I won’t dispute the merits of Australia’s contribution to music—for every Nick Cave-status notable, there lurks a pretentiously unlistenable Dead Can Dance somewhere in the outback of the country’s musical history. Their band nerds, of course, are better than ours. They’re the Jesus-hatin’, drug smokin’, egg burnin’, angst-ridden emotional kind of band nerds that just want to rock.
Take Sydney-based Sick Puppies, for example. These cats met in the music room of their high school and bonded over their mutual love for rock music and various bands. After jamming a few times, the band moved into the proverbial garage to court the spark, and soon thereafter the Sick Puppies were officially born. Playing at first Green Day, Rage Against the Machine and Silverchair covers, they began crafting their own brand of similarly guitar-driven angst rock in the recesses.
The Puppies started getting some serious attention when they won Triple J’s—Australia’s publicly funded, nationally broadcasted radio station—with Unearthed in 2000, a project where the radio station digs up indie bands from all dark corners of the country and gives them a national radio platform and, more recently, a chance to compete for a supporting gig for headliners like Digitalism and MIA. One of the Sick Puppies major influences, Silverchair, received the award from Triple J as the Innocent Criminals before changing their name and landing a three-record deal with Sony.
Later that year, the trio released their first album, Welcome To The Real World, and played as many gigs and outdoor festivals as they could book. But it wasn’t until shortly after moving to Los Angeles that the band earned itself some real attention.
“We moved to LA because that’s where the action is,” Sick Puppies guitarist/vocalist Shimon Moore told the Weekly via a phone interview from Alaska, where the band is currently on the first leg of their tour. “There’s action in Sydney, but if you want to make it you have to move to Los Angeles,” he said. Ironically, The band’s biggest break didn’t have anything to do with geographical whereabouts.
While the Puppies were still in Sydney and saving money for their continental relocation, Moore stood in a mall and wore a sandwich board sign advertising half-priced shoes. That’s where he saw Juan Mann holding his own sign advertising free hugs. As anyone giving away hugs at the mall might be, Mann was confronted by the police, who made him stop giving the hugs away because he didn’t have an insurance policy that would cover any injuries resulting from his hugs. The insurance policy he was ordered to get would have to cover up to $25 million. Instead of bowing to authority, Mann circulated a petition and gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to let him continue his free hugging without obtaining an insurance policy. Of course, the story has a Disney ending in which Mann and his warm-fuzzy cause triumph over the contempt of the hug-quashing establishment.
After moving stateside, Moore got word that Mann’s grandmother had died and that he was remarkably upset about the whole thing. So he edited together a bunch of video footage he had of the Free Hugs campaign and their ensuing petition drive, added the Sick Puppies song and uploaded the video to YouTube—a sort of virtual greeting card so that Mann would know that someone was thinking of him.
“It wasn’t supposed to get as big as it did—that was sort of an accident,” Moore said of the YouTube success that catapulted his band from relative obscurity to national attention, and earned the video’s star, Juan Mann, a spot on Oprah for his random acts of kindness. He says that since the video started getting so many views⎯it now sits atop the perch as one of the most watched YouTube videos of all time with almost 30 million views—the band’s name has gotten out there. In an age where marketers and guerilla advertisers are pooling their collective social engineering genius to make a viral video, that’s no small feat.
Sick Puppies is currently touring behind their second album, Dressed Up As Life, which they describe as a more matured sound.
“We spent two years recording the album,” Moore says, “and most of that time was us just living and trying to survive in Los Angeles. It was a long haul to get to where we are⎯after that much stuff. This is our first headlining tour, and we’ve just focused on making sure that the show is really good. We want to sell out all of our shows.”
So far so good—the first two shows of the Sick Puppies tour sold out.
The Sick Puppies with Cromwell and Curt Phillips at the Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Friday, February 22, 7PM $12.