Fruvous Funny Farmers Ready to Act Up 10/22/92
Toronto Star

Fruvous Funny Farmers Ready to Act Up

by Peter Howell

If ewe are looking for trouble, ewe have come to the right place. It's with udder disdain for pop music conventions that local wisacres Moxy Früvous present their "Petting Zoo TV Tour '92 (One Night Only)" show tomorrow at the Danforth Music Hall.

There should be some heavy petting with promises of "Things to touch!...Hi-Fi songsmitherie!...Startling new JFK evidence!" brayed by the band's showbills.

But there's something funny going on, down on the Fruvous farm. Considering these "quasi-a cappella" singers only became a full-time band in February - before that it was a year of so of street busking and general kidding around - ewe would think they would be trying hard to help ewe find out what Moxy Früvous is all about.

Despite mostly rave reviews locally, a growing profile nationally, an opening slot for two Bob Dylan shows at Massey Hall and sales of 20,000 copies of the group's indie cassette, the band is still unknown enough that most people don't yet know where to put the umlaut in the name. (It goes on the first "u".)

Many people also think of Fruvous as being just a comedy act, because of heavy radio play given its relentlessly catchy ditty "King Of Spain" and the Dr. Seuss-goes-rap tune "Green Eggs and Ham."

So isn't Moxy Früvous supposed to be rooting about the Toronto club scene, playing for swill and strokes behind the ears, hoping some major record company will toss them the carrot of a record deal? Nay, say today's Früvous frontmen, Jean Ghomeshi and Mike Ford. The plan is to shatter the still-forming images of the band, before they and their partners David Matheson and Murray Foster get tarred and feathered with the same dreaded "novelty act" tag that last year threatened the Barenaked Ladies.

"One thing in radio interviews that people always ask, second or third question in is: 'So, the record contract. When are you going to get one?'" said Ford.

"It's the predominant belief, the thing that makes record companies go 'round, that there are 500 young 'uns in bands all dying to have a record contract. And while it is important, and we do want to make an album, there's so many more things we want to do, as well. We're not going to give up the other stuff just to madly pursue a record contract." Adds the cautiously fearless Ghomeshi: "Right now, we'd be stupid to sign a record deal. Right this second, anyway.

"Now, in a couple of weeks, maybe..."

The "other stuff" referred to by Ford - who is wearing cool Bono shades during the interview, to maintain a spiritual Früvous link with U2's slightly bigger Zoo TV show - includes live theatre, radio drama, full-length musicals, a Gordon Lightfoot tribute (they just recorded "Early Morning Rain"), political satire, music workshops, arts and crafts and baking mystical Fruvous loaves to bribe rock scribes.

Maybe even a return to occasional street busking, just to keep in shape, Ghomeshi says. Someone told the band New York is called the Big Apple, and like hogs let loose in an orchard, they'd like to someday chew or die on the streets of Manhattan.

They began on the streets at Toronto's Harbourfront, where they were originally spotted by a CBC producer looking for topical music talent.

On Monday, the Fruvous dudes returned to one of their original busking stalls, outside the Bloor Cinema, to make their first video - "King of Spain".

The extras in the shoot showed the wide-ranging appeal of Moxy Früvous. They included entrepreneur "Honest" Ed Mirvish, writer Daniel Richler, and actresses Cynthia Dale (Street Legal) and Sarah Polley (The Road to Avonlea).

They've obviously made lots of good contacts in an extremely hectic year since the four grads of Thornhill's Thornlea Secondary School - all in different years, since they range in age from 25 to 30 - plunged horns-first into the music biz.

The band recently did shows in both Ottawa and Halifax on the same day. In the morning they were in the nation's capital to tape a satirical sketch for a YTV show (which aired Tuesday) on the upcoming national referendum.

"We were in front of the cameras from 9:30 am to 4 pm, got on the plane to Halifax, couldn't even go to the hotel, went straight to the club, didn't get a sound check, and got up on stage," Ford recalls. "It was one of the most soulful performances of our two-week east coast tour."

