Shimon Moore of Sick Puppies
It may seem like a twist of irony that a band that writes aggressive fueled rock anthems screaming of angst and frustration would be synonymous with a campaign for “Free Hugs” but that’s just another day at the office for the trio Sick Puppies. Aussie born lead singer and vocalist Shimon Moore and bassist Emma Anzai moved to Los Angeles four years ago where they found the missing piece of their trifecta, drummer Mark Goodwin, through Craigslist.
The band was not short on inspiration for “Tri-Polar”, their second studio release on Virgin Records, set to drop on July 14th. Writing at least 100 songs together before paring it down to those that made the cut the band offers up a balanced collection of songs that maintain the band’s unique style of injecting the energy and emotion of their live show into their recorded material for a very raw and organic vibe.
The first single “You’re Going Down” has already been picked up by WWE. It’s everything you would expect from their first single but not entirely indicative of all that this album holds. There are a lot of surprises from the beautiful ballad “White Balloons” that features opposing vocals from Shimon and Emma to the brutal offering of “War” which is one of the strongest tracks on the album and was written for the video game Street Fighter IV.
TheyWillRockYou caught up with an ailing but always honest and outspoken Shimon Moore to talk about the new album. Big thanks to Shimon for calling in even though he was a sick puppy, literally. He’s a trooper!
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | July 2009
First off, congratulations on the new album Tri-Polar, I love it. When you went into the studio to record this one that you had a better of what you wanted it to sound like as a whole than you did the previous time…what was the overall sound you were shooting for?
We just wanted a bigger festival sound. We’d played so many festivals that we really knew what worked and what didn’t. That was really the only idea we had going in. We had nothing going in on the first record, we had no experience touring the way we have now, so we just took that experience and put it into this record.
I’ve seen the word “aggression” used a lot for this album which it definitely is aggressive but there’s a lot more to it, it seems very emotionally charged. Are you the type of person who really internalizes everything and saves it up for a song?
I’m a pretty emotional guy. I think we all internalize things. It’s really just our particular way of dealing with it. We’re lucky to have a band to do it with but there are many things that are internalized that are not let out through songs. I don’t think any one album could exercise everything inside of us.
That would be one heck of a catalog right?
Yeah that would be like Jacko’s catalog.
One of the producers said that you did a lot of experimenting in the studio this time around, are their songs where we hear some of that? Or can you tell us some examples of that?
All that stuff was really vocal experimenting. There’s a lot of vocal experimenting. There was some instrumental experimenting as well but mostly it was in the vocals. There’s a certain trend that happens in music especially within instrumentation. Like grunge was a very specific type of instrumentation and punk has a very specific way, and in our music there’s a specific way to get the sort of Incubus inspired rhythm section and a guitar vibe, so you sort of have rules that you follow for the instrumentation of it all. Vocal sound helps define the sound of the band more in ways, so you want to make sure you don’t fuck it up because the guidelines for that are not quite as stringent. So you experiment not because you’re being artistic but because you have to get it right and you have to figure out how to get it right and no one knows how to really get it right until you get it. Sometimes you have to try a dozen different ways of singing something, layering and harmonizing and that’s your experimentation.
Because you are singing lead and playing lead guitar, is the writing process any different for you?
Not really. I don’t think so but I really wouldn’t know because I’ve never done it any other way. I’ve never just sang and not played guitar, for us it just works that way.
I’ve seen the band live many many times and it just seems like you keep getting better and better, were you mindful of your live show when you recorded this album, making sure that what you recorded was something that you could recreate live?
Not really. We probably should have been more mindful because it’s a fucking bitch playing live. Why do you think I’m sick, it’s exhausting.
So the new stuff is hard to play live?
The songs are fucking stupid, we shouldn’t have written these new songs, they’re too hard to play. It’s impossible, and I’m there pulling double duty like you said and the guitar parts are harder and the vocal parts are higher and it’s like “fuck”. Anyway, to answer your question, no we had no plan. We didn’t fucking care, we just wanted to write a cool record and honestly we thought we’d figure it out, which we’re doing, it’s just time consuming.
So when you play live here in August what can I expect, am I going to get the real deal?
I think by then we’ll have it down. By then you can expect a fairly competitive sound.
Emma has described the band entering the stage like gladiators entering the arena; can you describe it in your words?
I think that’s a bit melodramatic, gladiators entering the arena? She’s wearing big boots man. I think for me I find myself becoming much more peaceful when I go onstage, much more centered. For the 20 minutes before you go on stage is just chaos – you’re running around, warming up vocals, warming up hands, stretching, getting ready, and then literally like sixty seconds before I go on I just stand there and breathe and center myself and it’s much more of a peaceful thing. Then once you go out on stage it’s really good because no one can fuck with you. The audience can fuck with you but you can’t pick up the phone, you can’t walk offstage, you have an hour where no one can bother you and where you know exactly what’s going to happen, unless there’s some sort of divine intervention. You have an hour of knowing what’s going to happen which is rare because in a band you never know what’s going to happen next so that one hour is like meditation.
I recently told someone I was interviewing you and they asked me about the new album and I described it as “Amazing – Makes me want to punch people…then give them “free hugs” – so I just wanted to run that one by you to make sure it got a thumbs up from the band.
