Happiness Is...

by Ann Scanlon, Sounds, November 4, 1989

If any band this year has stirred up only a breeze when it should have been a gale, it's The Pursuit of Happiness.

Their Todd Rundgren-produced debut LP, Love Junk, slunk out on Chrysalis in April to scattered acclaim, while the subsequent releases from that record, 'I'm An Adult Now' and 'She's so Young', both became Sounds Singles of the Week.

But despite being on the road almost non-stop for the past 12 months, The Pursuit of Happiness have barely touched on these parts - doing just two dates, both in London.

They've concentrated instead on their native Canada and the United States, although they're currently supporting Eurythmics on a six-week round of Europe at the recommendation of Dave Stewart.

Tonight, at Stockholm's illustrious Globe, on the ridge of the city, The Pursuit of Happiness are met by the mute interest that only a support band is capable of invoking.

Eurythmics audiences, as singer Moe Berg observes later, are not quite as impressionable as the 14-17-year-old girls they played to when they opened for Duran Duran in the US earlier in the year.

The Durannies couldn't fail to recognise TPOH's glorious pop sensibility, and didn't seem too confused when, guitars and hair flailing, the band switched mid-song to full-blown rock.

The Pursuit of Happiness got underway in the spring of 1986, a few months after Moe Berg and drummer Dave Gilby had moved from Canada's Mid-West to Toronto.

There they met up with bassist John Sinclair, another displaced Westerner who had once supported Moe's band and remembered Berg as the "Paul Weller if the Prairies" (this had been in the early '80's, mind).

The three of them quickly became drinking friends and John eventually quit his own band to join forces with Moe, Dave and two girls.

Moe had already christened the band with one of the old copybook maxims of life, liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness.

"I always liked that name," he says. "It's just such a universal experience. The Pursuit of Happiness - there's not a single person on earth who can't relate to it."

A couple of months after forming the band, Moe got one of his friends, who was also a film director, to shoot a video for one of their best songs, 'I'm An Adult Now'.

He remembers, "We had no expectations whatsoever. We didn't even know what we were doing really. But this video station started playing it all the time and people kept asking, Where's you record? We didn't even have one!"

They eventually took the tape, which had been recorded in a tiny basement, borrowed money from their parents and pressed up 1000 records on their own label.

When those and a further 500 copies sold out, WEA picked 'Adult' up for distribution and it was soon a national hit.

This brought the interest of most of the major labels, but - despite another minor hit with their second indie single, 'Killed By Love' and a publishing deal with SBK - no one was interested enough to offer TPOH a record contract.

At Christmas '87, the original girls left to pursue their own careers and were replaced by guitarist Kris Abbott and Leslie Stanwyck, who had previously played guitar and sung in her own band, The Reds.

Leslie still recalls her first tour with TPOH: she'd just split with her man, no longer had a home, and got into their cramped Transit with tears trickling down her face, wondering what the hell she was doing there.

The rest of the band might well have wondered the same. Instead, Dave stuck a whoopee cushion on her seat and they all laughed hysterically as Leslie let out a long, loud squelch, and then attempted to comfort her, almost ashamed, as her tears turned to near hysterics.

Within two months, though, Kate Hyman - from Chrysalis' New York office - has heard one of the band's tapes and flew to Winnipeg to catch them at The Banana Club.

Despite the club's hideous decor and the fact that there were a mere ten people in the audience, Hyman made a verbal agreement on the spot and The Pursuit of Happiness signed a worldwide deal with Chrysalis.

As life-time fan of Todd Rundgren, Moe suggested that they should ask him to produce their debut LP, Love Junk.

"Todd's production concept is that you try to do as much as possible before you get into the studio. For him, producing records is picking the band then picking the songs, so I sent him about 21 songs and he said which ones he liked and of those what he didn't like about them.

"Sp when we got to the studio we did all the basic tracks in five days and the whole album was finished and mixed in three weeks."

Love Junk was released in October '88 in North America and followed by the singles 'I'm An Adult Now' and 'She's So Young' in the States, and 'Hard to Laugh' and 'Beautiful White' in Canada.

Over the past couple of years, The Pursuit of Happiness have expanded their travelling party from five to ten, with manager Jeff Rogers, sound engineer Robin Billinton, Cove the lightsman, Oh Henry the backliner and Bob, an affable tour manager, long associated with The Scorpions, who was drafted in especially for the Eurythmics tour.

And even if some of the band have yet to exchange even a cursory greeting with Annie Lennox, playing with Eurythmics and Duran Duran has increased TPOH's profile - not least when the paprazzi snapped Moe with Axl Rose after the Duran party in LA.

But if the band are beginning to feel the strain of the road then it doesn't show. There's none of the usual dressing room paranoia before the gig - everyone is relaxed and good-humoured in a way that only the truly confident can be.

The Pursuit of Happiness are good at what they do, and they know it.

It doesn't show in the early hours of the morning either as they play Spot the Celebrity outside Stockholm's Cafe Opera, unperturbed by the long drive to Gothenberg and two ferry rides to Germany in a few hours time.

Non-stop touring is not without its penalties, though, for an introspective songwriter like Moe Berg.

"For the first six months of touring, I never wrote a single song," he admits. "You work all day - do interviews, do the gig, then start drinking and end up being drunk and unable to write, so you go to bed or get on the bus and drive to the next town. Then you get up, have a shower and the cycle begins again.

"But I've written 13 songs in the last four months - I had to do it."

The Pursuit of Happiness are due to start recording their second LP next morning for March release. Again, it's being recorded at Todd Rundgren's Woodstock studio and shouldn't differ too much from the last.

"Todd suggested that we didn't do anything terribly different from the last one. Love Junk got a little bit of attention but it's not wildly successful and we need to build on what we had going in the first place."

The record is therefore likely to include more about love, sex, death, desire, distraction, betrayal, passion, prayer and the inevitable passing of youth.

"The next record might be a bit more serious, but not too serious. I honestly think there's nothing so serious that it can't be trivialised.

One of the biggest problems with rock music is how seriously the people who are in it take it. Most rock stars are completely uneducated - they're just guys who would be working in a garage if they weren't in a rock band - and it's just ridiculous how seriously they take themselves."

David Coverdale can rest easy then that even if Berg has written a song called 'Looking For Girls', which includes a line about screwing someone 487,000 times, he's unlikely to provide any real competition.

"That song has a very wholesome message, and I just used a very unwholesome approach to get it across. But my image, so to speak, is so completely ambiguous that I can either sing a song like that or take the woman's point and no one will think much about it.

"Whereas if Jon Bon Jovi took the woman's view people would think he's singing a homosexual song."

For every six songs that Berg trivialises, though, there's one that defies flippancy - and none more so than 'Ten Fingers'.

"That's probably the most serious song on Love Junk. Sometimes you want something or someone so much that you don't feel anything except extreme loneliness.

"Even when you have it, you don't have it cos you want it so much that it becomes something you're afraid to lose. It's almost as if your desire is going to push it away because this loneliness of desire has driven you to a certain kind of madness."

For Berg, The Pursuit of Happiness is primarily a vehicle for his songs and there is no greater compliment than someone empathising with his songs.

"I'm not pompous enough to think I've got something earth-shattering to say, but I'd like to think that people her something out of our music.

"The band's now in a position where they get to play to a whole bunch of people, do on tour and make records. And for me personally, if I could continue to make records of the same standard as Love Junik then I would consider myself to be successful."

Todd Rundgren is probably marking Berg's next report card as he speaks.

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