Funny that Früvous should score a referendum gig, because last winter the band very nearly split up before it went pro, and Ford and Ghomeshi now liken the experience to our current nation-building efforts.

"It wasn't dissimilar (from the referendum), you know," Ford says. "The debate was shold we be a federalist equality thing or are we four autonomous musical beings? Do we have distinct society clauses within our band or is it four guys on an even footing? Does anybody get shored up?" Adds Ghomeshi: "And who gets to be New Brunswick?"

Just as with the Oct. 26 referendum, there's a need for an easy-to-understand version of the Früvous Crisis, which Ghomeshi supplies: "It was February. It was the month that Moxy Früvous went from being something that four guys do for fun, to 'We're going to make this a career' - and it's been a career since.

"We all had to get used to the idea of being in a business agreement together as well as a creative one. We're four strong-minded guys, and all of a sudden it went from us playing table-top hockey together to, 'What's the future of this corporation going to be like?'

"Not that we turned into capitalists overnight," adds Ghomeshi, shuddering at the thought. "But we had to deal with this in a realistic and important way."

The many people who offered the band advice about staying together - and also about playing hardball when negotiating a record deal - included the Barenaked Ladies, who are friends of the Früvous.

The band took pains to forge a working partnership because the members all feel Moxy Früvous is the sum of four unique parts: the baritone singing of Ghomeshi and Matheson, Ford's tenor and Foster's bass. "In the case of Moxy Fruvous, it's painfully obvious that we can't afford to lose a member," Ghomeshi says.

"I don't know what will happen if we ever do, so there's no point talking about it. We're not Boyz II Men, we're not the Nylons - we can't find a good tenor to replace Mike.

"Its's a creative project and it's unequivocally based on the four personalities and creative minds involved."

The writing of a Früvous song may start with one guy in his bedroom, but it quickly becomes a full-band effort, Ford says. "King Of Spain," the band's best-known fable about a dethroned European monarch now working for minimum wage in Toronto, began that way.

"That one originally came from Dave coming to us with a lot of the 'King of Spain' idea. He thought it would have a Brazilian beat or something like that, and it has gone through so many permutations.

"It's changed lyrically, it's had a new middle section, for a while it had a 'jungle section,' it's had different signature riffs opening up the verses.

"It's gone through many changes, and maybe even some more changes to come. Maybe one that can be seen very soon."

The band draws on a wide background of musical knowledge and experience, Ford says.

"Jean and I have written a handful of full-length musicals, Dave plays jazz all the time, and there's all kinds of musical influences, especially those that predate 1968.

"There's a lot of '20s and '30s and '40s going on there. And with our slight barbershop thing, it'slike 1898. So that's a pretty wide palette, and what we're looking to do is keep it up with the energy of the busking stuff."

The band does plan to record a full album, probably next spring, the two Früvous men say.

"But the neatest thing we have is very strong theatrical ambitions for Früvous and some specific theatrical projects coming up, including a week in January doing a musical workshop in Blyth, Ontario."

There's also talk of the group writing and performing in a one-hour CBC radio drama, but that's definitely still at the discussion stage. If people start to think of Moxy Früvous as a theatre troupe rather than a pop band, that's okay - at least until the band changes its image again.

"Our ambition isn't necessarily to be a rock group or rock stars, just as it isn't necessarily our ambition to do musical theatre," Ghomehsi says. "It's not surprising that as everyone gets to know Moxy Früvous, they don't understand exactly what it is. It's pretty hard to define, you know.

"It's kind of like we're saying, 'We don't have any barriers. Trust us. come and see the shows and see if you like them.'"

Okay, but what's this about "Startling new JFK evidence!" at tomorrow's show?

Will the "Petting Zoo TV Tour '92" reveal who the grassy knoll gunman was on that dark 1963 day in Dallas - or just who was munching on the grass? Let it bleat, boys, let it bleat.

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