Australia's Sick Puppies go from Free Hugs to cold shoulders with 'Tri-Polar' 

Lightning struck for Sick Puppies in the form of a video that became a viral YouTube hit three years ago. The trio received the kind of publicity you can't buy when footage of singer/guitarist Shimon Moore shot of Juan Mann's "Free Hugs" campaign became an international phenomenon, exposing millions to a funny, public-hugging effort and the band's languid, modern-rock track "All the Same," the video's backing music. Almost overnight, the group's fortune changed.

Moore and bassist Emma Anzai moved to Los Angeles from Sydney, Australia in early 2004, playing plenty gigs and label showcases with very little success. The pair had already been making music together for nearly a decade since a random lunchtime encounter in one of their high school's music rooms sparked a partnership. The two were outcasts who never knew the popular crowd, and copped to liking Silverchair, a band whose mainstream popularity made liking them akin to championing Hootie & the Blowfish in the '90s.

"It took a lot of persistence, patience and a lot of money " just saving up money and maxing out credit cards " to come over here and pay rent, pay for stuff and work from the ground up making contacts, and see if we could get signed somehow in some way," Anzai said.

One of the jobs Moore worked at to save money for the move was wearing a sandwich board at the Sydney mall where Mann was distributing hugs. The two became friends and, when Mann's grandmother died, Moore put together some of the video he'd shot and sent it as a condolence gift. Anzai suggested Moore upload it to YouTube in the summer of 2006, and it took off almost immediately. Suddenly, the record labels who'd spurned the pair were returning calls, and in 2007, Virgin Records released "Dressed Up as Life," with "All the Same" as its single.

TOUGHER, MORE MUSCULAR
The band supported it for nearly two years straight before heading into the studio last December to record the follow-up, "Tri-Polar," which dropped on Tuesday. The new release is tougher and more muscular. The somewhat atmospheric, modern-rock hooks have grown harder, spurred by their time touring alongside alt-metal/post-grunge acts like Breaking Benjamin, Flyleaf and Seether.

"With 'Tr-Polar,' we were very influenced by going out on the road and doing festivals with these bands because they were a lot heavier than our first album. That's how we naturally are, anyway, I think," Anzai said. "Plus, we've been a band for, like, two or three years now, and it's a lot more cohesive."

Returning home tired with nerves a little frayed also played a role in the disc's more aggressive tone evident in pugilistic tracks like "You're Going Down," "Street Fighter (War)" and the chunky throbber, "I Hate You." The latter came out of their natural impulse to buck tradition and their road-worn bad attitude.

"We were like, 'Everyone seems to write about love. What is the deal with that?' We guessed it was a universal thing, and we were like, 'What else is universal? Hate is universal!' We were feeling frustrated at the time, and were, 'Well, that seems pretty apt, I suppose,' and that's how it started," Anzai said.

Moore and Anzai played together for seven years before coming to America with their manager, Paul Stepanek. That experience helped ground them and buoy each other through tough times.

"We always remember where we came from and how difficult it was to get here," Anzai said. "We will never take that for granted. We're going to give it our all, because it's something that we all really wanted to do in life."

Knowing that also helps her to endure the oddity of being a woman in the mostly masculine world of hard rock.

"Guys have the perspective when they first see you, that 'She's gotta be one of the girlfriends of one of the guys, right? She couldn't be a musician,'" she said, with a laugh. "You get that a lot."

Sick Puppies with Hurt, The Veer Union and Tunnels to Holland perform at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern. "Chris Parker

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