Quick & Dirty with Sean Hurwitz of Smash Mouth

Today on Journey of a Frontman, I am really looking forward to bringing to you my interview with the guitarist for Smash Mouth, Sean Hurwitz. Not only is he an extremely accomplished musician, not only is he a top contender along with Dave Grohl and Matt Whitney for the title of “The Nicest Guy In Rock”, but his life story and how he got to where he is blew me away. Keep reading and you’ll find out more about what I mean!

Tell me about your life story.

Well, I was born and raised in Israel to American parents. I knew by the time I was 13 that I wanted to do music for a living (don’t we all?), but being in Israel made that  a lot more difficult. It’s a very dog eat dog place, and there is intense competition for each and every job that is available. Because of this, by the time I was 16 I knew I’d probably leave one day, I just didn’t know to where. At the age of 18, all young Israeli men and women are required to serve in the army for a minimum of three years. Already being so sure of my career path, and knowing that those three years were crucial for me to get ahead of the game, I chose to instead to attend 2 years of Sound Engineering school. At the time I was attending school, I was also an in house session guitarist for a studio in Jerusalem (my home town).

Around 18, I also started working for a live sound & lighting company, where I learned a lot about life, work, and motivation. I became the chief engineer within a few years AND was one of the top freelance backliners (stage techs for bands) in Israel. I was working NON STOP, and guitar playing went from a priority to being put on the back burner. When I was around 21, I had the chance to engineer a show for a friend’s band. They were performing in front of a lot of other friends of mine…and I thought to myself, wait a second…what am I doing HERE (at the sound board?). Didn’t I want to be on stage???  And then I remembered something that my mother had said to me, months before that show, she had wisely reminded me about what my DREAM was. She said to me “Do you see yourself schlepping gear when you are in your late 30’s? IS this what you want to do? Didn’t you want to be a guitarist?”

Thinking back on that, I don’t know why she said it…I already had a great career going, and leaving most likely meant starting from the bottom again, but I’m grateful that she did. That night, at my friend’s show…it all clicked. The very next day, I purchased a beautiful Fender Strat. I was back on the path baby!!! Even though I decided to stick with the sound gigs, I had started playing with bands again, and was working to get my guitar chops back.

Though I had a pretty good thing going, living in Israel wasn’t easy. Weekly terror attacks were a big part of life in back then, and you never knew when another bomb could go off…scary stuff.  When I was 23, an the attack hit particularly close to home, and I decided right then and there that I had to leave before a terrorist had the chance to blow my arm off, taking away any chance I might have had to have a real music career. I decided on LA as my destination, and a few months later at age 23, I found myself in the states.

I arrived with just one guitar, one amp (a vintage Fender) and a suitcase full of my clothes. Luckily, I had some friends that lived in LA, and they took me in for a week while I searched for a car, an apartment, and a job. Eventually I got a gig at Guitar Center. I thought I’d only be there for 3 -6 months while I got gear and went on auditions…3.5 years later I had decided enough was enough. 🙂 I was working with 7 bands at the time, and I figured it was finally time to leave and do music full time.

I’ve never looked back.

Over the years I’ve auditioned for Avril Lavigne, Daughtry and the likes, and I’ve had the pleasure of co-writing, recording, producing and performing with such artists as:

Judith Hill (from ‘The Voice’ & Lead Vocalist in Michael Jackson Band)

Bonnie Mckee (Co-Writer with Britney Spears, Katy Perry etc.)

Valora (Hollywood)

Caitlyn Taylor Love (Disney)

Ferras (Capitol Music group)

Laze & Royal (Warner Brothers)

Anna Nalick (Epic)

Andre Delano (7th Note Entertainment)

I’ve also had my music played world wide on hundreds of Radio, TV & Film spots.

Other than Smash Mouth, I’ve been playing now for 5 years with ‘Kelley James’ (Amazing artist) and I currently also play with Chris Wallace when I’m available.

Chris used to be the singer for ‘The White Tie Affair’. He’s a ridiculous performer and GREAT song writer.

How did you get the opportunity to play for Smash Mouth?

A couple of years ago, my dear friend Randy Cooke (Drummer), called me up and asked me if I was available for a few weeks for an out of town gig. I made myself available since I love playing with Randy and would ALWAYS take the opportunity to if I could.

Six days later, after studying 25 songs pretty much around the clock, I was on my way to Iraq and Kuwait to play with Smash Mouth for the US troops. Randy put his faith in me and I did my absolute best to not let him down.

