pick the 10, 12 or 16 best songs based on the quality. We don’t worry about the temperature of radio.”

As a result, “Connect” debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 chart, the highest-charting position to date for the band. Moore — who will perform with his Sick Puppies bandmates on Thursday, Sept. 26 at NV Nightclub in Knoxville’s Old City — credits the success to their vision. They stay true to themselves and encourage their fans to do the same, and as such the band’s music becomes both solace and encouragement for the rock fans who don’t tow the line of conformity.

“The narrative is more sort of the narrative of the band, and this sounds super-cheesy and stuff, but it’s about following your purpose,” he said. “You can call it a dream if you want, but it really is the idea that you have a purpose and you’re put on this earth to do something. You feel good when you do, and if you don’t follow it, you’re not going to feel good in your life.

“A lot of people get worried when they haven’t found that thing, and when you’re certain way down the road, it becomes difficult to change trajectory. But we’re very happy to be the soundtrack to making that change, because it can be done if you want it bad enough.”