At about the same time Seattle was suffering from an overdose of flannel shirts and Nirvana sound-alike contests, Moxy Früvous was working a Toronto street corner like a crew of jugglers. The four-piece band used its vocal harmonies and outrageous costumes to dispense wit and political satire for the price of a few dimes tossed in a proffered hat. In 1992, the group -- somewhere between folk and rock -- released a cassette that sold 50,000 copies. Yet until 1998, their music remained Canada's best-kept secret, thanks to a major label deal that earned them limited U.S. distribution.
"I feel cheated, but at the same time, I get it," says Jian Ghomeshi, a man of Iranian descent who plays drums and tin whistle, as well as adding his part to the vocals. "When it's more enigmatic and truly alternative, they don't know what to do."
The band's 1993 debut, Bargainville, saw limited stateside release, but was followed with no U.S. support for its next two efforts. Soured by the relationship, Moxy Früvous decided to head back to its roots. The latest result is Thornhill -- available in the U.S. on Bottom Line Records, along with the Früvous back catalog -- a conscious effort by the band to produce "a more pop record or more serious record" than the zany, sociopolitical music for which it became known.
"It's got a loose concept to it, which is a reference to where we grew up as teenagers," says Ghomeshi. (Thornhill is a suburb of Toronto where the four men met in high school.) "This record is an homage to that -- coming of age in kind of a stoner culture. I remember first getting into the Stones and the Doors and that becoming my life -- walking around the school with an acoustic guitar, thinking I was Jim Morrison -- which was kind of strange for a little Persian boy from Canada."
The timing of the album couldn't have been better. The dust of Seattle has long settled, the "alternative" has become mainstream, and Früvous finds itself perched on the rim of a "new" college sound.
"One of the by-products of not having major commercial success is that you're always fresh," admits Ghomeshi, whose band plays in Oberlin this weekend. "When you have a huge hit, people always identify you from that hit. Whereas, when you're Moxy Früvous, people are always discovering you. We've hung around long enough that we've unwittingly become cool."
And Ghomeshi is proudest that they managed to find success on their own terms. "It's such a metaphorical finger to the notion [that] the only way you can make it is to have millions of dollars thrown behind you and a video with augmented breasts," he says. "We emerged in '92 doing goofball stuff and acoustic music. If there's anything we do consciously, it's an effort to retain our eclecticism."
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