7/26/00: Syracuse New Times Net 7/26/00
Syracuse New Times Net

Revenge of the Nerds

Moxy Fruvous' erudite ditties draw an odd but loyal crowd

By Allen Czelusniak

While journalistic rigor requires thorough identification of all sources, sometimes a person simply can't risk the attention that comes with seeing his or her name in print. So when it came to the delicate subject of shedding a little light on the scene surrounding Canadian pop-rockers Moxy Fruvous, two local Fruheads (as the Fru-faithful refer to themselves) spoke to The New Times only on the condition of anonymity.

The risk of ridicule, you see, is simply too great. Right or wrong, passionate fans of comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, and Magic the Gathering suffer from a social stigma associated with those interests. And like a magnet to steel, Moxy Fruvous attracts plenty of those people tagged as geeks, dorks and nerds.

"They seem to be a fairly cerebral crowd," observes recovering Fruhead Kerry E. "I don't want to sound like a jerk, but they're kind of geeky. I think I remember seeing someone wear a Star Trek uniform to a show."

She confesses to belonging to a "nerdy girls book club" and having more than a passing interest in renaissance festivals. Kerry E. also admits to seeing more than 17 Moxy Fruvous shows, having traveled throughout the Northeast to see the band play live. She plans to attend the band's show Saturday, July 29, at Styleen's Rhythm Palace, 314 S. Franklin St.

Fellow Fruhead Jenny L. wholeheartedly agrees with the assessment of the band's fans. "They're definitely Star Trek convention attendees," she says. "I'm telling you, they're geeks in their geekiest, purest form."

Kerry E. states, "This is a band that is stalked. It's kind of worn off on me. I was really into it for a while. I'm not really a Moxy Fruhead anymore. I just went through a phase," she adds, conceding she's loyal but detached from the scene. "We try to be aloof."

Two years ago, Fruheads formed a line up South Franklin Street and around the corner on East Fayette Street a full two hours before the band was set to play at Styleen's. The typical show consists of about 20 percent stage banter and 80 percent music, with the members taking turns on a variety of instruments. After that, it all depends on what the band feels like doing, singing and saying.

"Every show is different, and they're very witty," Jenny L. says. "They gear their shows for every venue. You never know what to expect and you're afraid that you're going to miss something good."

The band started singing in the streets of Toronto in 1990 as an a capella quartet. After a producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation spotted them, he made them a regular feature on drive-time radio. Moxy Fruvous started writing topical songs for the show, recorded a cassette of some of their material, and wound up selling 50,000 copies of it in 1992. That success, along with opening gigs for Bob Dylan and Barenaked Ladies, led to a five-album deal with Warner Music Canada and Atlantic Records in America.

Blessed with good-natured charm and lyrics smart enough to curry the favor of the pocket-protector crowd, as well as those simply supportive of tolerance and acceptance, the band consistently entertains its left-wing, loyal legions. The song "The Greatest Man in America," for example, pokes playful fun at conservative radio-show host Rush Limbaugh as a "dose of P.T. Barnum with a Mussolini twist" and a "goofy Genghis Khan."

That type of commentary and the communal aspect of the crowd keeps Fruvous fans in the fold. Devotees create Web sites for the band's members, bring gifts and goodies to its shows, and regularly sway together and sing along to the Fruvous standard "The Drinking Song." Fruheads also relish the band's catalog of covers, which includes Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" and Cher's "Believe." As a show of respect for the support of their fans, the band allows Fruheads to tape live shows.

According to www.fruhead.com, there are 2,264 registered Fruheads scattered throughout North America. The Web site, along with the band's official site at www.fruvous.com, tells obsessed fans just about everything they could possibly want to know about the band, with the exception of its members' sexual preferences.

"For a band that's all guys, you'd think there would be more females," Jenny L. notes; the typical Moxy Fruvous audience is usually a 50-50 gender split, with plenty of couples. "When I first got into them, the crowd was older. I think they're starting to gather teeny-boppers."

That doesn't mean, however, that this nerd is about to give up her favorite vice. "They're not just a concert; they're a show," she says. "They make you feel kind of like 'Hell, yeah!'"

A Straight Shot of Moxy

The loyalty for which Moxy Fruvous fans are notorious may be outstripped only by the dedication the band exhibits for its supporters. The audience expects nothing but all-out entertainment, and Moxy Fruvous demands nothing less of themselves.

"That's something I really believe in," says Moxy Fruvous vocalist, drummer and songwriter Jian Ghomeshi. "It is an old-school notion at this point to actually believe if people are paying you should entertain them, rather than stare at your shoes or turn your back to the audience with the lights down. We perform in the neo-vaudeville tradition and get up there just like buskers trying to win the audience. It's almost as if we were back on the streets of Toronto where we started."

That spirit results in a show that generally covers a wealth of material, and set lists change nightly. While they faithfully deliver fans' favorite songs, "There's also a lot of improvisation and spontaneity," Ghomeshi says. "I don't think we are that good at jamming and improvisation, it's just that there is such a dearth of spontaneous creation. A lot of people say, 'Wow! I'm actually watching these guys create this on stage!' Even if what we come up with is shit, it is so unpackaged and unproduced, which is {the opposite} of what so much of contemporary music is, it provides real excitement with fans."

Fruheads have come to expect the unexpected, however. "It's a losing proposition for us to try and pigeonhole ourselves," Ghomeshi explains. "God knows we tried and failed miserably."

Instead, the band seeks something new for each album. "Earlier in our career," Ghomeshi recalls, "there were times where we felt almost subtly apologetic for not being part of the grunge-alternative music status quo, instead of making this sort of gay satirical music, eclectic music."

The band, Ghomeshi says, is an easy target for critics. "We are damned if we do and damned if we don't," he says. "When we express our more humorous side, critics say it's just a novelty group, a comedy thing. When we express a more serious side or political side, which certainly exists, we are taken to task: 'What happened to these guys? They were funny. They've gotten all morose.' Once again, I think it's a byproduct of being an eclectic group within a culture that demands categorization."

Their latest work, The C Album (Consolidated Fruvous), is only being sold at shows and over their Web site. "We just hope people will dig it as a project," Ghomeshi says. "Although there are some things you can expect from us, the vocals tend to be a cornerstone. The four-part harmony does tend to rear its head, no matter what sort of instrumentation is backing it up. And there's biting satire and gentle irony in all we do. Nothing is ever delivered too seriously."

Goals for the band's latest Bottom Line/BMG Records album, Thornhill, included trying for a more cohesive record. "In as much as we are an eclectic group, maybe we let our eclecticism appear from record to record as opposed to within a record," Ghomeshi says. "I think that's something {producer} Don Dixon brought to the record and the band: a sonic semblance, a musical cohesion on this record that really flows song to song."

Thornhill is a reference to the Toronto suburb in which the members of the band grew up. "This is really a loosely based concept album about growing up in the suburbs and discovering your friend's stereo downstairs, and learning about the Who and the Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, which is basically what happened to us," Ghomeshi says. "All the songs don't sound the same, or the lyrics aren't the same theme, but the album really fits together musically. I really, really like albums that do that, where it sounds like a moment in time.''

Above all, Ghomeshi says he is gratified that Moxy has found success through hard work and believing in themselves. "We won't deny that we would like lots of people to buy our CDs and come see us," Ghomeshi says. "That we've done what we've done on a grass-roots level, and have really big audiences in a lot of cities--in spite of no play on MTV, no commercial radio play, not even a lot of print media--is very gratifying to us. That says to me we are doing something right, actually moving people, playing and building a network of fans."

--Rex Rutkowski

Back to the News Page...