TORONTO--Within four years, the members of Atlantic Records' a cappella, theatrical quartet Moxy Fruvous have gone from being part- time buskers to having a platinum album [100,000 units] in their native Canada and selling out a 55-date domestic tour.
"Until 2 1/2 years ago, when we started playing indoors, performing was still a hobby," says the group's singer/drummer, Jean Ghomeshi. "We all had other jobs, or we were in university." Overflowing with diverse musical styles, the band's debut album, "Bargainville," is being released Feb. 8 by Atlantic in the U.S. No emphasis track is being stressed initially; instead, the label is sending the complete album to album alternative and college radio stations.
The U.S. debut follows the record's Canadian release last fall by Warner Music Canada. The label signed the group-which comes up with ever-changing explanations of the origins of its name--on the strength of Moxy Fruvous' six-song, self-titled independent cassette, which had been certified gold in Canada, according to band manager Jack Ross.
"Their development was very similar to Barenaked Ladies," notes Paul Alofs, president of the HMV Canada retail chain. "There was a strong local buzz created by their live performances and a fairly rabid, loyal, and energetic fan base which spread the word initially in southern Ontario. The indie cassette broke out big time, and it was obvious the band wouldn't stay an indie band for very long. Later, anywhere they played live, the sales demand [for "Bargainville"] was immediate."
Moxy Fruvous members (Ghomeshi, Mike Ford (guitar, percussion), Murray Foster (bass, guitar), and David Matheson (guitar, bass accordion) met while attending Thornlea High School here in the late '70s. Foster, Ford, and Ghomeshi went on to play together in several unsung local bands, including San Salvador & the Ruling Junta, and the Chia Pets.
Four years ago, the trio reunited with Matheson and decided to form a group that would primarily be theatrical. Lacking sufficient funds to purchase sound equipment, the new band decided to busk on weekends at a busy Toronto intersection "trafficked by lefties and people interested in politics."
"Underneath the marquee of the Bloor Cinema became our regular spot, " says Ghomeshi. "It was very much our spot."
Ghomeshi argues that attracting a body of spectators, holding theft attention for 20 minutes, and then pulling in as much as $80-$100 (Canadian) per set is substantial training for a music career.
"We watched jugglers and street performers and saw how they built a big crowd," he says. "We thought, 'the hell with playing Dylan or Neil Young songs on the side of the street,' and started incorporating costumes and doing material like 'Green Eggs and Ham.'" rly in 1992, the band released its six-song cassette, which rose to No. 1 on the Canadian trade paper The Record's independent chart.
By the summer of that year, the band had enough of a reputation to open Ontario dates for Bryan Adams and Bob Dylan, and had attracted interest from several major labels.
The self-produced "Bargainville," recorded at Dreamland Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., consists of 10 new songs and five re-recorded selections from their indie cassette.
To set up the release of the album with American media, the group will do a 16-date tour of U.S. markets in February, opening for Nick Heyward. "We're approaching the States as if we were going out to husk again, " says Ghomeshi. "We'll husk wherever we can, including outside the venues and records stores."
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): MOXY FRUVOUS: Michael Ford, Murray Foster, Jean Ghomeshi, David Matheson.