They've Got Moxy! Named for near-famous inventor Gilbert Früvous and a beverage of questionable taste, Canadian group Moxy Früvous has gone from busking on the streets of Toronto to selling out auditoriums and singing to astronauts. As they complete their first live album, they look forward to sharing their insightful harmonies at the 1998 World Cup.
I recently had a chance to talk to the guys before they took the stage in Boston. I found them not only to be funny, but deftly observant and brilliantly conscious as well. Moxy Früvous are: Jian Ghomeshi/vocals, drums, percussion; Mike Ford/vocal, guitar; Dave Matheson/vocals, accordion, banjo, guitar; Murray Foster/vocals, bass.
MR: You guys have been together for some time now! How did you first find
each other and how have you held the edge of musical sanity for so long?
Dave: "The edge?" We're holding the front line of musical sanity! (Pause) We
met each other in high school back in the late 80's.
Jian: We really met each other in a bakery. And then we found out that we were
in the same high school. The four of us - completely individually - on a
Sunday afternoon, we were all at "Buns Meister" Bakery in Ontario buying
bagels - Well, they didn't have bagels back then - this is the late 80's -
but they had Kaisers.
Murray: But they punched holes in the middle!
Jian: And actually the Kaisers seemed to have some relevance to the Buns
Meister. But we were all - I was buying Kaisers for my mother -
Jian - and we just happened to meet up, got talking and then we found out we
all went to the same high school, and then we were on the same theater
MR: Big high school!
Dave: It was! There was at least the four of us there.
MR: But you were in the same department in the same high school and you
didn't even meet there?
Mike: Well, we were the kind of guys who, when we were at school, we were
"willed to task" - we were focused on our task so much, we didn't notice the
comings and goings of people. But in the casual, laissez-faire, you know,
have-a-chat-have-a-bun atmosphere of "Bun Meister"-
Murray: "Buns Meister".
Mike: (exaggerating the German) "Buunz Meister" we were at leisure to meet,
talk, greet and design a future.
Murray: It was very much a sort of an Atlas Shrugged/Fountainhead kind of
meeting for us. You know - we were just walking through the halls of the high
school and we would just sort of see each other and know.
MR: "The sign of the dollar".
Jian: Well, that was when we met, but we didn't form "Moxy Früvous" until '90,
when we just started going out busking on the streets. We were involved in
just duos and different things. Mike and I, uh -
Mike: Wrote musical theater.
Jian: Yeah - wrote musical theater. Dave and Mike were in a folk, Simon and
Dave: Back when they were "hip."
Jian: Murray and I were in a very heavy funk band. Really soul funk. And
Murray and Dave exchanged glances. And so then, we decided... for fun... to get
together and sing on the streets. We all played instruments, but we just
wanted to sing.
MR: Would you ever like to be back on the street, maybe in a town where you're
not known, and see what happens? Do you do that?
Murray: On paper, that's a nice thought! Yeah, I'd like to think that we
would do that, but it's been a few years since we busked and I think,
uh... it's a different skill and also it's a different drive - it's a different
enthusiasm you have to have. We've sort of done that.
Dave: And lots of it!
Murray: And lots of it. We've kept our - we've kept a lot of the spirit of it
on stage, I mean, we mix it up with the audience and do some
theatrics on stage and
MR: Pass the hat?
Murray: Pass the hat. Yeah - the Vaudeville quality.
Mike: The difference in the band now is that, and I don't want to
overstate this - is that, we now - each of us have in each of our bank
accounts $70, whereas, when we were really good at busking, that wasn't the
case - for any of us. So that - to be quite honest, that puts quite a bit of
fuel into the street-side performer.
Murray: $70. They need $70!
Jian: By virtue of this being our career, you know, we're business partners at
this point - by accident. I mean, we wouldn't necessarily pick each other if we
were going into any other business.
Dave: I'll say!
Jian: That was a weird transition certainly at first - from "Hey, we're doing
this for fun and for the love of music" to "Fun, creativity and music have
nothing to do with this!"
