[Caption underneath the Thornhill promo pic: Moxy Früvous's David Matheson (left), Jian Ghomeshi, Murray Foster and Mike Ford have serious misgivings about having their new record sold at Wal-Mart.]
Like most groups that've been kicking around for the better part of a decade, Toronto agit-prop quartet Moxy Früvous have endured moments of dizzying popularity and crushing indifference, sometimes at once.
They've handled both with grace, retrenching when the backlash began, then tirelessly touring America and building a loyal fan base one folk festival at a time.
Sellout gigs in Milwaukee and Cleveland may not boost their cred among the Queen Street elite, but here's the interesting bit, Moxy Früvous -- Jian Ghomeshi, Murray Foster, Mike Ford and David Matheson -- may yet have the last laugh.
Like they say, hang around long enough, and sooner or later you're bound to be in style.
"We've had a harder time in our own hometown than anywhere else in the world, and that's a fact," singer and multi-instrumentalist Ghomeshi offers over morning coffee prior to the release of his band's latest CD, Thornhill, out now.
"But I feel like we're coming full circle. All we've ever wanted for people to judge us objectively. You don't *have* to like us. Just listen to the record.
"With critics we seem to be the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't band. When we're doing the lighter, satirical stuff, the reaction is always 'Oh, they're a novelty.' When we do heavier stuff, when the satire is a little deeper, the reaction is 'What happened? They used to be funny.' Music is so subjective and 20 different people will say 19 different things."
While it's true that their star at home hasn't exactly risen since their early-90's peak, the band is a big fucking deal to a vastly networked, proactive group of fans throughout the U.S.
These are fans who think nothing of driving to Toronto from Vermont or New Hampshire to attend the annual Moxy Früvous convention (yes, really), where said "Früheads" pay for the privilege of sitting cross-legged on the floor and firing complex questions at the guy who designed one album cover and the engineer who recorded another.
Sounds weird. And it kinda is, judging by the glassy-eyed enthusiasm of the Früheads who converged on a downtown hotel last February for the latest Deadhead-like exchange.
But don't take our word for it -- go to www.früvous.com (sic) and peruse the enormous Web site where one can collect more information about the group than anyone probably needs.
"Früheadism is... very... bizarre," Ghomeshi says. "I've called them hippies and geeks before, but tongue-in-cheek. There are smart people, too. But the things is, we've built this fan base that is so about Moxy Früvous as an eclectic project that continues to change and evolve rather than being about one song or one video. In America, we're known as this really grassroots, working band that does really alternative stuff. And I think we've built it up in such a way that we'll always have a career."
So where does all this bring us in 99? To Thornhill, produced by Don Dixon (Smithereens, among others) and stacked with the things that Früheads everywhere debate ad nauseum -- dark humour, satire, strong harmonies, folksy songs shot through with melodic pop. "Dixon mitigated our need for perfectionism," Ghomeshi says. "He helped us be sloppier. And it worked"
They're intensely proud of Thornhill, and want people to hear it. But there's controversy brewing already.
Wal-Mart has called.
On the one hand, distribution through the American chain could boot Früvous sales, which would ultimately afford them more creative options. On the other, Wal-Mart is a corporate giant that swallows whole the business districts of small towns. And it only stocks titles it finds acceptable. The conundrum is not lost on the band.
"We live in an era when the best young golfer in the world is only seen under a cap with a Nike swoosh on it," Ghomeshi says. "We have Lenny Kravitz brought to you by Tommy Hilfiger. That shocks me."
"At the same time, we've made decisions of conscience in our career that no one will ever know about, like refusing a full-page ad for a vodka company in your magazine."
So Wal-Mart *is* stocking Thornhill?
"Yes," Ghomeshi sighs. "I would rather people buy us at a mom-and-pop shop. But think of it this way. If Wal-Mart started stocking Noam Chomsky, which they won't, then maybe people who shop there would read him.
"One way you can undo the homogenization of culture is to buy a Früvous record at a Wal-Mart instead of Celine Dion. It's a tenuous argument," he laughs, "but it is one."