Hot Pursuit

by Phil Wilding, Kerrang!, May 20, 1989

"I wanted a rock band who could play pop songs," reflects Canadian Moe Berg on the wire from Atlanta, Georgia. Another tentative telephone thread strung across the face of the world, from another hotel room to my desk. I stare at the neon while Moe glances out of his window.

In photos, Moe Berg looks like the proverbial geek: lank hair pulled violently to one side; big, big glasses peering wildly from behind them; a seeming disposition that has you looking for sand to kick in his face.

He also happens to possess a wry and trenchant outlook on outlook he transfers into three minute pieces of idealised rock'n'roll.

Moe Berg's band, The Pursuit of Happiness, can doo-wop like the Ramones and rock out like Cheap Trick.

It's bubblegum with balls, and there's nothing else quite like it.

However, at this moment, the rest of the world has yet to latch on to the charms of TPOH. So far, the band have shuddered as support girders for the likes of Duran Duran and the Replacements - don't even think of judging their sound from those unfortunate couplings - though they're now standing solo, like children recently graduated from carpet crawling and sofa free-falls.

They've just swamped their native Canada and are now hitting clubs, halls and theatres Stateside like a haymaker punch. It's single step up, almost every day. Moe concedes it.

"It's a little exhausting," he states, in a light Canadian burr. "But that's fine, this is fun. It's such a great experience to be out here playing on our own. We've been doing places that range from 200 people to over a 1,000 - it depends on the city.

"In Canada our album ('Love Junk') has gone gold, so now we're just trying to get the US audience on our side."

It's a testament to Berg's level-headedness that he can combine the sharp teeth of business with the tough task of dragging his band to the proverbial top, and still deliver deadpan lines with a zeal that is totally encompassed in the glittering light of a bespectacled eye.

Though, sometimes, the bloated spectre of pretentiousness looks set to rise. I mean, 'Consciousness Raising As a Social Tool'? Isn't this song title leaving you more than a little open to obvious criticism?

"Sure, it's a very pretentious tool," Berg admits sharply.

"But it's a very real sentiment. I was living close to a community into cycle therapy technique - a uniquely American form of mind-f**k - but the only reason that the people were doing it was to attract lonely girls and exploit them.

"These sort of situations are very dangerous. It's very bad. The girls can be out in the middle of nowhere and, consequently, in a helpless situation."

His beguiling sensibilities aside, Berg dominates TPOH. The songs are his, he is the focal point of press photographs. Doesn't he...

"That's the way the band was set up," he declares simply.

"I don't consider myself a great musician or a great singer. I think of myself as the principal songwriter, and the band perform my songs."

Songs that drink from every well. Well?

"It's just that I listen to a lot of everything," he says with a smattering of modesty. "Consequently, as a songwriter, I tend to pick up on most things. Admittedly, I lean towards pop music, but Metal and rock can be just as interesting to me and the band."

The band's name - lifted from the US Declaration of Independence - hardly seems the pinnacle of forthright, biting rock'n'roll.

"I didn't think it would have such an impact. It's an interesting situation. It obviously evolves from the Declaration thing, but it also has to do with the sense of contentment that everyone is chasing. That sums it all up. We all want fulfillment, we all wish for happiness."

And was your idea of happiness getting to work with composer/producer/twisted svengali Todd Rundgren? A man whose musical aspirations don't seem a million miles from your own?

Moe likes Todd. "Oh, I really enjoyed that! We actually went after him. We are, myself especially, great fans of his. I think he's a brilliant man, he's great to work with. It was a very good experience."

While we're on this high, let's dig a little. Like, where in the hell did you get that sound, those twisted roots? I didn't think that Canada built, musically, anything more than arena rock and three piece bands built on mysticism?

"I'm not too sure why it's happened. Most of the music that people listen to there is either from the US or the UK, and a lot of bands tend to end up like identikits of what they listen to. I don't really know what happened to us.

© 1989 EMAP Performance Limited

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