For Shwayze, life imitates art imitating reality
The biggest problem with biopics is that the longer and more impressive the career that's documented, the greater the number of milestone events that need to be crammed into a two-hour storyline. Shwayze does not have that problem. Their exploits unfold on the small screen, where there's plenty of tape to tell the story, but their tale isn't that long, relatively.
The rapid rise of the rap and stoner-folk-rock duo would make a movie even more incredible than Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
In 2000, Malibu rocker Cisco Adler, son of legendary '60s folk mogul Lou Adler, formed a rock outfit called Whitestarr whose musical efforts were often eclipsed by their hedonistic image and the starlets Adler dated (Mischa Barton, Paris Hilton). In 2007, Adler became more notorious when the contents of Hilton's storage unit went up for auction and a nude photo featuring his legendarily large scrotum was widely circulated on the Internet. Then, there's Whitestarr's reality show on VH1, The Rock Life, which was cancelled just as a side project Adler had been working on with then-19-year-old rapper Aaron Smith was signed to Geffen. Just as quickly, the duo got its own reality show, MTV's Buzzin', chronicling the release and promotion of its first record, including all the day-to-day minutiae any decent movie would excise.
The pairing of the duo — which occurred onstage before a Whitestarr show when the band's drummer Alex Orbison (son of Roy) invited Smith onstage to freestyle — would've happened overnight in reel time. In reality, Adler and Smith first performed together in 2005. The leisurely pace with which the guys recorded the songs on their just-released, self-titled debut is probably key to what made "Buzzin'," "Corona and Lime" and "Don't Be Shy" widely accepted SoCal chill music.
"It was a couple of months between that show and when we started working together," says Smith, who's also known as Shwayze as an individual. "I was a big fan of Whitestarr. They were the local Malibu band that kind of blew up. All the Whitestarr shows had all the hot girls, y'know — that was always a reason to go to their shows. There were a couple of girls with me and I was showing off and jumped onstage."
"At that time, I didn't know that Cisco made tracks," Smith continues. "Then somebody told me Cisco makes beats? What? Really? I wasn't really working with anyone at the time. A little after that, I started going to his house — after-parties and stuff — and hounding him to lay beats for me. Eventually, he was like 'Yo, if you're serious, come over during the day. Don't talk to me at parties. I'm drunk and you're drunk.' So I came over and we laid that first track."
Next thing you know, they're on MTV together. No one is more shocked by the Shwayze story than Smith himself. The duo just returned from Germany, where they appeared on German TV. "I didn't know they just started playing [the TV show] in Germany. We touched down and people are stopping us on the street like it's Los Angeles," Smith says. "It was definitely a wild feeling. We played a show and all the kids knew our shit, all those songs. [A year ago] I was sleeping on a couch making music. Now I'm traveling the world and people are singing it back to me — that was definitely wild."
The people out there following this story step by step, wanting to hook up with Mischa Barton and sing songs about Corona, are saying, "How do I get me one of them reality shows?" If you're lucky, you can fire up the interest of Jordan Schur, Geffen president and head of Suretone/Geffen. Schur, who signed Shwayze, plays the band's manager on television and in real life.
"Jordan did a similar thing with Ashlee Simpson, the reality show about the making of a record, and Cisco had been a reality show, too. So you had two guys that had been working in reality shows. The weird thing about the Whitestarr show is that it was about a band's last chance, and our show was about doing things for the first time and probably that's more exciting to watch," Smith says.
Appearing unkempt alongside Adler — a man who is to the dirtstache what Rick James is to the Jheri curl — presents its own challenges for Smith. No reality show is exempt from the roll-outta-bed cam, and Buzzin' is no exception. "You see me wake up. Nappy hair, not looking my best whatsoever."
Did having cameras rolling around Smith all the time make him more or less self-conscious as the series rolled on? "I think about what I'm wearing, to an extent," he starts, before countering, "I'm not self-conscious. I don't give a fuck, dude. I'm just myself. You either love me or hate me — hopefully not for what I'm wearing."
"We only wanted to do the show to expose the music, get some more people — because MTV doesn't play videos," Smith continues. "No drama, no fake shit."
Well, yes and no. On the drama scale, Smith's car getting booted isn't quite up there with a finger in the peanut butter. And episode four had the group doing a radio promotion tour where it is discovered that Adler's name and production credit are mistakenly absent from 40,000 promo samplers (clearly, somebody outside the chain of command also was confused about the "Shwayze is a dude/Shwayze is a group" dichotomy). So if the ludicrous way Smith and road manager Warren solve the problem of the samplers seems scripted and stagey, well, so was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — and look at what a star it made another rapper named Smith.
Like a good team player, Shwayze the dude emphasizes the importance of Adler to Shwayze the group. "Cisco is a fucking genius writer. His hooks are always on play. He's always creating new tracks. He plays bass, guitar, drums, and keyboards and then cuts them up and arranges them in ProTools. We had, like, 60 songs. And we whittled them down to the album."
And Adler came up with the brand name, which people keep attributing to actor Patrick Swayze. In truth, it probably owed more to the thin air it was pulled from than warm memories of Roadhouse. "Shwayze was a nickname he gave me," Smith says. "I needed a rapper name and Cisco started calling me Shwayze from that day on."
Pressed for a name, Adler again said, "Why don't we just call the whole thing Shwayze?" Word to anyone about looking to name a baby: Don't invite Adler to your house.
Speaking of kids, they seem to enjoy vicariously living the life of the duo — and nowhere is that more evident than on YouTube, where the group's videos have averaged millions of plays, and new tributes from fans appear daily. "They're all amazing. There's like hundreds of them," Smith says.
Back at the "it wasn't that long ago" point of reflection, you wonder whether Smith still gets star-struck now that he's inside the star-making machinery. "I got star-struck when I met Quincy Jones at some function; he was a cool dude. Stevie Wonder, too. I got next to Stevie and was telling him what was going on."
"But that was when I was young," he says. "I'm not star-struck anymore."
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