We had a GREAT time. The troops were amazing. The band was awesome, they’re all such nice guys. For me it was a VERY surreal moment. I mean, how many Israelis can say they were IN Saddam Hussein’s palaces? I bet you it’s not as many as you think J

It was also a moment of triumph for me as an Israeli. Here I was walking around the ruins of this dictator’s homes, when about 20 years ago, I was at my house in Israel, taking cover with my family in a protected room as sirens went off. Gas masks on our faces, my family, including my pregnant mother…all terrified that this would be the time the Scud missile hit us. All of us waiting for the big bang and yet hoping it never came.

I didn’t even think they would let me into Kuwait…but they did, and here I was…wow!!!

After returning to the US, I went on tour with a few other bands while they went into the studio with guitarist/producer Mike Krompass (Nelly Furtado, David Archuleta) great guy, great guitarist. They wrote and recorded ‘Magic’ as Mike continued to play live with them while I worked with a bunch of other artists. In November 2012, I was asked to come back and fill in the guitar slot of Smash Mouth’s live show. I’ve been with them since. I’m very grateful to Randy Cooke for introducing them to me.

Which genre do you feel best describes Smash Mouth?

Man, ya know…that is a question for Greg Camp, the original guitarist and writer.

That being said, since I see fans’ comments on twitter every day…I gotta say… “Smash Mouth” is all about FUN. We play rock, ska, some punk style tunes and some mellow stuff…but I think that the guys always wrote FUN material. Stuff people could dance and sing along to. That’s what I see from stage and that’s what I hear from fans.

I hope that answers the question in one way or another.

What are five of your favorite albums?

You MUST know that list changes daily, monthly and yearly. 🙂

But for now I would say…

Eric Clapton – 24 Nights

Bon Jovi – Keep the Faith

Hadag Nachash – Lazuz (Israeli Hip Hop band)

Powder – Sonic Machine (Phil X is actually on tour with Bon Jovi as we speak)

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (JUST fell in love with this new album. AMAZING!)

What are you looking forward to most on the upcoming Under The Sun tour with Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, Vertical Horizon, Gin Blossoms, and Fastball?

Honestly Alex, I think most of all I’m looking to see old friends and meet some new ones on a fun trip with a lot of music . 🙂 Looking forward to connecting with fans of the band and hanging out with the guys in the other bands, they seem really cool.

Where are the coolest places you have played?

I’d probably have to say the Iraqi desert beats them all…but there a few favorite venues I have YET to play. One of them is Red Rocks. It’s always more about the crowd and less about the venue. I love playing in front of a crowd that is having a BLAST! 50 people, 50,000 people…as long as they are having the time of their life, it’s fun!

What makes touring/life on the road so awesome? 

Great question…who said it was awesome? 🙂 I’m kidding…I love it.

There’s something about it…I can’t explain it…I think (again) that it has to do with meeting new people every day. Jon Bon Jovi was right on when he wrote…”I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all” 🙂 THAT is what I love about touring! Oddly enough, I don’t drink or smoke (I never have), so touring for me is probably a bit of a different experience than for most traveling musicians. I also try to stay productive when I’m on the road. I work out, read educational books (ie: Business, Finance, Social Psychology, etc.) and try to listen to some good music. I also practice my guitar playing and try to get better and better.

What was the most recent concert that you attended as a fan?

I honestly haven’t in a LONG time. But I can tell you who I’d LIKE to see. 🙂

Bon Jovi (I grew up on them but have never seen them), Keith Urban (What a great artist/guitarist/singer), Fall Out Boy (Would love to see their live show), Pink Floyd(!!!!), I’m sure there are more…but there ya have it.

Which band would you love to sit in on a jam/practice session with?

That’s easy, I’ve got a few options. Lenny Kravitz and Craig Ross (for the funky vibes)…or the Foo Fighters (for the Rock vibes).

I’ve met the Foo’s on occasion in day to day life here in LA, and they seem like the nicest people. I’m also related (through a distant marriage) to their guitarist Chris Shiflett and would love to jam with them some day. 🙂

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

Great question. Well, we’ve got a lot of touring coming up through to the end of the year.

When I’m home, I spend most of my time in the studio with my business partner Stefan Litrownik (drummer for Billy Ray Cyrus, Chris Wallace, The BellRays etc.) plugging away at all styles of music for all aspects, TV, Film, Radio and with artists from all over the world. It’s not a bad life and I’m very blessed to have it. Let’s hope it’s only gets better from here.


Photo taken by Tricia Glenn

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