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"I'm excited by the return of melody to bass playing," says Murray Foster of the Canadian band Moxy Früvous. "As music moves back to the melodic, the role of the bass can start to be redefined. The bass can maintain rhythm and the root, but it can also do a whole lot more. Paul McCartney was doing it in the early '60s, so there's no excuse not to take it further."
That seems to be the mandate for Foster, whose band relies heavily on styles most self-declared genre-hopping groups barely touch: glam-folk, musical stand-up satire, and multi-ethnic gonzo musicology. Moxy Früvous mixes socio-political commentary; epic a capella forays, and refreshingly intelligent stage banter with remarkable ease and humor. The band is expanding its American fan base at an impressive rate, thanks to its four frontmen -- all able songwriters and powerful singers with strong audience-participating skills.
While musical duties in the band are flexible, Foster keeps primary rein over the low end. "From the time I started playing bass, I loved it," he recalls. "I had a bass player personality. I wasn't as flashy as my guitarist brother; I was happy just to do my thing in the background." Murray rarely just sits back. "I've always conceived of bass playing as as ongoing struggle to meld melody and rhythm. It serves two masters, and I measure bassists by how well they serve both. Many players do one or the other really well -- especially rhythm. But McCartney almost sacrifices rhythm for melody; there are times when you hear him let the band carry the rhythm while he plays a melody -- almost a song within a song."
Foster's appreciation for melodic bass lines started early. "XTC's English Settlement [Virgin] was an important album for me; it was the first time I heard a bass do more than just hold down the low end. Colin Moulding's lines are complete pieces in themselves, with balance and counterpoint and melody. Writing a bass line should be an act of composition, with all of the soul-searching and sensitivity that goes into a writing a song."
Murray's staple instruments are a 1972 Fender Precision with a Roy Smith bridge and EMG bridge pickup, and a 1986 Spector NS-10. "The Fender was the first bass I really connected with. It was my first love -- my first intimate relationship with a bass guitar. I still enjoy playing it, but I've become unsatisfied with its tone. I've been using the Spector for the last few shows; I love the sound, but I've been overplaying because I'm used to the Fender. I find I have more control over the notes on a Fender because it's harder to play. With the Spector, I get the note by lightly touching the string, whereas with the Fender I get a range of tones depending on how deeply I dig in."
Since Früvous' stage sound isn't particularly loud, Foster doesn't need stacks of 4x10s. "I just purchased a Nemesis 2x10 combo amp, which seems great for touring; it's very light, has a fairly transparent tone, and is loud enough." Murray has also been stomping on a Big Muff distortion box for a couple of songs. "I'd characterize the tone of that box as pure evil. It's nasty -- and wonderful."