Along with plenty of creativity, intelligence, humor, and talent, it took a bit of luck to lead the four a capella fellas collectively known as Moxy Fruvous down the unlikely and unexpected road to stardom.
With an affinity for bizarre instruments and instrument usage, incredible four-part harmonies, and a heavy dose of youthful energy and improvisation, their performances are a treat for the eyes as well as the ears.
The four singers who are Moxy Fruvous perform the most pleasing harmonies my ears have ever heard. Combined with spare yet superbly effective instrumentation, the result is a uniquely refreshing sound that is catching on not only throughout Canada, but in Buffalo and the Northeast U.S.
I recently spoke with percussionist Jean Ghomeshi about the formation of the band, along with a host of other topics ranging from politics to hockey. Here's what resulted:
As I understand it, Moxy Fruvous got its start as street performers. What was that like?
It took a lot of balls, I'm almost surprised we did it in retrospect. We tried the first time in about 1990. We were four guys who played a number of different instruments in several different bands and decided, "What the heck? Let's get together for fun and play on the street!" And really, we didn't have any illusions of being a singing group. We all played instruments, we just thought it'd be easier to perform on the street without them. We'd bring one acoustic guitar and we'd all sing. Pretty quickly we decided not to just play our favorite Neil Young songs. We decided to make a show out of it.
Normal street performers will build a 20-minute set where they'll build a crowd first, then they'll play and pass a hat at the end. That's what we started to do. We started to draw considerable crowds. We played under the marquee of the Bloor Cinema at the corners of Bloor and Bathurst in Toronto. While doing that, a couple of CBC (Canadian television network) producer-types noticed us. They started commissioning us to write satirical songs and political satire on the radio.
That was kind of our first "in". We hadn't even played indoors yet. Not until August of 1991. Then by 1992, we had this little independent cassette that had gone gold. Then things just kinda went nuts for us.
That's really when it became a career. It was a nice way to start this group. We certainly didn't get together and say "Let's score the big record deal and travel the world!" That all just kind of happened because of the love of getting together and doing some music and doing some theater. It all just flowed out of that. Very organically interested in the challenge musically and creatively. We'll be standing at the mics throwing different ideas at each other and seeing what happens.
What's the coolest instrument you've played?
Probably an anvil with a hammer which I used on a couple of songs on Bargainville (their first CD). The anvil was lying on the floor in the studio we recorded at in Woodstock, NY and I just hammered away at it. I also played a door. Even pots, pans, and garbage on the B-album (Moxy Fruvous' latest EP).
The release of Moxy Fruvous' latest full-length CD, Wood, displays a new direction and an added depth and sensitivity in the group's songwriting.
We wanted to make something that was a cohesive experience that you could put on and get into the vibe, and stay in that vibe while relaxing into it for the duration. I think we accomplished that. My conception of the perfect listening of Wood is to turn down the lights, light a couple candles, and sit back and get absorbed into it. That's exactly the kind of CD we wanted to make.
The CD surprised a lot of people. We like to think that we're not a predictable group. When we play this new stuff (written after Wood and not yet released) in Buffalo, people are going to hear Moxy Fruvous, the four-part harmonies and the style we have. But I think it's also going to be in another direction.
Since the release of Wood, Moxy Fruvous has garnered much added attention, particularly in the U.S.
We've got a buzz happening right now in the Northeast of the U.S. that's really exciting for us. There's about ten to fifteen cities right now where we're playing relatively big clubs and selling them out: Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago for example. We just did a huge show in Philly that I was really excited about. It was at a place the size of the Ogden St. Concert Hall and it was full and just a rockin', great show. We've sold out the Wetlands in New York, and we're about to play two back-to-back shows at the Mercury Lounge. There's a good little buzz going on around here, thanks to a write-up in the Village Voice (New York's Artvoice).
What kind of venues do you prefer to play?
We really like the cabaret-like venue. Somewhere between the fun and revelry of a pub, and the sterility of a theater. [The Marquee at the Tralf in Buffalo] is one of my favorite places to play in the U.S. because it's half bar, half theater. It's a really nice venue to see a band and a nice venue to play at.
[Not in an attempt to stereotype!] Are you a hockey fan?
JEAN: Oh yeah! [After a brief discussion of the Toronto Maple Leafs, my favorite hockey team] I'm really pissed off at the Leafs. I'm a life long Leafs fan and at this point, I'm so angry, I almost want them to lose every game this year, just to get back at such stupid decisions they've made. I was really, really against the trade of Kenny Yonsen to the Islanders for Wendel Clark. Yeah, Wendel Clark, a character guy, whatever, but I thought they basically squandered all the great youth, except for Mats Sundin that they've had in the last few years for this decrepit, veteran team. And then in the offseason, they get rid of Mike Gartner for nothing. It's just been a disaster. The Mike Gartner thing really bugged me because that guy is a great goal scorer, one of the fastest guys in the league, and most importantly, a real good team guy. I think the Leafs got rid of him because he was high up in the Player's Association. He was one of the leaders during the NHL strike. If you'll notice no one who's ever high up in the Player's Association stays with the same team the next year. Team owners must look at them as trouble makers.
What do you think of the Yankees being in the World Series and not the Toronto Blue Jays?
I'll tell you, being in New York right now is tough. The team is looking so bad right now. It's a disaster. (At the time of this interview, the Yankees were losing the series 2-0; hopefully, Moxy Fruvous will make it out of NY in time!) As far as the Jays, there's definitely a rebuilding thing going on there; a lot of good youth.
How has Buffalo been to your band in the past and what can fans expect to see at your upcoming concert?
Buffalo is such a great town for us. We seem to have a lot of fans and a lot of support there. So we're real excited about playing an all new set of material along with some oldies and favorites. Our first time ever playing in the US was at UB Springfest back in 1993. Now we're in the final two weeks of our tour and Buffalo will be our final show before we get to back to Toronto for three or four months to record our third album. At the Buffalo show, we therefore intend to play a number of new songs.
Finally, what the hell does "Moxy Fruvous" mean?
Moxy means balls, or gumption. As far as Fruvous, remember the 1973 Stanley Cup finals when Philadelphia was playing Buffalo? That was when those famous "Fog Games" happened at the Memorial Auditorium, where it got so hot that there was fog everywhere. The players had to skate around the ice with a special sheet to prevent the ice from fogging up. That sheet was called a Fruvous.
Be sure to catch this exciting and bizarre group of guys for their final show of this tour. Ogden St. Concert Hall is the site and Saturday, November 2 is the date. It's going to be fun.
--Sean G. McLaughlin