Moist, Montreal's band-on-the-run, tour new arena-sized album
The interviewee's silence spoke volumes. And MuchMusic VJ Sook Yin-Lee should have known better. As a recording artist in her own right, asking a singer about their choice of lyrics is the proverbial journalistic jump into the Land of the Lost, especially if that singer/lyricist is Moist's David Usher. Moist has already turned enough heads with their daunting videos and unpredictable musical patterning. It's not that Usher can't articulate what his lyrics mean - he won't.
Like-minded nouveau-rock frontpersons tend to be either out'n'out in your face or selectively introverted in a Vedder-esque manner. Usher could easily be lumped into the near ad-lib lyric writing of those who look at their shoes and sway from side to side, only he's more likely to be breaking a mike stand in between jumps and crowd rowdying.
Moist's sophomore release, Creature, has been a staple at rock-radio stations across the nation and omnipresent here in their new hometown. They've foregone the moderation (meteorological and otherwise) of Vancouver and said hello to hats, gloves, black ice and hip replacements. A questionable move that the band has been grilled about time and again since the big hop over a year ago.
The Moist movement
"It's not tiresome to talk about, really," says Usher in a semi-serious tone. "I'm amazed at how many people are shocked that we moved here. It seems like a natural thing to want to do, but people seem surprised. We're very fortunate that we don't have to get day jobs - that makes Montreal a great place to live. There's a brilliant energy here... and a vibe. And that's not all that's great about it - in fact, the great things... I really can't get into now."
Montreal is the rock haven for late nights, beautiful women and European charm. It's been the same for guitarist Mark Makoway, bassist Jeff Pearce, drummer Paul Wilcox and keyboardist Kevin Young. After nearly 10 months of songwriting in their new digs, and the final move to Le Studio in Morin Heights with producer Paul Northfield, Creature, their first full-fledged album, was ready. (Their indie-turned-major label debut, Silver, was a demo that got released as an album.)
"This is the first record record," says Usher from Toronto, hours before their MuchMusic Intimate & Interactive live special. "It took us a long time to write Creature. During that time we had been performing for over two and a half years on the road. It was a long process - it took a lot of time to get rid of a lot of songs, to songwrite our systems clean."
Sook Yin-Lee described Usher's lyrics as "cryptic." While major hits like Leave It Alone and current chart-topper Resurrection will attest to Usher's somewhat unorthodox style of composing, Moist have nevertheless captured the ears and eyes of this country with a matchless mixture of pop melodies and epidemic rock.
"I don't know - the line's blurred," states Usher, regarding any attempts at labelling Moist. "It used to be very easy to peg music and put it in a category. Now if you look at people's record collections, they tend to be all over the place. Myself, I listen to all different types of music and I'm sure the readers of Hour do as well. I don't know many people that just listen to alternative rock. Where do we fit in? I don't know. We write songs, we play music and then I think that the media and people categorize us. I'm not exactly sure where we fit into the whole mess."
A visible push
Amazingly enough, Moist's initial attack on the world came via video with the CanCon classic track Push from Silver. The black and white, self-financed clip yielded yet another dimension through which to interpret the band.
"It's a hard but great medium," says Usher. "As a band these days, you get put in the position where you write songs, you record music and you play shows, but then there's something else called making videos. Most bands do them - it's just a matter of whether you choose to take control of them or not. For us, we look at it as another artistic medium. Music video making is where a lot of independent and new ideas in film are being experimented with.
"We feel we're very fortunate because it's like going to film school for free. We get to go, play with treatments, check out lighting and actually work on making little films. You can look at [videomaking] in two ways: you can absolutely detest it, but, because I like the medium of film, it's another artistic place."
That artistic place has been characterized by dark images, intense subject matter and no goofing around. Moist's videos have always had a common thread - an element of claustrophobia intertwined with a not-altogether-clear story line. It's a trend the band seems very comfortable with.
"Yeah, I don't know why that is," Usher replies candidly. "I know what that means and I know what people are saying about our videos, but I can't articulate the actual themes. There's that same thread throughout the music as well, and maybe that just translates through the videos."
Waiting for the Man
All the video and radio play has brought Creature close to double platinum. The most recent major boost came when the band was added on to Neil Young & Crazy Horse's recent Canadian tour. When we last spoke to Moist they had not yet met "the Man."/p>
"Yeah, we finally met him," laughs Usher. "Actually, we watched the Tyson vs Holyfield fight with him."
Lucky it lasted longer than one round.
"Yeah, we went more than one round with Neil Young!" Usher triumphantly recalls. "Then it was his birthday on the last night of the tour, so that was cool as well. We actually had two chances to talk. I think he was really happy with the way things worked out and so were we, obviously.
"Neil Young has crossed a lot of generational boundaries. We were really pleased by the crowd's response to us - it was unbelievable. We're also huge Neil Young fans, his fans were appreciative of us, and it was a great thing... It seems so long ago. Remember, I'm still sobering up from Christmas," he laughs. "It was a serious experience. The best thing about it was being able to see Neil Young live every night. Being able to see him play those songs. I especially liked the acoustic part of the set - very cool."
Creature's next attack takes place next Tuesday night at Verdun Auditorium as Mudgirl and I Mother Earth join Moist for this triple-bill blast on the band's first headlining arena tour, one that has already sold over 5,000 tickets for this one night alone.
"This is a bigger show than anything we've done before, that's for sure," he says with anticipation. "It's also a little more intricate. We're going up to Vancouver tomorrow to actually start putting this whole tour together. It won't take very long - we've pretty much got everything we know we're going to do in our mental filofaxes. We just have to get it together, which takes a while, to make sure it all runs.
"We've done most of the rehearsing in Montreal, so we'll take about half a week to put the production together. It does freak me out - I haven't even hit the 'Oh shit!' level yet because we haven't played any of the shows and we've been semi-removed from it for a while. Since the Neil Young tour, we've been in Christmas and New Year's mode. In a couple of days I'll probably sober up and figure out what's about to happen."
But what about your first arena show in your new hometown?
"I think it's going to be very interesting," laughs Usher.
C'mon, everybody says that - it's going to be special because it's your hometown now.
"Of course it's going to be special - you write that. That's perfect - you write that," says Usher in a mimicking fashion. "In fact, you don't need to talk to me."
Moist with I Mother Earth and Mudgirl at the Verdun Auditorium Jan. 28