Aquartet of Canadian high school friends who reconnected after college to form a group that combined their love of music, theater, and humor, Moxy Früvous is an award-winning band with a solid cult status and an enormous, Grateful Dead-like following. An outfit that started by singing a cappella for spare change in the streets of Toronto, Früvous (the name is meaningless) experienced initial success, encountered negativity, then regained critical and popular acclaim.
The Früvs, as they are known, are characterized by intricate four-part harmonies, irreverent satire, strong musicianship, a dynamic stage presence, and appealing, occasionally provocative, songs. Drawing on such genres as folk, rock, rap, bluegrass, swing, cabaret, and world music, their material ranges from zany, fast-paced novelty tunes to emotionally resonant ballads and savvy songs about political and cultural themes. The Früvs' music reflects its members' leftist leanings, humanistic social consciousness, affection for word-play, and fascination with pop culture. In performance, the band—noted for never doing the same show twice—mixes stage banter, improvisation, audience participation, and raucous energy to provide what often is acknowledged as an exceptional concert experience.
Initially compared to such groups as the New York experimental pop duo They Might Be Giants and, especially, Canadian pop/rock band Barenaked Ladies, Früvous now perhaps have more in common with such groups as Phish and the Dave Matthews Band. The band has a huge fan base—called Früheads—among college students and fans of alternative music, which they built through relentless touring and the reputation of their live shows.
The members of Moxy Früvous—singers/multi-instrumentalists Jian Ghomeshi (who handles most of the lead vocals), Murry Foster, David Matheson, and Mike Ford—were raised in Thornhill, Ontario, a suburb north of Toronto. In 1999 the band released Thornhill, a concept album that addresses their early years and pays tribute to their musical influences, especially the Beatles, a group to which Früvous often are compared for their musicianship, diversity, and cheeky wit. While growing up, the Früvs listened to folk, rock, and R&B artists like XTC, Duran Duran, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. In addition, they admired the humorous songs of writers like Tom Lehrer, Loudon Wainwright III, and Frank Zappa; the comedy of English troupe Monty Python; and the theatrical music of George Gershwin, Bertolt Brecht, and Kurt Weill.
The members of Moxy Früvous met in the theater department of Thornlea Secondary School, an educational institution for the arts in Thornhill, where they began playing music and doing improvised skits. After graduating from Thornlea, all of the Früvs went to different universities while continuing their musical endeavors: Ford and Matheson performed as a Simon and Garfunkel–style duo called the Graduates; Ghomeshi and Foster wrote several musicals and formed Tall New Buildings, a funk/rock band that enjoyed some success in Canada; and Ghoemshi, Ford, and Foster had a rock group called San Salvador and the Ruling Junta. One night, while performing in cover band called the Chia Pets, the latter three invited Matheson, a songwriter and actor, to join them: Moxy Früvous was born.
Deciding to work as an a cappella group because they could not decide which instrument each member should play, the Früvs began to sing in Toronto's Harbourfront area during the summer of 1990. Modeling themselves on the jugglers and fire-eaters that drew large crowds, Früvous developed a performing style that combined pristine harmonies with wild costumes and aggressive street-theater tactics; one of their most popular numbers was a rap version of Green Eggs and Ham, the children's book by Dr. Seuss. When the group set up residence at Harbourfront and First Streets, their sets began to attract hundreds of people.
After a CBC radio producer heard Früvous, he asked them to perform on the drive-time program Later That Same Day. Response was so great that the Früvs became regulars on the show and were commissioned to write 25 short satirical songs about local issues. In 1992 the band released a self-titled, independently produced cassette that contained six of their songs. It sold over 50,000 copies and stayed at number one on the Canadian independent charts for over a year. In 1992 Früvous toured Canada as a support act for artists such as Bob Dylan and Barenaked Ladies. That same year the group signed a five-album deal with Warner Music Canada; its albums were released by Atlantic Records in the United States.
In 1993, Früvous completed their first full-length album, Bargainville; the title refers to the selling out of Canada. This work, which includes new recordings of five of the six numbers from the band's cassette, features some of the songs that are most closely associated with Früvous, such as "King of Spain," an uptempo composition about a monarch who switches identities with a peasant and ends up happily making pizzas in Canada; "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors," a song that name-drops writers such as Margaret Atwood and Mario Puzo while describing the frustration of a young man whose girlfriend only wants to stay between the covers of a book; "Stuck in the '90s," a top-ten single in Canada that uses the new millennium as its jumping-off point; and "The Gulf War Song," a poignant observation on the conflict in the Persian Gulf. Bargainville entered the Canadian major-label charts at number six, the highest debut ever by a Canadian group. The album achieved platinum status in Canada and sold over 155,000 copies.
