"So," says Jean Ghomeshi, drummer/vocalist for Moxy Früvous, "is Center Stage kind of like NOW?" I hastily point out that we cover more mainstream material, and that we're not a tabloid, we're actually a full-blown magazine. "You mean like the kind you get on an airline?" he asks. I tell him sure, the ones you read while you're listening to the really cheesy music on Channel 3. "Oh," he says, almost scornfully, "I always go for Channel 8. That's the one that's playing "Babe" by Styx. If you travel enough, you realize that that's the one to stay on; you've got "Babe", you've got Peaches and Herb..." Then, much to my stupefication, he starts singing "Reunited". "'Cause I miss your kiss, hey hey..." When he's through, I applaud politely, and suggest that maybe they should cover that song in concert. Suddenly, Jean is angry. "We DO cover it! You've been missing the shows! We just do a whole Peaches and Herb show, lately."
That's the kind of response that typifies the band; it's what's brought them to this staggering level of success. Sure, there are bigger acts, but there are few who's catapulted to success so quickly. It began when four friends decided to try some a cappella busking. Combine Jean with Mike Ford (guitar, percussion), bassist Murray Foster, and David Matheson on guitar, bass and accordion (all four members sing, with a penchant for intoxicating harmonies). Three years later, they own the record for the most copies sold of an independent cassette, have opened for the likes of Bryan Adams and Bob Dylan, and are currently involved headlining a 50-date Canadian tour. Such success sometimes swells heads, but not Früvous.
"It's pretty strange; and I think I don't really think about that; I'm the kind of person - and I think all of us are this way - who sort of, I'll have a sort of 'enlightenment' where I'll say 'Oh my God! We just played in front of 5000 people at the Ontario Place Forum; that's where I first ever saw concerts, you know, Peter Frampton!' Or I'll say 'Wow, we've got the top selling Canadian record'; it'll just hit me at certain moments. But generally, I guess one of the things that scares me about it is that we're so immersed in what we're doing, and we're so busy going from one thing to another is that we don't have time to reflect on it, and sit back and say 'Humph! We're doin' great...pass the vichyssoise!' I don't think I really know what it means yet; I'm still a little scared by it all; scared on one hand of what it all is, and scared on the other hand of it all ending tomorrow. One thing that I try and do is not to expect anything, and when our record Bargainville went gold in two weeks, I kind of went 'Okay, now nobody's going to buy it anymore' so that if nobody does, I won't be upset, and if they do, I'll be pleasantly surprised. That's the kind of way I approach everything."
Parents around the nation have been heard to ask, often in unison, "Moxy WHAT?!" And finally in a Centre Stage exclusive, Jean comes clean about where the band's name comes from. "The name really comes from a transplanted Torontonian; his name was Robertson...uh...Früvous; I think they just called him "Rob', I don't know. Robertson Früvous who, in about, I guess it was the early 60's, was known a quite a swinger on the Toronto scene, quite a man about town, who ended up leaving Toronto and settling in, ah...in Hamilton, actually, working for an airline magazine; I can never remember that part." Uh huh. Thanks for that.
"Bargainville" is the first major-label release for the band; a 15-track journey that shows off the band's diverse influence. "We're all big fans of Tom Waits and Elvis Costello," Jean begins; "and from there, it goes from musical theatre like Sondhiem to Take 6, to Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg; (laughs) it's pretty varied. One of the things we aspire to for Früvous is for each song to be a little bit different musically. I remember one of the first times we listened to the album after we had produced it ourselves, and we were happy with it, but we kinda look around at each other and said "What IS this?" - you go from song to song and it's amazing that people can find a unfying sound; I find it remarkable when people try and pigeon hole us as one type of group or another; there's a tremendous misconception based on people only knowing 'King of Spain' or 'Green Eggs and Ham' and I'm happy, or at least I hope that this album is undermining those misconceptions; there's a lot more to the group than 'King of Spain''.
