After the release of their fourth studio album, Connect, Sick Puppies headed out on a European tour, making their first-ever visit to Helsinki on the way. Musicalypse met with vocalist Shimon Moore, bassist Emma Anzai, and drummer Mark Goodwin right after the show.
This is your first visit to Finland. What are your first impressions?
Shim: Unfortunately, the only taste we really got of this town so far is the awesome crowd we played to. And the fact that they knew the words to our songs was great. They let us build up the show. Sometimes people aren’t so interactive, like we’d seen there were a few people sitting in the [bar area] but they got closer to the stage and were open to the idea so by the end of the show everyone was having a good time.
It takes some skill to pull people away from their drinks in the bar.
Shim: It took a bit of time. Usually if they don’t come up themselves, I take a guitar and go down there. And I take them by the hand or finish their drink and drag them down the front to make sure they have a good time. I’ve never done it in Europe though. I’ve so far only done this in America and they’re cool with that.
Are you ever nervous playing for a new crowd in a new country?
Shim: No, everything’s fine. Some people are a little more reserved… maybe they had a bad day. And our job is to get everyone in the room to the same place by the end of the show and I would say they get a money-back guarantee. If they feel bad and they don’t feel better by the end of the show, they can have their money back. And so far no one’s cashed in.
There are two stories on Wikipedia about how your band name came to be, and one of them involves a dog puking on your studio equipment. Seriously?
Shim: I actually made that one up. When we first started doing interviews we were asked the question five times a day for 2 straight years, so after a while I made shit up. The truth is, I thought of the name while I was on a train to visit my dad and when I got to my dad’s place he thought of the same name because he was reading a book called Sick Puppy. I think that’s on Wikipedia, but that’s the true one.
Have you ever come across any weird rumors about the band on the net?
Emma [to Mark]: Didn’t I see something about you playing the trumpet?
Mark: Me? Well I do, so…
Shim: Everyone can play trumpet.
Mark: I don’t play the trumpet though. It’s the internet, everyone writes whatever they want.
Shim: There haven’t really been a lot of rumors. There are the obvious ones saying Emma and one of us dated, which we haven’t, but other than that, all our fans are pretty cool. They listen to the music and the lyrics and a lot of people talk about that. So far there hasn’t been anything really crazy.
It also stated your dad is a musician and a producer. Is that one true? Was he the one to push you in the musical direction?
Shim: [laughs] Technically, yes, it’s true. For me it was my decision, but he had a very large record collection that inspired me in a lot of different types of music and made me want to get into it. Music was always in my family. My grandfather was a jazz musician, my dad is a musician/producer. And then there was Silverchair. Emma and I started jamming on Silverchair songs and at that time that made us both want to be in the band. But it wasn’t something established by my dad. If anything, parents always say you should have a backup plan and should maybe not focus too much on the music. But once you catch the bug you just have to go for it.
So you had no backup plan of any kind when you moved to LA to pursue your musical career?
Shim: No. A backup plan is something parents devise for you. Usually if you really want to make something happen, you don’t have time for a backup plan. I mean you definitely can have one, but we just didn’t have the time.
What influences your music most? And do you believe in the ”garbage in/garbage out principle? Would you say if one listens to shitty music it affects the quality of their own work?
Mark: We listen to all kinds of music. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna write shitty music.
Emma: You first need to define shitty music though.
Mark: Music is a taste.
Shim: It is a valid point, because there is shitty music that’s very popular. But if it’s very popular it means people like it. If they like it they pay for it. Go to a show, buy a T-shirt. Who are we to say it’s shitty? We listen to what we like and I like to think the music we listen to is pretty good, so is the music we make. Your taste builds up and you start listening to the good stuff and try to figure out what’s going to work, and you listen to the bad stuff to figure out exactly what you don’t want to do.