MR: What about your instrumentation? Who came in with what and what have you each picked-up along the way?
Murray: Mike plays guitar, Jian plays drums, I play bass and Dave has learned
about four instruments since we started.
Mike: I've picked-up nothing!
Murray: I've lost a little guitar savvy.
Mike: I've learned to finger pick!
Dave: [Jian] picked up whistle and guitar. Mike picked up keyboard.
Mike: I played way better piano before!
Mike: Yeah! That's when I was taking lessons! I knew four different ostenatos -
Murray: But you "picked up" the keyboard!
Mike: Yah. Yah. It was tough.
Jian: Murray's a much better bass player!
Murray: I learned to finger pick as well... in England.
Jian: Dave played no instruments.
Dave: Accordion and banjo are new in the band.
Jian: Dave was a math savant.
Dave: And look for more to come... from Dave Matheson's choir!
MR: In the writing and arranging, do any of you have a "lead" role, or is it
just sort of everyone puts in and see what happens?
Murray: I have a "lead" role, but I choose not to use that... so I hang-back.
Mike: It's a writing contingent - a writing troupe (in both spellings of the
word). And, as such, we all have things to say, things to write, ways to
arrange and, Früvous is both a mosaic and melting pot.
Jian: Wedding the American and Canadian, um
Jian: Yes - " ideals:" a mosaic and a melting pot. Immigrants to the land of
music, we wed the American and Canadian ideals of the melting pot and mosaic.
But usually the "lead" role is taken by the person who - I mean, ultimately,
somebody brings a concept or a song - you know. Anything from 'Here's some
chords and a couple of lyric ideas I have" to, "Here's a full-fledged song!
Let's see if you guys wanna change it at all." And usually that guy gets the
prerogative to - within the consensus and the democracy - to take a bit of a
lead role. I mean, if it comes down to a decision that everyone can't agree on
or something about, say, changing a lyric or a chord or arranging the harmony
in a certain way or the song instrumentation in a certain way, the guy who
brought the concept will usually take the lead role in saying "No, I don't
think it should sound that way" or "I do think it should sound that way."
Murray: It's his or her vision.
Jian: That's right!
Mike: Musically, we are all members of the Früvous "cabinet" the Früvous
"privy council." We have a role as "Prime Minister" or "President."
MR: So how does the improvisational aspect stay involved in the process?
Mike: Well, touring is a big part of that, because you're playing
show after show, night after night and it's a way to keep it fresh, you know?
If we were just a band that went up and did the set list, it would get more
tiresome quicker. This way, it makes each show a different thing. Something
different in each show happens. And also, there's generally stuff either right
there in the room - with, you know a crazy shirt someone in the front row is
wearing (now that's a lyric!) - or something that's happening in the town at
large or the country or the Olympics.
Jian: If something might be happening with the Mayor of the town, we like to
sing about that!
Mike: Yes! These things find themselves worked into the stage banter, the
Jian: It's hard! Because, you know - There's something about the creativity and
the chemistry of the four of us that actually leads us to create often times
better pieces through improvisation than it does through a calculated attempt
to put together a great song corroboration, you know? Which is very difficult
if you think about it, it's quite fucked up because how, then, do we make studio albums? And in most cases, we don't. Most of the songs that you hear at the show are not improvised things that we just thought up in the studio while we were all sitting there with microphones on us. The difficulty being that, often times, during shows - and this is probably the best part of the Früvous live show we do musical improv. And you know, nine-times-out-of-ten, its crap! But that one-time-out-of-ten, it's probably better than anything else we do! It's really - It's a magical - um - a flowering. [It's] an explosion of creativity that's happening at that moment with the fusion of the four of us.
Mike: So, you go on the road - you got 100 shows - you got ten songs! Ten great
songs! You've won! It's over.
Murray: Yeah! That's an album so you can do three albums a year that way.
Jian: The corollary - the added problem - is that we don't remember the
stuff we improv on stage. It's gone the next moment. Which is, of course,
changing with all the bootlegging going on.
MR: How do you choose you subjects for your songs?