Bargainville is generally considered an auspicious debut, a work that captures the live energy of the band while reflecting its growing musical sophistication. Peter Howell, quoted in Canadian Composer, said that the record "shines in every way," while a reviewer in the Winnipeg Free Press quoted on their website, commented, "Früvous couldn't have hoped for a stronger debut…. [T]here really is no one else like them."
The band's 1995 release, Wood, received a mixed reception. An acoustic album with a folk and country flavor that is more introspective than its predecessor, the record, though praised for its depth, generally is thought to lack the charm and energy of Bargainville. Früvous began to experience a backlash from its fans in Canada. Tagged as a novelty act by critics and ignored by the public, the group headed for America.
For the Record . . .
Members include Mike Ford (born on September 27, 1962; married Therese Kelko Dineen, May 11, 1996; one child), guitar, harmonica, keyboards, drums, vocals; Murry Foster (born on June 29, c. 1964), bass, guitar, vocals; Jian (a.k.a. Jean) Ghomeshi (born in London, England, c. 1964), drums, percussion, flute, vocals; David Matheson (born on February 17, c. 1964), guitar, percussion, keyboards, banjo, violin, accordion, flute, vocals.
Group formed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1990; became popular buskers (street performers); discovered by producer from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), who commissioned them to write songs on topical issues for national public radio; released independent, self-titled cassette, 1992; released first full-length album Bargainville, 1994; released second album Wood, 1995; released The "B" Album, an EP of satirical songs, 1996; started playing mostly in the U.S., 1997; first Frücon, a convention for fans of the band, held in Toronto, 1997; released You Will Go to the Moon, generally considered a comeback album, 1997; released Live Noise, a live recording from their North American tour of 1997 that includes some tracks recorded by audience members, 1998; released Thornhill, a concept album about their personal and musical roots, 1999; released The "C" Album, a companion to The "B" Album, 2000; took an extended hiatus, 2000.
Awards: CASBY (Canadian Artist Selected by You) Award, Favorite New Group, CFNY–FM (Toronto), 1993.
Addresses: Record companies— True North Records, 260 Richmond St. W., Ste. 501, Toronto, Ontario M5V 1W5 Canada; website: http://www.truenorthrecords. com. Bottom Line Records, 140 Broadway, Sixth Fl., New York, NY 10003. Business— Moxy Früvous Headquarters, 1488 Queen St. W., P.O. Box 90005, Toronto, Ontario M6I 1M2 Canada. Website— Official Moxy Früvous Website: http://www.fruvous.com.
A Vast Im-Früv-ment
Drawing on its strength as a live act, Früvous began to play in clubs, colleges, and folk festivals throughout the United States. Mostly through word of mouth, they developed a large and loyal fan base, the Früheads, who followed them from show to show. In 1997 the band released You Will Go to the Moon (abbreviated as YWGTTM ), an album considered a return to form. Bolstering their sound with such embellishments as samples, drum loops, Middle Eastern rhythms, and sixties pop flourishes, YWGTTM was a particularly balanced and effective work. Writing in the Indianapolis Star, Marc Allen called the album "by far the freshest, most entertaining disc of 1997," while David Veitch of the Calgary Sun called it the band's "arguably the best … [and] unquestionably the most focused album of their career."
On August 14, 1997, the astronauts from the space shuttle Discovery crew heard the title track of YWGTTM while traveling in space. That same year, the first Frücon, or annual convention for Früheads, was held in Toronto. In 1998 Früvous released Live Noise, an official bootleg that was taken from its North American tour of the previous year. This album, which includes the band's improvised songs and stage banter as well as their best-known original tunes and covers of Talking Heads's "Psycho Killer" and Tom Waits's "Jockey Full of Bourbon," is, according to John Steltenpohl of Consumable Online in an article published on the Früvous website, "exactly what a Moxy Früvous fan would want and expect out of a live album…. [I]t's the next best thing to being there."