That’s a good emotional spectrum; I think very few bands can’t hit all of those. We’re like an onion with layers.
One of the songs that stood out to me as something a little different for the band is “Maybe” – can you tell me about that song and where it came from musically/lyrically?
Where did it come from. It’s so hard because we wrote like a hundred songs for this record and there are a lot of songs that I don’t even remember writing. I think we wrote two songs the day that we wrote Maybe and we co-wrote it with Marty Fredrickson who’s a really great writer and taught us a lot of cool things. The key change in it goes down a full tone to the chorus which is unexpected. I think it helps make it cool. It’s really a simple message about taking control of your life, especially when no one wants to take control of their lives in such a fucked up a time. No one wants to be responsible for any decisions, let alone ones about their own life. Hopefully people will find it empowering. At the end of the day we write stuff that we think sounds cool and hope that people like it and get something out of it. Sometimes songs that we take a lot from other people just don’t get and other times people will be like “Oh my god that song changed my life” and we’ll be like…”what song?”
Well you mentioned writing 100 songs during the process so how in the world do you whittle those down to the keepers?
Well that’s where it comes down to a democracy in the band.
You vote them in?
Yeah we have a bit of a voting process and no one ever gets 100 percent their way because we all have different favorites so we want to keep a balance. It’s like anything in life, you need a balanced relationship.
Well it seems to have worked because the album is definitely balanced!
Yes, we’ve got punches and free hugs.
I know you’ve probably been asked a million times about the impact of the cross-pollination of your music appearing in wrestling shows and video games, but I’m guessing you’re all for that?
Pro cross-pollination? Do you mean are we whores? If you have an opportunity to get your music out there, you just take every opportunity you get. The only reason we’re here is because we took every opportunity that was offered to us. For every one Street Fighter campaign there literally and without exaggeration have been 100 things that we’ve done that no one has ever even heard about because we thought maybe it would turn into something good. We did a gig for a school, we’ve done community radio station, we’ve done benefits all in hopes that someone would hear our stuff. Somewhere along the way one person that came to one thing and told their friend about us knew a guy that worked at Street Fighter and bang. So if you have the opportunity, don’t wait around for Street Fighter to call if you get asked by the guy around the corner who works at the community radio station, just do it.
I want to talk about the song White Balloons a little bit. It’s my favorite song on the album; it gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. When the song was being written, was it written with the intent of having the dual vocals with Emma?
No, that was totally last minute. During the last few weeks of recording we started experimenting with Emma’s vocals and we tried a few different things and it turned out that it just sounded good on that song. Then, the guy that was mixing the next day he did the thing where it was like she sings a sentence and then I sing one and so on. Originally it was just she sang a verse then I sang a verse, so it didn’t really come up until the last day of recording.
So is that one of the songs we might hear live during this tour?
No, we’re doing a rock show. I’m sure people might miss it but once we finish the show I think everyone will be satisfied.
No one walks away from a Sick Puppies show disappointed, that I know.
That’s the worldwide Sick Puppies guarantee.
You’ve said that your focus in life has changed from seeking out fame to seeking out joy, was there something specific that happened that caused you to steer a new direction?
Yeah, we got successful. That’s exactly what happened. You get successful and you think there’s some portal like the hurricane that picks up your house in Kansas and lands you in Oz and suddenly everything is in Technicolor and that’s just bullshit. Nothing changes. The only thing that changes is that more people have your phone number. Nothing changes. You get to this level where you’re playing big shows and girls are after me and I’m meeting rock stars but all it is is more time you have to spend fending off girls, dealing with rock stars and trying not to let your phone number get out.
Yeah but that really doesn’t sound too bad to most people.
That’s the thing, there’s a reality that we try to put in our music, there’s a sincerity that we try to put in our music because it needs to be real. Things need to be real and fame is not real, pre-conceived notions of a human being are not real. Joy is real. Joy is different from happiness because happiness has an opposite. Happiness has sorrow and sadness. Joy has no opposite; joy is a state of being so you if you can focus on joy, joy can be injected into every emotion. You can have a joyful moment of anger. You can have a moment of anger that you’re enjoying because you know it’s a healing process or you know it’s something that needs to happen. If you have a moment of anger that causes you pain afterwards because it’s full with black energy, it’s not joyful. You can focus on making every experience joyful. I struggle with it; I’m not doing well at this exact moment because I’m sick but if you focus on fame or validation from peers, friends, fans, other bands, people you work with..you can put the responsibility of your own happiness in other people’s hands. They’re not prepared for that, that’s not their job. They have no tools or skills; they’re having enough problems focusing on their own joy. You can’t put the responsibility of your own joy in other people’s hands which is exactly what you’re doing when you expect fame to change anything for you.
Makes sense. What songs are you most proud of on Tri-Polar?
I think White Balloons is fucking rad. I think that’s probably my favorite because I really connect with that song a lot.
You mentioned that you guys shot a video yesterday for “You’re Going Down”; can you tell us a little bit about it? Is it performance based? Acting based? Both?
Its performance and concept based, it’s got the band performing in a suburban oasis so to speak and it’s got a little Saving Private Ryan kind of war of kids with water balloons and water pistols. It’s fun.
Sick Puppies is heading out on a summer tour with HURT and Adelitas Way. Check their website for the full list of tour dates.
For more info on the band: