"Eh?" - Moxy Früvous
"These guys sing better than Kiss." - Jack Ross, JAM Entertainment
Ask and member of this killer Canadian vocal quartet the meaning of their group's name and you're unlikely to get a straight answer. It's just not their nature. But 10 seconds into their set and you know these guys can mean business. Tight inventive harmonies melded with a smart, in-your-face sense of satire make the Früvs one of the most entertaining bands on the folk circuit.
Moxy Früvous was born on the Toronto street corner of Harbourfront and First, the summer of 1990 - Mike Ford, Murray Foster, Jian Ghomeshi and Dave Matheson, four former high school buddies who met in the theatre department of the School for the Arts in Thornhill, a Northern suburb of Toronto, where Murray and Jian has played in a funk-rock band and Mike and Jian had written musicals. After graduation, the lads all went off to different universities. Jian earned a degree in political science and history, Murray in English, Mike in French and theatre. Dave taught music and acted in television and film (Eddie and the Cruisers Part II). They remained friends, but they had the desire to do something fun together, musically. By default, almost, they started singing on the street corner. Their makeshift stage was the marquis of the Bloor Cinema, with its flashing lights. They donned wild costumes and did a kind of Dr. Suess rap version of "Green Eggs And Ham"; people stayed to listen. They learned how to build a set like a juggler, by starting out with something eye- and ear-catching, building a crowd in 20 minutes and then passing the hat. By the end of that first summer they had crowds of 200 people waiting for them on the street at their regular Friday and Saturday night performances.
"These were some of the most fun times we've had because our growth was so palpable," Jian recalls. "It was a direct arbiter of how we were received, because people on the street can always walk away."
But people didn't walk away. Moxy Früvous release an independent cassette of their songs in February 1992; by that summer it had gone gold and it stayed Number 1 on the independent charts for a year. They were commissioned to write topical songs, often with only a few days' notice, for live performances on public radio. They opened for Bob Dylan at the historic Massey Hall in Toronto, stunning the audience with their a capella "Gulf War Song." This was their year of "coming out", as Jian calls it. That summer they played at both the Winnipeg and Vancouver folk festivals, "discovering," as he says, "a sense of community with other artists. At Winnipeg, all the performers stay in the same hotel and we jammed until 7 a.m. We had the best time!"
The following year, 1993, was to see the release of Bargainville, the group's first CD for Warner Music Canada (the second album, Wood, was released in 1995), and a lot more touring, especially to folk festivals. "What we've learned," explains Jian, "is that, despite the fact that we may not seem to be a true folk group, we seem to be suited to folk festivals. It's a paradox, but the festival crowd is a hybrid group and we feel that we're playing in front of an audience who is prepared to appreciate anything." This past year, 1996, brought the release of another recording, b, and a whirlwind of international festival tours: in England - the Phoenix festival and the huge WOMAD festival in London, regularly attended by more than 60,000 people; and in the United States - the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival (Colorado), the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (New York), Ben & Jerry's Newport Folk Festival (Rhode Island) and the Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival (New Jersey), to name a few.
The years of singing and performing together have enabled Moxy Früvous to develop a very tight vocal harmony style. All four are baritones, but each with a slightly different range. They all play - and trade - instruments, they all take turns in singing the lead and they are all involved in writing the material. Bargainville consisted of many of the songs the group wrote collectively for public radio and while performing on the street; Wood was a more personal and introspective recording with more of the songs written by individual members; and the b recording was again written in their usual communal style; in the tradition of satirical song writing.
Jian says the groups works on consensus and always compromises in mingling their musical ideas. "We each bring a closetful of ideas to each song - our focal point is the vocals. We naturally gravitate towards where our voices just go. We know where we are and we slot into our positions and sing right away." An example of this was an incident they had at a recent performance. They had a member of the audience come up on stage to play guitar while they fixed a string and he played about 20 seconds of his original song before becoming too embarrassed to continue. Jian, on a whim, asked, "Want to hear what your song would sound like in four-part-harmony?" And then all four started to sing this song, a fragment of which they had just heard, in perfect harmony, delighting not only the audience but themselves, as well. Jian says, "We don't come from any specific tradition, so the way we do voices is that we have a lead singer and the other voices emulate what an instrument would do in a band. It's unorthodox in a way; we've had no specific training in four-part harmony."
The ever eclectic, energetic, spontaneous and astute political satirists who constitute the tightly-knit vocal and instrumental aggregate that calls itself Moxy Früvous put on one heck of a live show. Catch them if you can, and also be on the lookout for their newest recording due to be released in Canada and the U.S. this spring.
The Greatest Man In America (sheet music)
Moxy Früvous first toured the U.S. in March of 1994. Invited to sing on the live radio program Mountain Stage, they wanted to write a new satirical song for the appearance. Traveling around the U.S. for three or four weeks, they noticed that Rush Limbaugh was EVERYWHERE - they couldn't get away from the guy. So they bought books, read them in the van and debated among themselves about him. They felt the mere mention of his name polarized people and they didn't want to write a song that would immediately turn off the pro-Rush element. They decided to take the satirical approach instead, to "celebrate him to the extreme." They came up with the idea and, says Jian, "literally wrote the song in one long-drive day." A true group effort, they each wrote a verse or chorus. You can hear the debut performance of the song (from Mountain Stage) on the group's latest EP-length release, b.