ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 17, 1996
By Steve Newton
Whenever I feel like getting a rise out of my 16-year-old niece, all it takes is a quick mention of her former fondness for New Kids on the Block. So what if she was only in Grade 3 at the time of the infraction—the fact that she got briefly caught up in the late-’80s New Kids hysteria has supplied me with enough taunting ammo to keep her eyes rolling for a lifetime.
But I must say that the music-crazy kid has come around to decent music, with her fave now being transplanted Vancouver rockers Moist. The group recently released Creature, its follow-up to 1994’s hugely popular Silver debut, and its forte remains propulsive, guitar-drenched rock with impassioned vocals—sort of a U2 meets the Tragically Hip. The main difference now lies in a more varied musical approach, which is what you might expect from a band that banged out its first CD in a week and then got to spend three months working on its second.
“When you have more time, you approach things slightly differently,” notes Moist guitarist Mark Makowy, visiting the Georgia Straight office with singer-lyricist David Usher on a recent promo tour from the band’s Montreal base. “You take more time in every step, just tryin’ to find the vibe, that spark, which is something we’re always looking for in the studio. You can do a hundred takes of a song, until one of them is that slightly better take that somehow has that magic.”
This time around—after the triple-platinum-plus (350,000 units) Canadian sales of Silver earned the band all the studio time it needed—Moist took the opportunity to experiment a bit with typically nonrock instruments like the cello and, on the adventurous title track, a sassy trumpet that could have been wielded by Herb Alpert himself.
“When you’re building up a song, you’re looking for things that really bring each section alive,” says Makowy. “In the case of the song ‘Creature’, we decided to try a couple of extra things just to take it to that next level. And the trumpet just changes the flavour of it so much. Everyone looked at each other and went, ‘Yeah, this is working.’ ”
Usher—the part-Thai frontman whose exotic good looks helps keep the band a much-requested staple on teen-oriented outlets like MuchMusic—says recording Creature proved both an exhilarating and frustrating experience.
“We’re not used to recording for that long a period,” he says, “and there’s a lot more time in a three-month period to beat your head against the small things than there is over a one-week period, where you just go. Making a new record is very exciting, but in three months you go through a lot of psychological damage.”
“I think it’s indicative of the creative process,” adds Makowy. “You’ve got to have the frustration in order to be able to work through it and get to where you want to go.”
Moist got some help traversing Creature’s aural obstacles from coproducer Paul Northfield, whose credits include Rush, I Mother Earth, and Suicidal Tendencies. Makowy calls Northfield “an engineer’s producer”.
“He knows the engineering end of things very well,” says Makowy, “and we wanted to bring somebody in that really knew the studio and how to make things happen. When you have that kind of control in the studio, it’s definitely a luxury, because it lets you be more intense when you need to be and take it right down to a whisper sometimes, too.”
With its Spanish-flavoured trumpet intro and sexually provocative lyrics, Creature’s title track is one of the CD’s more intriguing tunes, and, as Usher explains, it occupied a pivotal spot in the recording.
“In the writing process there comes one place where you sort of figure out what the hell’s going on,” he says, “and where the record’s going. [‘Creature’] was where the whole thing sorta snapped into place, and the thread of the record was built around it.”
Moist recently signed to Nettwerk Management, the management arm of local success story Nettwerk Records (Sarah McLachlan, Skinny Puppy). The fact that the band had been spotted, at the height of Silver’s success, hunkered down at the Town Pump with local big shot Bruce Allen could lead to the conclusion that Allen lost out on a bid to handle the skyrocketing group’s business affairs. But Usher explains that Allen was only consulting for the band, offering it advice. “That was when we were still managed by our good friend Keith Maryonovich,” he says, “and then Keith decided he wanted to do other things. And so Terry [Nettwerk Records head Terry McBride] came along and just seemed to be the right guy.”
“It’s a pretty interesting company they have over there,” says Makowy of Nettwerk. “It’s a very young company, and they’re extraordinarily driven.”
The same might be said of Moist, which proved its own mettle over the past two-and-a-half years by working the road incessantly, opening for such bands as Collective Soul, Green Day, Live, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The band was also part of a widely publicized private concert in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., which saw it on a bill with Metallica and Hole. But although that massive, brewery-sponsored promotion garnered headlines worldwide, it didn’t impress Moist nearly as much as one lesser-known show at New York’s Roseland Auditorium.
“There’s never been an experience like opening up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” relates Makowy of the band’s Big Apple warm-up for Flea and the boys. “I’ve never seen a 3,000-person mosh pit, like the whole place. It was out of control.”
“Chili Peppers fans in New York are intense,” adds Usher, “but they dug us too. You know that because they don’t throw you off the stage. If they don’t like you, you won’t be there for more than two songs.”
Judging by their proven popularity in North America, Europe, and Asia—Silver has been certified gold in Thailand—Moist won’t be getting the heave-ho from any venues soon. They certainly won’t get bounced out of GM Place when they open for Neil Young on Tuesday (October 22). A multi-platinum debut, a Juno for best new band, and now high-profile dates with a Can-Am rock legend. Do these guys ever find it hard to believe how far they’ve come since forming in ’93?
“Sometimes,” replies Usher. “Often we’re running around so much that it’s hard to get focus, but when you do give your head a shake…yeah, definitely. I remember us as an independent band, saying things like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go to Europe and play?’ and then it was such a bizarre thing to actually be doing it.”
“I think it hit home a little bit more once we got off the road,” says Makowy, “just being able to take stock on what we’d done for the last two-and-a-half years—which is essentially play five nights a week all over the world. In so many ways, it happened so fast that it became kind of surreal, in a way, because you’re constantly going on from one thing to the next thing…”
“…and reality doesn’t set in,” injects Usher. “Still hasn’t.”