When it comes to our biggest influence, go to the Sick Puppies World Crew site. It’s our website where you can learn more about the band and get involved. They can get free promotion materials, free videos, exclusive content, and in return they help promote the band online. And they have a direct link to the band. They can give us feedback on the songs. They tell us what songs sounded good live, give us their opinion on the lyrics. For example, it was them who wanted to hear more of Emma singing, which is why she does more vocals on Connect. That feedback gives us a lot of direction influentially, more than music in a lot of ways. They tell us what they think we do well. And they are the best judges cos they’re the ones buying the music.
Is Emma going to be more involved with the vocals on future albums?
Emma: I think it’s been a progression with the albums we’ve done. On the first album I was involved a little bit, on the second a bit more, this one was yet a bit more. We refer to our fans for what they like and don’t like and if they enjoyed it then yes, we definitely experiment more in the studio with this kind of thing. We like to not stay in the bubble when we’re recording. So let’s see what people think.
Besides family and friends what do you miss most about Australia?
Shim: The food.
Emma: Definitely the food.
Shim: And the weather. Apart from family, the food and the weather are the biggest difference.
Emma: You also grow up on certain things, like some things you can eat, and those are impossible to get in the States.
Mark: I miss the women there, too.
Shim: What do you think about the women in Helsinki, man?
Mark: They’re awesome.
Shim: They give great hugs.
Can you tell us a bit about the lyrics to “Gunfight”?
Shim: Gunfight is probably the closest thing to a political song that we’ve ever done. But it’s not exactly a political song, it’s more of a sarcastic twist on the concept of making a political song. When we were making the record, we’d sit around the table with the producers and the engineers – different types of people. Once in a while, the conversation would lead to what was in the news. And everyone would have a different opinion. Sometimes things would get heated and you’d get into a bit of an argument. Then you finish lunch and go back to work and do the next thing planned for the day. Nothing happens. You have these big conversations on what you think about politics and the world and then you go back to work. And that’s what most people do. The song consists of those little paragraphs with a message that you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight because this is what those conversations are. The government and all the major companies are so much bigger than any one person or even a smaller organization. Up to a point. And if you’re just having a conversation it’s an equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. So we took the paragraphs from the times in history when it’s happened and has not worked out for the people. You need to become more organized and have enough people to back you up. For example, what’s happening in Kiev at the moment is bubbling over. It might have started out as what the song was representing but now it’s taken to the next level. So the song is written for every man who is not willing to step up.
Mark: And Shim loves Obama.
Shim: Oh yeah, I love Obama, man. You know about Obamacare here?
Improving and creating a backup for the healthcare system?
Shim: Yes. I wish Obamacare happened before we wrote that song. Would have been a great verse.
What’s the most frustrating part of your creative process?
Shim: The worst part is when you don’t write a good song. And it happens. It actually happens more often than it doesn’t. Writing a good song takes a lot of time and energy. When we were writing Connect, we tried to do a song every day, 5 days a week. We took the weekends off. And when you write the verse and the chorus for the song and just about halfway you can tell if it’s going to be a great song or just another song you may have to bail on it. Sometimes you bail, sometimes you still have to finish it to see. There are two songs we had where we kept going and reworked them to a point where they became great. Sometimes you just have to finish things. Every once in a while you might surprise yourself. But that’s probably the shittiest part about the creative process. When you’re trying to create something and it doesn’t work out. It happens to everyone.
Which Sick Puppies song has a special meaning to you personally and why?
Emma: My favorite would be “Healing Now” from Connect. It’s really uplifting.
Mark: Maybe. It has a really positive message.
Shim: Our new album’s called Connect and I love the title track, “Connect.” It reminds me of home and family.
Is music the only career for you?
Shim: So far yes. We do it a lot.
Mark: We’re professional movers on the side.
Emma: Not really, he’s joking.
Shim: We literally hauled our thirty-five pieces of equipment dozens of times off trains, on trains, off buses, on cars, into venues… We have a business.
Mark: Our motto is…
Emma: Big moves for small prices.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve seen as part of an audience?
Emma: Probably Muse.
Mark: Muse is up there for sure. And Tool.
Shim: Tool was really good.
Do you have any message for the Finnish fans out there?
Emma: Come out to the show. We should be back in September, I think. We’d love to see you.
Text/photos: Jana Blomqvist