In 1999 Früvous released Thornhill, the first mainstream album on their new labels, True North Records in Canada and Bottom Line Records in the United States. Thornhill addresses themes of love, loneliness, and growing up in suburbia while showcasing the band's skill at writing catchy power-pop songs and evocative ballads. Dave Veitch of the Calgary Sun stated that "[c]asual fans, no longer distracted by the group's out-of-control eclecticism, may be surprised to learn these fellows can be exceptional tunesmiths and singers…," while Michael Murphy of the University of Western Ontario Gazette called Thornhill an album "which Früvous and Canadian music fans can be proud of. As Thornhill proves, Früvous is an outfit of rare musical intelligence."
The Früvs also produced two EPs, a collection of B-sides and unreleased satirical songs. The former includes "The Greatest Man," which lampoons American right-wing talk-show guru Rush Limbaugh. Some performances of the tune saw audiences heading in droves for the exits.
Always a politically active band, Früvous have an influence that goes beyond their music. Their satires about the Canadian Tory government may have cost the party all but two seats in the election of 1993. The band headlined an international benefit concert in 1996 to remember the Nigerian playwright/activist Ken SaroWiwa and eight other Nigerians who were executed by the Nigerian government. In addition, Früvous has held regular benefit concerts for the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics in Toronto. Ghomeshi also has written political articles for newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post and the Toronto Globe and Mail, and has spoken at political rallies in both Canada and the United States.
In 2000 the members of Früvous began an extended hiatus but continued to produce music on an individual basis. In 2001 both Ghomeshi and Matheson released solo albums and went on tour. Foster has played bass with popular Canadian band Great Big Sea and has joined the rock group the Lesters, while Ford has worked on folk music projects for children. Ghomeshi also worked as a record producer and has become a well known television and radio personality in Canada.
A Frü-ly Great Band
In assessing the career of Moxy Früvous, Lee Drutman of the Herald stated in an article on the band's website, "Although it may be presumptuous to call Moxy Früvous the best, freshest, and most fun band in existence, I'm going to do it anyway." Writing on his Pure Pop website, Alan Haber said that Früvous are "true originals," while Jody Grant of the Manitoban said, "There's never been a band quite like Moxy Früvous." Daniel J. Katz of the MIT Tech newspaper offered, "[F]or my money, Moxy Früvous are the best live performers in the world." Writing in AP Weekend Entertainment, Ted Anthony commented that Früvous's "one immutable imperative [is] something any high-school teacher would appreciate: Have great fun and learn about the world along the way." Jason Croft of Octopus suggested that one of the best ways to view Früvous "is to think of their music as a good editorial cartoon—a humorous, stylized, succinct commentary on our modern political and social world; instantly understandable and always approachable." Croft called Früvous "the real deal—a nugget of intelligent, witty, fun music in a sea of pop fluff." In an interview with Monique Harvey of the Peak (Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada), Ghomeshi said, "Our group is based upon these four, dare I say, industrious, ambitious guys who want to creatively and musically challenge each other." He told Anthony Rhodes of Center Stage, "[A]ll of this that's been going on has been a happy accident, and we just aspire to keep it fresh and keep getting better musically because we have a long way to go and evolve." In an interview with Jeff Spivak in the Rochester, NY, Democrat and Chronicle, Ghomeshi concluded, "We're here to present an alternative to the present status quo."
Moxy Früvous, self-released, 1992.
Bargainville, Warner Music Canada, 1993; reissued, Atlantic (U.S.), 1994.
Wood, Warner Music Canada, 1995; reissued, Bottom Line, 1998.
The "B" Album, Warner Music Canada, 1996; reissued, Bottom Line, 1998.
You Will Go to the Moon, Warner Music Canada, 1997; Bottom Line, 1997.
Live Noise, Warner Music Canada, 1998; Bottom Line, 1998.
Thornhill, True North (Canada), 1999; Bottom Line, 1999.
The "C" Album, self-released, 2000.
Associated Press, September 29, 1997.
Calgary Sun, September 18, 1998; September 30, 1999.
Canadian Composer, September 1, 1993.
Center Stage (Chicago, IL), October, 1993.
Herald, April 4, 1996.
Indianapolis Star, July 29, 1997.
Manitoban, July 15, 1995.
Octopus: Champaign-Urbana's Alternative Weekly, November 21, 1997.
Peak (Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada), September 5, 1993.
Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), January 31, 1996.
University of Western Ontario Gazette, September 15, 1999.
Tech (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA), August 31, 1999.
Winnipeg Free Press, September 11, 1993.
"Live Noise," Consumable Online, http://www.fruvous.com/news/980701nw.html (September 22, 2003).
Moxy Früvous Official Website, http://www.fruvous.com/ (September 22, 2003).
—Gerard J. Senick
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