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Spreading the Love: Shimon Moore

January 30, 2008, 1:01 pm Jenna Good whomagazine

Isn't the web a wonderful thing? One minute you can be going hungry on your el-cheapo noodle diet (all in the name of following the rock star dream, of course) and the next, getting ready to appear on Oprah. In just three weeks, Sydney (now LA based) band Sick Puppies have gone from being just another struggling group, to finding an audience of over three million people on youtube.com.

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But Sick Puppies lead singer Shimon Moore, 22, who uploaded his short film montage of "kindred spirit" Juan Mann featuring their song "All the Same," is still pinching himself: "I have no idea how this happened, I've stopped trying to think about it. I've been racking my brain. I really don't know." Meanwhile Juan, the reluctant celebrity who's been offering "free hugs" in Sydney's Pitt St Mall for two years, is bracing himself for world-wide recognition. Who's Jenna Good caught up with Shimon and 23-year-old "coffee-maker" Juan (he won't reveal his real name or where he works) just before US TV networks - and Oprah Winfrey, who's featuring them on her show on Oct. 26 (to air in Australia on Nov. 20) - picked up on their stories.

JG: Tell us a bit about the Sick Puppies.
SM: We won Triple J unearthed in 2000 and got a record deal straight off the back of that and did a big tour of Australia for about a year and then our record label folded and we became an independent band. We decided to take the money we made and went to LA in March 2005 because of the success rate, basically. We did our thing in Australia and we wanted to get over to LA to get a bigger piece of a bigger pie. We did a lot of practicing and rehearsing until we got signed by RMR in September 2005.JG: Were you okay money-wise?
SM: No, not at all! We took out a loan from my father, our manager lent us some money, I took out a personal loan and we just kept borrowing money and we're still borrowing money from our record label to make this happen. We had pretty much run out and got to the bottom of the barrel before this happened. We've been living in a two-bed apartment with four people. You eat pasta and two-minute noodles all day and everyday!JG: What has kept you going?
SM: There are musical moments that happen every once in a while when you're jamming and no one else who is in a nine-to-five job gets to experience that. Unfortunately the make up of artists means we're f--ked either way because you can't live with yourself if you stop and you just won't enjoy life anymore if you stop.JG: How did you meet Juan?
SM: I was working holding a sandwich board for a year and a half in Pitt Street Mall that advertised half-price shoes and I used to see Juan every Thursday. We first met in September 2004. I went up and gave him a hug and asked him the same question everyone asks him which is: 'Why are you doing this?' He gave me the same answer he gives everyone-because he likes making people smile after they leave his company. I thought it was the coolest idea I've ever seen in my life.JG: Why did you deicide to make the film?
SM: When I met him I had just seen Supersize Me (Morgan Spurlock's McDonald's exposé) and I thought if he can make a documentary out of that there's got to be something I can make a documentary out of. I always made films, since I was a kid, and I wanted to make a film because the band hadn't moved to LA yet. Juan was something I thought deserved to be documented because it was free hugs and a beautiful thing and if somebody hadn't recorded it, it would have been a crime. I decided to film it three or four weeks after I met him and that's how we became friends. We filmed one day a week for two months.JG: Is this when you got into trouble with the authorities?
SM: Yeah we decided to take it around different parts of the city and found that different authorities had different rules. Some wouldn't let us do it and then some considered us a public liability problem because if anyone got hurt while they were hugging him, they could sue the city so they said you can carry on but you will have to pay $25 million worth of public liability insurance. He couldn't afford that obviously, so he got a petition happening. Within a couple of weeks we had ten thousand signatures.JG: That was around October 2004. How did it end up on youtube.com three weeks ago?
SM: The reason why it was such a shock was because it wasn't made for the band. It was made because I had hours of this footage and Juan called me up because his grandmother had died and he's now caring for his blind grandfather as we speak. His head was just spinning around and I was out in LA, busy and I wanted to do something for him. So I turned the footage into a short film for him, which took me till the next morning but I just did it in one night. I sent it to him on a disc as a present and I wrote down 'This is who you are'. The band walked in while I was cutting it and suggested putting it up on youtube. So we did that on a Friday night and by the end of Sunday it had a quarter-of-a-million views.JG: How did that happen?
SM: I have no idea. I stopped trying to think. I was racking my brain. I really don't know - a quarter of a million people is a lot of f--king people. It is all word-of-mouth and we didn't do anything. We sent a mail out to our friends but that was it. We didn't actually do any mass email or marketing or anything. It got to a quarter-of-a-million views, which is the fastest growing clip in the history of youtube. And the people who run youtube took it down because it was getting out of hand. They wanted to know if whoever made the video had clearance from the band as they didn't know I made it and that it's my song. So we had to sign a piece of paper giving it clearance and then they featured it on the front page. Two days later it's on the top of the front page and it just goes through the roof.JG: What's it like to hug Juan?
SM: It a very satisfying hug. It's good because we're the same height and the same pressure ratio. Every individual person deserves a different hug depending on height, stature and he bends his knees, leans over a little bit ... he'll do whatever it takes to make sure the person involved has the optimum hug.JG: You all seem like grounded guys. How do you think this instant fame is going to affect you?
SM: It's funny man, if you receive fame and notoriety by doing something selfish, when you get it, it you will eat it up, but we really created this as something between two friends. It wasn't created to make us famous and it's not really about us, it's about the message. And Free Hugs is so much bigger than him and he knows that and so do I and it's so much bigger than my music and my band.JG: What is it about?
SM: It's about the most pure, honest, unadulterated thing in human consciousness and that's just to feel someone else's energy and feel that love. When you hug a stranger there is no history or purpose, it's just to make you feel good and put your energy into someone. Our band is getting publicity for this clip and if that's the only thing that comes out of it that would be a shame because the fact that this has become so explosive speaks volumes about the culture that we live in. We're getting so wrapped up in our cars, global warming, wars, television or whatever and there are so many problems that people are shutting off and desensitising. If somebody gets shot in the head nobody pays attention but if somebody gives out a free hug, suddenly it's the most popular thing in the f--king world-what does that say about us?JG: You tell us ...
SM: The thing is that sex and violence sells, and this is what really give me the shits. Art is supposed to provoke life and thought and inspire people and the only thing that the current wave of entertainment is promoting is 'Do what you can to get yourself ahead.' It's the religion of our generation.JG: With these views how have you survived living somewhere as superficial as LA?
SM: It's very easy to get sucked into it. I was close to losing it. I just want to have my little world and be simple because everything outside is so heavy and difficult to deal with and I wanted to shut off. As I was making it, I was very emotional because I was simply creating something for the simple fact of creating it and the only message was love, freedom and hugs and there were no dollars signs. Nothing.JG: So you were getting frustrated?
SM: Oh yeah, largely due to the fact that we were running out of money. We had limited budget, food clothes, we were living like shit. We were on the verge of having to go home. When I was working with the sandwich board it was about creating the best lyrics I could, now my life was about surviving and making enough money to stay where I was.JG: Will you feel guilty if the band does well off the back of this video?
SM: No. You can't feel guilty about what you get given. The only thing you should feel guilty about is what you give out not what you receive. Our actions have been pure. The point is they're listening now. We're a very dedicated band and we've been working very hard now for six years, there's been no wavering. It didn't matter how it happened we were going to keep going until something happened.
Watch the video and then tell us what you think.

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