Dave: Well, like anything you'd want to put out in terms of "art," the subject
has to have a starting point and an ending point, so [the songs have to] have
that inner conflict right in them, just like any sit-com writer [or] any book
writer. You've got to have something going on and be engaging. That's what we
look for. That's one of the things.
Mike: "The Muse of Fire" is what David said.
MR: People have tried to put you in a genre. I'm not even going to go there.
What would you say is the - no offense! - "mental age" of your music?
Dave: "Mental age"?
MR: Who do you think "gets it" the most?
Dave: Oh! Of the audience!
MR: Yes! Who do you think you play best to?
Jian: Really, really precocious-like-genius, 11 year-olds. Like really, really
ahead-of-their-time 11 year-olds.
Murray: Like 11 year-olds who are about to skip a grade.
Jian: No! No! Like prodigies. Because they have the openness of the child -
like a sponge that is still taking on water.
Dave: Like a ship that is still taking on water (Laughs)!
Murray: As the daffodil...
Jian: - yet who have the - sagacity -
Jian: - of an older person. And so they see what this - this Früvous. Because
there's the - the surface of what we're trying to say - which most people see
and some people think they get - and then there's a deeper - you have to
scratch it away - under that - that - grade 12 art project maybe a Monet! So you
scratch it away.
Mike: A palimpsest!
MR: Could you spell that please?
Mike: Yes! "P-A-L-I-M-P-S-E-S-T."
Jian: That's it!
Mike: That's it.
Jian: The 11 year-old has to be sexually precocious, too, because
Mike: (Alarm sound).
Murray: Warning! Warning!
Mike: Kennedy territory!
MR: Moving out of politics into something a little more near and dear to your
hearts, what do you think about the state of the music industry?
Murray: Abysmal! A-fuckin'-bysmal! I think radio is dead and boring. I think,
creatively, there's nothing happening (especially on this side of the border) -
Dave: Harsh words! I'm gonna' beg to differ on a couple of
Murray: - and I think bands are - it's a very conservative time for bands. I
think no one's really taking any chances. I think they're paying it very safe
and they're looking for the - you know - the one hit single that will net them a
couple of million bucks so they can retire. No bands are really in it for the long -term, you know, and that - there's a lot of reasons for that.
Dave: In the pop?
Murray: In the mainstream.
Dave: Yeah - In the mainstream. That's what the caveat is to that. I would say
on the upside, the ability to disseminate what's music is ten-fold what it was
ten years ago. So there's a heck of a lot more to choose from out there. And
if you're a young artist, you can make a CD, if you can scrape together a
couple of thousand dollars. And that's a good thing - the diversity and the
web - the net of folk - people out there marketing themselves through small
companies or what have you is very valuable and is going to play an
increasingly larger role in terms of what we think of as, you know "the music
industry," I think. I would hope so. So that's - I'm not a radio listener, but
I sure am keen on this - it's not really an "underground," but there's
certainly lots of music out there!
Jian: Yeah! I think I might have agreed with what Murray said about five years
ago, but I think it's changing a lot - especially since the 80s but especially
coming out of the "Alternative Rock" status quo in the first half of the
'90s, you know? There actually seems to be a real opening of all that "Indie"
explosion that was really kind of fake has led to some... some great stuff. I'm
not sure... ten years ago we would have seen an Ani DiFranco on the cover of
Rolling Stone . And I think that that's very positive for what it represents.
Even on radio, the likes of Ben Folds Five are getting played. I think they're
a different kind of band than would have been playing maybe perhaps the same
kind of music, but would have developed in a different way - would have
developed by some producer picking them and, you know, spending money on a
huge budget and stuff in the 80s and the early 90s. The darkest thing that's happened in the last ten years is that "Alt-Rock" Nirvana scene and whatever (at least in North America) became the corporate rock of this decade. And it's still going on in Canada, you know? But there's a lot of other stuff going on too that didn't have a voice a few years ago.
