Pulse Niagara, March 17, 1993
(contributed by Andrew in St. Catharines, Ontario)
The Pursuit of Happiness, up until now one of Canada's best kept musical secrets, seems poised to take over the United States and perhaps even Europe, with the release of their new album, "The Downward Road." On March 6, PULSE caught up with lead singer and visionary Moe Berg and guitarist Kris Abbott as they prepared for a killer performance at Brock University.
PULSE: Todd Rundgren produced the last two TPOH albums - what happened with this one?
Moe: We wanted to work with another producer; that's the short answer. Very rarely does a band do multiple records with the same producer. Very rarely does a band do two records with the same producer, and I guess that's why people would want to know why we didn't work with Todd this time. But no, it was just a chance to do something different and work with a new guy.
PULSE: Who did produce this album?
Kris: Ed Stasium was the producer. We're fans of his records and we were sure we would get what we wanted out of this record by working with him.
PULSE: TPOH has always had women in the band...is that an intentional thing, for look or sound purposes or both? (Female backup vocals are a big part of the TPOH sound)
Moe: That is exactly it. It's very intentional and that's precisely why. The backup vocals are a very integral part of our sound.
PULSE: I saw you guys play at Front 54 in Niagara about a year ago. It was your "unplugged" before Eric Clapton did his "unplugged," and at the time you had this female singer who performed Madonna's "Material Girl." Where did that come from?
Moe: That was Susan. And well, the whole vibe of the show was supposed to be really light and intimate and we all sat right near the front of the stage and it was supposed to be very casual, so we thought we would play some covers and we decided to get a little goofy with the covers as well. That was just the vibe of the show and we didn't want to get too serious, so we thought big deal, and that's basically how that come about.
PULSE: The band lineup has changed again. Why?
Moe: The only person who left was Susan, and she went off because she wanted to pursue a solo career. Rachel Oldfield was recruited just before we made the record. She sang on the record and then as it turns out she's going to do the tour with us as well.
Kris: Our bass player, although this is the first album he's recorded with us, has been with us for quite awhile because when John and Leslie recorded the second album, they didn't tour with us so Brad's been with us for about three years. This is his first record but he's definitely not new with the band. And as far as our backup singer view is that we can't expect a really good backup singer to stay with us for a really long time so we kind of take it one step at a time, 'cause most of them are aspiring to have a solo career. It would be great if Rachel could stay with us a really long time, but we won't put that kind of pressure on her.
PULSE: (to Moe) - Are you hard to work for? I've read articles that indicate that this is your show.
Moe: No, I'm not hard to work for. And it's really not my show. The only thing I'm in charge of is the songwriting and from that aspect, yeh it's my show, but as far as anything else goes it's everybody's show.
PULSE: TPOH sound never changes, but always sounds new and fresh. Why is that, and how is that achieved?
Moe: That's a hard question to answer because then we have to brag. I think a lot of what makes music good or bad has a lot to do with the intensity of the performance and the spirit that goes into the performance and writing of the music. There's a lot of music that is not new or different, but if it's performed with a lot of gusto then I think it sounds fresh. A really good example is that guy Dan Baird from the Georgia Satellites who has this song "I Love You, Period" and it's just a standard rock country three- chord song but it's performed with so much spirit that it really sounds fresh. When people talk about music being new and different, that doesn't really make an impression on me. Sometimes just 'cause something's new or different doesn't mean that it's any good. I mean something's good if there is a certain amount of spirit and intensity that comes through in the performance.
PULSE: We did notice a change from the last album, at least lyrically, from a monogamous love relationship to a...well...I-guess-he's-been-touring type theme.
Moe: Yeah, it was just where our heads were at that particular time, and I would hate for people to get the impression that's the way it is. Our backstage isn't like Poison; it's more like a lot of confused young boys more than anything else. A lot of it was that those songs were written over a very long time and I kind of went outside of my own personal experiences more than I have on previous records - it's mostly stuff I made up. I certainly don't want people to get the impression that I went nuts on the road or anything.
PULSE: Is your music cynical or tongue-in-cheek?
Kris: I guess it makes it easier to address tough subjects when it's tongue-in-cheek. That way you add a little humour, it makes it easier to digest. I guess it's better than bombarding somebody with a really heavy opinion of something.
PULSE: TPOH broke into this business as an indie act with a hot video. How important is that indie scene today in this country?
Moe: I think now it's a lot better than it's ever been. I think bands recently have shown that they can make it completely without a record company. Somebody like the Barenaked Ladies, they've probably made more money on their indie cassette than they're ever going to make with their big record deal. I think that that's a fantastic thing and I've always had that philosophy. When people ask me for advice, I always say that if you can't find anyone to do it for you, you should do it yourself. You shouldn't let the business dictate to you, like what kind of band you are or whether you can even be a band. With radio and retail and just the general public, the more willing they are to accept independent artists, I think, the greater the diversity of music you'll be able to enjoy.
PULSE: Is America important to TPOH?
Kris: Well, we're signed to an American label, so whether we like it or not it is really important.
Moe: We have to sell a certain amount of records in America to keep this going. I think what's very important to know, that if you're a Canadian band that only is released in Canada, you can make your record and do two tours of Canada and have like eight months left in the year. So I mean if you're a Canadian band that just plays in Canada then it's just a part-time job - you can have a whole other career. So what makes it a full-time job is if you have any kind of success outside Canada, so if you can go tour in America, or in Europe or Australia or whatever, that's what makes it a full-time job like everybody else has. That's what we are aspiring to. We're just working class. We just want to go to work every day. Looking at it from a mercenary point of view just for things like publishing royalties and record royalties and things like that, if you only get airplay in Canada that money is going to be very small. The majority of money that we make on that end is from outside Canada, so I mean the fact that our records are played outside of Canada is the only reason we get any revenue like that.
Kris: It's sort of like inventing something and then having the intention to only sell it in one place. Ultimately you want to sell it everywhere.
PULSE: Tour plans?
Moe: Well, we've done four shows. I'm not sure when we're going to be going to the States. The record won't be released until March 23rd there.
Kris: We wanted to get a head start in Canada and it's kind of hard to do that and concentrate on other markets. But we're a little more open-minded about where we're going to be playing this time. We're going to be playing small clubs, universities and anywhere we can play.
PULSE: Good music comes from love or hate. Do you agree, and what emotion most inspires you?
Moe: Good music comes from any kind of emotion. I mean, it's not completely reliant on emotion, 'cause there has to be a certain amount of intellect. Anyone has emotions, anyone has feelings and some very strong feelings. It doesn't necessarily mean that they can create anything out of that. Except for some kind of destruction, usually. There has to be a certain intellectual element to it as well as just pure emotion.