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More hugs, less hassle 

Sick Puppies manage to outlive their novelty status

The Sick Puppies didn't seem to be on the verge of overnight success when they started recording "All the Same," the alt-rock ballad that became a YouTube phenomenon after its use in a widely circulated video for Juan Mann's "Free Hugs" campaign in 2006.

In fact, the band's history actually dates back to 1997, when frontman Shimon Moore and bassist Emma Anzai first started playing together as high school students in Sydney, Australia. After relocating to Los Angeles, they got to work recording what would become their breakthrough album, Dressed Up as Life, under circumstances that can best be described as inconvenient.

"We were signed to an independent label," explains Anzai. "Basically we were doing it on the producers' downtime. So whenever they had time off, usually late at night or on the weekend, we'd go in and quickly put something together and record it. We were just lucky to even be doing that. So I think the focus was more on getting it done rather than concentrating on the other bits."

In fact, the sessions had to be spread out so far apart that the album ended up taking a year to record. And it was actually a connection with their native Australia that led to success here in the states.

Back in Sydney, Moore had filmed some video footage of Mann, who'd already gained local notoriety for walking around a mall carrying 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. So the singer decided to create a video greeting card with the Sick Puppies song "All the Same" as the soundtrack for the footage.

Moore then posted the video on YouTube and within days it had racked up more than a quarter million hits. That led to radio play in Los Angeles and then a deal with Virgin Records.

Dressed Up as Life got the Sick Puppies a good start, but its follow-up, Tri-Polar, appears to be doing even better. The album reached No. 31 on Billboard's Top 200, while its beefy rock single "You're Going Down" is getting radio airplay and being used as a theme song for the WWE.

Major-label life has also meant that the band no longer has to rely on the kindness of strangers.

"We had a schedule, so we went, 'OK, great!'" says Anazi. "We had a block of time where we could really focus on it."

Anzai says she and her bandmates were quick to take advantage of the improved situation. And while she remains proud of Dressed Up as Life, she's confident that Tri-Polar is a more fully realized work.

Likewise, when it comes to touring, she expects the Tri-Polar material will take the group's live show to a new level.

"The last tour we had the Dressed Up as Life album give or take a couple of songs, and we couldn't really interchange too many others," she says. "But this time around we've got a lot to choose from, and I think we can pick and choose the best ones from both albums. Hopefully it will be a much better set."

scene@csindy.com

  • Major-label life means the band no longer has to rely on the kindness of strangers.

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