Mike: As far as musicians making musical careers - doing it for their career
- and all the people who are in the music business on whatever level for a
career, the worst thing we've encountered - and the worst thing, I think on
the planet - is television - is video TV. It's just horrible! And I can't
overstate this. For music - for musicians. Unless there was a video channel
the way there are college stations - you know? Just everywhere ! And you could
get tons of stuff on. But it's so narrow!
MR: Who in the industry inspires you? Who do you admire?
Murray: I think Jian mention two big ones: Ani DiFranco and Ben Folds Five -
two bands that are sort of, that have come out of America to more
mainstream success. I think in the mainstream, those are the two conspicuous
bands that have integrity and have something to say musically. But beyond
that, I think you have to look to, you know - deeper into the corners - the
nooks and crannies - of the industry to find artists that are really doing
something interesting... intelligent... challenging.
Dave: I always thought that Loudon Wainright, for example, or Greg Brown, for
example, on the Folk side of things are inspiring to me, in that they are - or
Chris Smither, for example - get in the car, drive, do a gig and have a good
career doing that, you know? That's not a house in Malibu by any means, but
it's - it still represents a success and a life doing music. That's great!
Mike: We have a compatriot and town, city - what is it?
Dave: Community member!
Mike: "Community member" who has inspired us a lot by being discovered for
what he is. His name is Ron Sexsmith and he's like this incredible songwriter
and it's been something that you can almost feel in the Toronto scene a bit of
inspiration from him because he came along - this amazing songwriter - and
it's like "Wow! Aw! This is the kind of guy that ought to be discovered!" And
now he has been, so that's inspiring!
MR: People have tried to hook you up with every Canadian band, every Folk
act, every -
Jian: Every Pope?
MR: - every "fringe" Rock act. What are your real influences? Who would you
like to be linked with?
Jian: Well realistically, we won't - we probably won't be linked with the
people who are our real idols. Like Stevie Wonder. I mean Stevie Wonder is
probably... probably between the four of us the guy who gets the most airplay
at our individual houses, you know? But it's going to be a long time before
they go "Moxy Früvous is really the new Stevie Wonder!"
Mike: But it'll happen! It'll just be a long time! (Laugh) You're strapped in
for the ride!
Jian: So in the meantime, I think... I mean, you know, we're not like - Like a
band like Radiohead I think is a band that I would love to -
Mike: Be lumped in with!
Jian: Yeah. I mean Radiohead has the Talking Heads thing. I mean, I think the
thing we're searching for is -
MR: "Head" in the name!
Jian: Yeah! What we're searching for is a career that, um... long-term
respect. Like, these guys are still around, you know, like say ten years
from now. You know, these guys have done this for a long time and they still
are into being creative. You know? They're still into doing. They're not just
reproducing what they do for their niche. And certainly we're a hard band to
follow - I mean not on stage, but I mean on - As a fan, I would think that we're
probably not an easy band - You know, our releases are unpredictable from one
to the next and you kind of have to buy us as a concept to really. And
fortunately, a lot of people seem to be doing that! So I think long term
respect - I can't even compare us to anybody! I don't think there's anybody out
there who - there's such a diversity of interests in our group and we literally
don't know if our next album is going to be a hip-hop album or a really really
MR: Okay!...If I were to take each of you into a room alone, (raised eyebrows
abound!) stay with me here!
Mike: Oh! We're with you!
MR: What would you each tell me are the origins of the band's name?
Mike: We'll need that room!
Jian: We would all say the same thing. There's only one.
MR: Oh, there is a story to it. It is that guy from Switzerland - Anton
MR: Oh. That's what I had read, so I went with it!
Jian: No. Gilbert ("jill-bear") Früvous, in the famous - I guess the 1975-76
playoffs between the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers - remember
the famed - I don't know if you're a hockey fan at all, but those who are,
especially in the Buffalo area, will remember that the Memorial Auditorium
where they were playing fogged up. It was the famous "fog series." It was
like the Stanley Cup Finals and it was getting really warm outside and they
didn't have air conditioning, so they were playing in fog. And there were guys
who devised the idea of skating around the ice between, like, every five
minutes, they would stop the game and skate around the ice with sheets - like
two guys holding sheets - to blow the fog out. The guy who thought of that
and one of the guys holding the sheets was a guy named Gilbert Früvous.