As far as the instrumentation is concerned, "Bargainville" remains very busking-friendly, with the exception of an anvil on "Stuck In The 90's". "Well," laughs Jean, "the anvil, we like to bring that out on a big - we rent a Ryder truck and have the anvil brought out in front of the Bloor Cinema, where with rented hammers we take turns hitting it. It is pretty busking-friendly, the album, there are a few songs that - there's always been this mythical perception, and I say mythical because it really hasn't been the case since well over two years ago, that we're an a cappella group, which we've never been. We do some a cappella stuff, but we've always accompanied ouselves with congas, or percussion or acoustic guitars; and there is a little more instrumentation on this album than there's ever been. We could get up and do "Video Bargainville" live on the street; but those songs "Darlington", they have a little more instrumentation to them, which actually is not unnatural to us, because we're all musicians first. One of the funniest questions that was asked of us, before the album even came out and we were describing it to reporters, was "Oh - so there's quite a bit of instrumentation on the album"...and we'd say 'yeah..." "Well, who's PLAYING the instruments, cause you guys are just singers, right?" But it's good to hear that you think the album is busking-friendly, because one of the things we're interested in is maintaining a pared-down instrumentation where our vocals are the centre focus, and at any moment, we could continue to perform our stuff without the use of technology or a PA or anything like that."
Since the live show derives so much from their days as buskers, Jean says that they are considering doing some busking again, when their schedule permits. "That's something we haven't done, but something we definitely want to do. We did, before we went down to Woodstock to record, we did the whole album in acoustic confines in the Cameron, where we used to play without a PA; but I think that's a really good point; a lot of the earlier stuff, like 'King of Spain', and 'Green Eggs and Ham', that was developed by busking on the streets, and going out of our way to attract attention to ouselves, and so the energy that some of those songs have finds its genesis performing it on the streets; or it's Yes, Rush or other art-rock groups." he laughs. "I'm filling in the cheap jokes the other guys would be saying when I use words like that. That's something we would look forward to doing; the other thing to remember about Früvous is that there are very few creative boundaries, in the sense that from year to year I can't predict where Moxy Früvous is going to go; in January we started writing a full-length musical; we're interested in doing radio drama, doing a TV show, more instrumental stuff; so it could go in all kinds of directions. Having said that, this tour is a lot more theatrical; it's back to what we were doing two years ago, in terms of street theatre; it's a long show that includes all the songs from "Bargainville" and a few other songs, but it's also got a bunch of theatrics, so I'm really curious how it's gonna play itself out; I'm almost nervous about it, because it's a very different show; it's not a straight-out concert; it's more or less what we've been doing, injected with costumes and a bit of theatrics."
When you listen to the lyrics of a Moxy Früvous tune, you can imagine the silliness that must go on during a collective writing session. "It totally breaks down into silliness (laughs); if you're talking about humour and goofiness, which is especially in the show, not in the album, because the album's a little more, you know, we went over each song and cleaned some things up, but certainly in the show there's a lot of irreverence or inside humour that we indulge ourselves in, really with little respect for or to the audience, and I guess we each kinda hope that the audience, seeing us cut ourselves up, is content. Because I think humour is one way the group has stayed together and been able to work the way we do is this long-standing humour that exists among us that probably goes back to knowing each other in high school; it's quite unique."
Every once in a while, the Früvians bump into people who went to high school with them, who aren't surprised by the band's success. "It's great. It's very positive. People are very congratulatory, and anybody who did know us in high school knew we were all interested in music and theatre, so they see us a living and realizing and dream; and that's certainly not untrue."
Whatever happens, Moxy Früvous plan to keep their heads firmly rooted in reality; that includes not taking things as seriously as some. "I think maybe a lot of bands take the industry seriously; we take ourselves seriously; the corollary to things going well for us, there've been a couple of statements that these guys will do what they have to do to make the big bucks, sell a lot and do big shows. The irony to that is that we never, from day one, set out to be a conventional success story; to be pop stars; getting a record deal was way down on our list of priorities; somewhere behind learning to sing and maybe write some songs we were happy with, and perform them for friends, and people who are interested in seeing us, and record them, which we ended up signing a deal a year after we started getting serious interest because we are socialized in our contemporary music culture to see the be all and end all as a major label deal. I know, I was in a band before this, and certainly when I was younger, that's what we aspired too; you get the big deal, you get flown to L.A., and women and booze and money, and all that stuff. And it's just not what we aspire to in Früvous; so all of this that's going on has been a happy accident, and we just aspire to keep it fresh and keep getting better musically becsuae we think we have a long way to go and evolve.
Here's to a long, prosperous evolution.