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Sick Puppies move beyond "free hugs" fame

By Alan Sculley
Virginian-Pilot correspondent
© October 4, 2013
There are worse things than being known as the "free hugs" band.

Just ask Sick Puppies, the Australian hard-rock act that many people only know through its video for "All the Same," which features a man advertising "free hugs" for anyone in his radius.

The clip has become a YouTube sensation, with nearly 75 million views since being uploaded in 2006. It also gave this band a big break shortly after moving to the States.

Before coming to Los Angeles, Sick Puppies singer/guitarist Shimon Moore had taken video footage of Juan Mann, who gained some notoriety in Sydney for walking around a local mall with a sign that offered "Free Hugs."

While in Los Angeles, Moore got word that Mann was going through serious depression over the death of his grandmother. Remembering his video footage, Moore decided to create a video greeting card with the Sick Puppies song "All the Same" providing a soundtrack for the footage.

Moore then posted the video on YouTube, and within days, it had gotten more than 250,000 hits. That was in 2006.

The attention the "Free Hugs" video was getting prompted Los Angeles radio station KROQ to start playing "All the Same," and, in short order, record labels started courting the Sick Puppies. Virgin - since absorbed by Capitol Records - ended up signing the group.

"All the Same" was included on the band's 2007 record, "Dressed Up As Life," and while the album wasn't a big hit, the single, combined with extensive touring, got the Sick Puppies established on the hard-rock scene.

For a while, the band worried it would forever be known as the "free hugs" band. But Moore said that changed with "Tri-Polar," the group's 2009 album that produced the crossover hit single "Maybe," as well as three rock radio hits, "You're Going Down," "Odd One" and "Riptide."

Now the Sick Puppies are back on the road working hard and beginning what figures to be another extended run of touring that brings the band to The NorVa on Tuesday night.

"We're doing an acoustic breakdown in the middle of the set," Moore said. "We usually play, like, two songs like that because that's kind of how the songs were written. It's always good to let people hear that stuff. And then there are about for every two old songs, there's one new song. So we'll play about an hour and 15 minutes. We'll have about 15 songs in there, maybe more."

Maybe some free hugs, too.

Alan Sculley, alanlastword@gmail.com