Mike: And his invention is called a "draps"- Let me spell this out for you:
"D-R-A-P-S new word D-E B-R-U-M-E."
MR: "Drop de broom." Pardon my French!
Mike: A "fog sheet!"
Jian: Gilbert Früvous - G-I-
MR: Like "Gilbert."
MR: So where does the first part come from?
Jian: What do you mean?
Jian: Oh, "Moxy." I just added that. "Moxie" means gumption; balls. It used
to be a soda! Well, actually, the soda thing - There's an actual discrepancy about
where "Moxie" came from . Some people think it's an old Yiddish word or
something - like "Oh! He's got Moxie!," but -
MR: Like "chutzpah."
Jian: Chutzpah - yeah! Some people claim that that's true, but that came after
the drink. Because the drink was so horrible (and if you ever tasted it, it
is terrible!), that if you drank it, you have guts! So that became synonymous
Mike: We said our name's "Früvous" when we were first approached by wily businessmen and one of them told us that, if we added "Moxie" to it, it would square our earnings exponentially. And he swore his life on it!
Jian: We're not sure if that's true -
Mike: He's dead now.
Jian: But we won't know until we drop it.
Jian: And see if our earnings are the square root of what they were.
Mike: But this guy - this "wily" business guy - is now - you can now visit
his grave in Holy Cross Cemetery in Toronto.
MR: Alright! Switching channels altogether - What was it like to be chosen to
provide the wake-up song for the astronauts?
Dave: It was a thrill!
MR: How did you find out?
Dave: The morning of, I think I got a phone call. That's how I found out
Jian: Actually, we found out because it went out on the wire. People who had heard it on the news would call us and stuff.
Mike: Very thrilling! Unfortunately, no royalty agencies exist for outer
space. It's a "freebie!" But how often does someone do something free in
space? You know? Most people get millions of dollars!
Jian: And quite frankly, when you don't get royalties, you're losing
royalties! So it's actually a material loss! It's what it adds up to. But it's
a spiritual and universal gain!
MR: So tell me about the upcoming live album.
Dave: Well it's almost complete and it will be out in May, we think. And it's going to be a hell of a live album!
MR: How does it fit into the musical plan - you say that Moxy is a "musical
package" - how?
Jian: It's really interesting because it may be the first album that we've
ever put out that really - that you could really put on and say "This was Moxy Früvous" because it will be - obviously, it's live - and because it's a
compilation; a what do you call it?
Mike: An amalgamation. A distillation...
Jian: A culling of our different musical styles and genres and pieces. So it's a collage - a collage of what Früvous is - which is what we are, in fact, so that'll actually be quite satisfying! Whether it's the best album we've ever made or not, it certainly is the album that I think that you'll be able to say" Oh, you've never seen Moxy Früvous? Put this on and you'll get a good sense of what they are!"
MR: So what's the next goal for the band? What's coming up?
Jian: Well, we're being considered for the World Cup. They have a big benefit. The "Three Tenors" have done it in '90 and '94 and we're being considered!
Jian: Yeah! For the big closing or, actually, it's a few days before the
opening. It's The Gala, basically. Which is pretty amazing because we've never played in France, but they heard about our live show and, depending on what [Jose] Carreras - if they have a contract, because it has to be the Three Tenors, so -
Mike: If Carreras says "no," then Früvous says "yes"!
Jian: Yeah. Which would be really cool!
Dave: It would be "The Two Tenors Plus Four"!
Jian: Two to three billion people could be watching that.
Mike: And they'll be able to hear our new song "Baggio Goal!"
MR: Is that for real?
Mike: It only has two lyrics. One of the lyrics is really long! "Baggio
gooooooooaaaaaaallllllll! (cymbal sound) Gooooooooaaaaaaallllllll!"
MR: Any parting words?
Jian: People are encouraged to come see the Früvous live experience and to
visit our Früvous website.