TORONTO -- There once was a dedicated tribe of rock junkies called Deadheads who tirelessly followed the Grateful Dead to countless shows as they toured North America.
Now, in the spirit of that great tradition, come the Fruheads.
Tripping around after Toronto's Moxy Fruvous may not be quite as psychedelic an affair (the quartet admit their strongest drug comes in a beer can), but it's a fad gaining momentum in the U.S.
"It was never as crazy as it is now," says singer and drummer Jian Ghomeshi.
"There's a serious Fruhead thing. They had a Fruhead convention here in February. Most of them came up from the States, took over a hotel. It's weird, but nice."
Ghomeshi, Murray Foster, Mike Ford and David Matheson have been touring extensively in the U.S. over the last year. Having a new fan base to play for is especially nice, the four say, because many people who followed the band's first efforts were left with the impression they were a comedy troupe who did a little singing.
Moxy Fruvous began in 1990 when the four began busking at Toronto's Harborfront Centre as an a capella barbershop quartet. Blending wry humor, decidedly left-wing political satire and catchy music, they soon became something of a cult hit. An independent cassette was released and in 1993 the group signed a record deal with Warner Music.
Their name became widely recognized after several wacky, offbeat hits like the musical reworking of Dr. Seuss's famous children's story Green Eggs and Ham, the comical King of Spain and the socially conscious lament Stuck in the '90s.
After four major-label albums the group released the live CD Live Noise this month, which they hope contains the real essence of the group -- their stage performance. The witty asides, improvisation and audience interaction are what distinguish Moxy Fruvous from other groups.
"The original notion behind the album was we've always thought that it would be a smart thing," says Matheson. "We kind of know that our live show is in many ways what makes us unique and a big part of what we do, so we thought about it for a long time and this was a good opportunity to do one."
Their rapid rise to fame in Canada may have done the group something of a disservice, says Foster.
"We got very popular very quickly in '93 -- too quickly -- and we had a lot of fans that lasted but we also had a bunch of people that jumped on the wagon for a while," he says.
"Then the next thing came -- the Cure, Oasis, Nine Inch Nails, whatever. We're not interested in that any more. We're interested in people following us because they like who we are and what we do."
Fans are seeing a more rounded group now, say the foursome clustered around a restaurant table, stuffing themselves with chicken wraps and pasta between razor-sharp quips and snatches of song.
"Our last studio album came out last year. We were still doing interviews with people in Toronto going 'This is really great, so who's playing the instruments?' We all were instrumentalists to begin with," Foster says shaking his head.
"We've had the debate many times over making only cohesive albums with one mood, leaving the humor out or in," says Ford.
"We always feel a little bit burned because it seems like sometimes if you're not making brooding, suicidal or like, 'I'm singing about something serious here you better believe me' kind of music and videos your musicianship is not considered as valid. But the guys in this band (aside from me) are great musicians. Nobody realizes that."
The arrival of the Fruheads -- who maintain the official Moxy Fruvous Web site at www.fruvous.com -- has reinvigorated the group, Matheson says.
"It's this really firmly established cult kind of thing where the people are genuinely into all the sides of us," he says.
"It's rewarding and at the same time it's also challenging -- when we start creating our next stuff we have this new posse of fans looking over our shoulder. It's inspiring."
Some facts about Moxy Fruvous
Formed: Toronto, 1990
Members: Dave Matheson, guitar, accordion. Mike Ford, guitar, percussion. Jian Ghomeshi, drums, percussion, guitar. Murray Foster, bass. All four sing.
Odd name: Moxy Fruvous means "Whatever you want it to mean," says Ford.
Albums / Major Releases (in order of release)
Moxy Fruvous EP (Independent) 1992
Bargainville (Warner) 1993
Wood (Warner) 1995
The 'B' Album (Warner) 1996
You Will Go To The Moon (warner) 1997
Live Noise (Warner) 1998
Fruheads: A group of loyal fans who are members of the Moxy Fruvous fan club. Often follow the band on tour from gig to gig.
"We seem to have gotten a whole new level in the States. There's a good number of cities in the Northeast and Midwest where we're doing anywhere from 500 to 3,000 people a night and it's just a real buzz. The cool thing being that it totally hasn't been imposed on people from above: it hasn't come from MTV or commercial radio, it's simply word of mouth. It's the coolest because then you feel that people are buying you for what you are rather than what you look like in some video." -- Jian Ghomeshi.