“We’ve traveled to Vancouver twice before,” said Michael Ford, vocalist for the group Moxy Früvous. “The first time was just awful. We got into a car accident in Chilliwack. Our sound system exploded while we were performing at the Town Pump. Then someone stole the equipment from out of our van and our roadie got a bloody nose in his efforts to stop the crooks. And, to top it all off, we had to sleep at the Nelson.” As if to confirm some sort of belief system, Ford justly nodded his head and added: “And that hellish day was Friday the 13th.”
Where the conversation might have gone after that I do not know, for soon I was paired up with Jean Ghomeshi, percussionist and vocalist, to discuss the music and politics behind Moxy Früvous.
With their new release Wood, Moxy Früvous have apparently taken a departure from their savvy, satirical style that was associated with the group with their first major album Bargainville. Wood focuses attention onto experimentation with sound punctuated with savvy, narrative lyrics. The result is an engrossing record, both subtle in its satire and charming with its melody. According to Ghomeshi, Moxy Früvous’ so-called “sudden change” was already hinted at on Bargainville.
“Quite frankly, we don’t really see Wood as much of a ‘change’,” Ghomeshi said. “Partly because the media is making such a big deal over it and partly because this ‘change’ was so natural. It wasn’t conscious, it wasn’t contrived. We didn’t all sit down and say, ‘This is what we want to be now.’ We just wrote songs: songs about who we are, where we’re at and what stories we want to tell. Wood was a snapshot of our lives.
“We first gained our notoriety will our earlier ‘upbeat’ songs, like ‘King of Spain’, and ‘Living in the 90’s,’ but I tend to think that because of this earlier perception by the media, there developed some misconceptions about us; as though just writing ‘upbeat’ songs was all we were about. But the people who knew us, who followed us and saw our shows would realize that there has always been another side to Moxy Früvous. This sort of serious, personal side. Wood isn’t as in your face as Bargainville. You just don’t put it on and say, ‘Oh! That’s funny. I get it!’ It is more introspective; you get into the vibe. A lot of folks say that after a few listens, they like it a lot better than Bargainville. There is a lot to discover on Wood. It’s going to have a shelf life.”
Ghomeshi, Mike Ford, David Matheson and Murray Foster have known each other for years. They went to high school together in Toronto, Ontario, and kept in touch while they attended university. Before forming Moxy Früvous, the four men played in various bands: Murray and Ghomeshi played in a group called “Tall New Buildings”; Ford and Ghomeshi wrote musical theatre together, and Ford and Matheson performed as a folk duo. Then, about four or five years ago , they got together and decided it would be fun to go out on the streets and perform music.
“When we first started out,” Ghomeshi said, “we couldn’t decide who would play what because we all play a bunch of instruments. So we said, ‘Well, let’s all just sing.’ It’s actually quite funny because, on Wood, there is a lot of instrumentation and we have actually had people say things like, ‘This sounds really great, but who’s playing the instruments?’ And then we respond, ‘We are!’ Because, once again, we achieved a certain amount of fame through singing acappella. But our group is based upon these four, dare I say, industrious, ambitious guys who want to creatively and musically challenge each other. We can’t just keep on writing the same thing. We know how to write ‘King of Spain’ at this point. We know that. It’s almost like people don’t expect us to evolve. We will always be interested in four- part harmony; that is always going to be there and is still there on Wood, as is our interest in non-traditional lyrics. But we are continuing to develop in different directions. If we ever wrote a song like ‘Baby, Baby, I Love You,’ however, then I would expect people to say, ‘What happened’.”
Perhaps the singular difference between Moxy Früvous’ two albums is the attitude behind the music. The positive assurances from Warner Music, combined with past experience from Bargainville, have created a more relaxed atmosphere on Wood , which is evident within each song.
“The songs on Wood were really conceived as a studio album,” Ghomeshi explained. “A concept completely unlike Bargainville which was a kind of a grab-bag of songs we had written over the three years before: songs we sang on the street, songs we wrote for the CBC, songs we wrote right before Bargainville came out. Whereas Wood was this really cohesive period of time. We were more casual with Wood. On Bargainville it was really important for us to get everything perfect. But on Wood we went more for the vibe, to try and get the feeling of the song; it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Following the release of Wood is the so-called “B” Album, which will be released in the late fall of this year but in much more “exclusive,” less publicized way. The “B” Album is a catalog of Moxy Früvous’ satirical funny songs, political satire, and unusual oddities. The reason for the third album is to demonstrate that nothing is monolithic with Moxy Früvous. Wood is not the be all and end all of who the band is now, and Ghomeshi is sure that the “B” Album will satisfy some of the folks out there who like the band on a purely satirical level.
“There has been a mixed reaction from the media,” Ghomeshi said. “A couple of music critics have called Wood a classic album. But then there are couple who whine and say, ‘We really like Moxy Früvous before.’ The Toronto Star review published a really weird review of Wood and I quote: If you are interested in hearing artistic progression, creativity and deep lyrics, than pick up this album. If not, wait for the “B” Album. It was though it was saying, ‘The real Moxy Früvous is the funny one.’
Perhaps the most unusual reaction towards Moxy Früvous’ to date is from ex-Prime Minister Kim Campbell, a reaction suggests that the group’s political, pre-Wood days will not fade quickly nor silently. During an interview at the CBC, Moxy Früvous was interviewed by Campbell, a person whose political bent is far different the group’s own, especially when Campbell was in office. But the group remained polite and answered her questions as they sat across from her; they didn’t think it would be nice to mention Campbell’s days as Prime Minister. Besides, they were there to talk about the new album. But Campbell, apparently, had no such scruples.
“You know,” she said, as if in casual conversation, “I was one of the few Prime Ministers who actually liked Toronto.”
Moxy Früvous blinked in mock surprise. “Oh!” They said. “So that’s who you are. . . er . . .were! Oh...”
“It’s a weird thing with the second album,” Ghomeshi said. “Most writers are interested in reviewing the context of the second album than just reviewing the fucking record. It’s as though they have to say, ‘this is what they were, and this is what’s happening’ than opposed to, ‘this is the merits of the album.’ Some reviewers can’t seem to get past their previous conceptions of Moxy Früvous. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is because we are living within a musical culture that, as soon as something is even marginally popular, it becomes uncool. It’s like the time between being cool and being uncool is only five minutes. That bothered us at first for a while. After the being the underdog for so long and playing non-traditional kind of the music in, well, let’s face it, a musical status quo heavy focused on distorted guitars and stuff, we were really concerned. Moxy Früvous just doesn’t fit into that kind of environment. (Arts Ed. Note: Incidentally, a popular record store in Vancouver will continuously justify the location of Moxy Früvous albums in the Heavy Metal music section.)
“It was really hard when a bit of anti-Moxy Früvous sentiment developed in parts of Canada. This response was located mostly in our home town of Toronto with the milestone of one hundred thousand Bargainville records sold. Because, after that, we suddenly became ‘uncool.’ We we’re caught off guard by this, and we felt like saying, ‘Hey, waitaminute, we’re still the same guys you knew last week. What happened?’ But now, a couple of years later, we have better perspective on a more macro-level. We realised that you can drive yourself crazy trying to guess what people will think is cool. After reaching this epiphany, we decided just to follow our hearts, follow our creativity and say, ‘who gives a fuck about the critics.’ The most important lesson we have learned was to just shut the critics out and do what we do.”
Moxy Früvous will return to Vancouver later this fall, hopefully not on a Friday and certainly not on the thirteenth.