This is a story about Moxy Früvous. So may I introduce to you, the act you've known for all these years: Barenaked Ladies.
Moxy Früvous, the politically bent "quasi-a-cappella" pop group playing at Montreal's Club Soda tonight, gets compared to the Barenaked Ladies a whole lot.
No sooner does the name Moxy Früvous arise in conversation than someone makes a comparison to that other group. And there's no denying there are striking parallels:
Like the Barenaked Ladies, Moxy Früvous is a bunch of squeaky-clean guys from suburban Toronto. Fruvous' four members, ages 26 to 30, are from Thornhill. The five Ladies - younger and nerdier - hail from Scarborough. Both groups feature sweet vocal harmonies, catchy pop melodies and tasteful acoustic arrangements. Their tunes are laced with irreverent, off-the-wall humour and references to pop culture. Both groups write lyrics designed to make listeners smile and chuckle. (Both have songs that mention the Star Trek movie "the Wrath of Khan.") Both groups recorded independent cassettes and totally defied the odds by selling more than 50.000 copies of them. Both were later signed to major record labels. Barenaked Ladies got a deal first, with Warner Music Canada. Fruvous was grabbed by the same label.
And both released debut albums that featured re-recorded versions of songs from their independent cassettes. The Ladies' Gordon has sold an impressive 600,000 copies in Canada. The Moxy Früvous album Bargainville will be officially launched at tonight's Club concert. For the members of Moxy Früvous - Mike Ford, Murray Foster, Jean Ghomeshi and David Matheson - all this "Ladies first" stuff has gotten a little tiring.
"We did worry about it a bit," Ford says in an interview. "We'd even say before the occasional interview, 'Don't ask the Barenaked question' "But it's definitely toned down. Perhaps a year ago, or eight or nine months ago, it was at its peak as an issue, mainly because of the similar stories in terms of independent cassette production, and getting it out there. And also coming from Toronto and having the irreverent side. "But it's not an issue any more. With people having heard quite a few numbers from Bargainville, they are staring to realize what they're hearing: a band as different as bands are different."
The group was formed in the summer of 1990 as a busking act. Ford, Foster, Ghomeshi and Matheson had met in high school a few years earlier. All were interested in music and theatre.
Armed with original songs, colourful artwork and considerable, er, moxy, the foursome set out to do their thing on the streets of down-town Toronto. They quickly got noticed from some influential CBC Radio staffers. Mother Corp. hired the group to write satirical songs and perform them on the Toronto drive-home show Later the Same Day. They wrote about things political - a transit strike, the L.A. riots or the Persian Gulf conflict. The songs and the singers' rich harmonies were a hit with listeners. Their CBC work expanded to the national shows Morningside and Sunday Morning, and the now-defunct television news program The Journal. Meanwhile, the group moved off the street and into indoor venues. Audiences were growing quickly.
Early in 1992, Moxy Früvous recorded a six-song independent cassette. They sold it from the side of the stage and in record shops. The self-titles debut album rose to No. 1 on the Canadian independent charts and stayed there for a year.
The group was signed to a five-album deal with Warner in March, starting with Bargainville, an impressive debut album. The 15 songs cover a broad range of moods and musical styles. Overtly political tunes like The Gulf War Song sit alongside gentler social commentaries about these themes, like The Lazy Boy and the first radio single, Stuck in the '90's. The album's title, taken from the song Video Bargainville, plays on the idea that a "junk culture" has characterized much of the decade so far. Ford says. "(These stores represent) the ultimate of this junk culture we have going here, where things may be going terribly and the economy is maybe in a perpetual tailspin, but there's always stuff you can buy. Even if it's cheap, it really doesn't work, you can slap down your loonie and get something and take it home.
"With the album having a diverse range of song styles, it's almost like shopping through a store. You can just reach down and grab (anything), and it comes out different each time."