During Moist’s third full-length recording, Mercedes Five And Dime, the Montreal-based five-piece was frequently referred to as “the five-headed beast”, says guitarist Mark Makoway with a smirk. That was the easiest way for producer David Leonard (Barenaked Ladies, Prince) to describe what it was like working twelve hours a day, seven days a week for nearly three months with all five members of Moist.
Though the album title, Mercedes Five And Dime (a lyric from the song “Dogs”) hints of a fictional place where one can daydream of other, preferred places, the disc is less about the aggression or sullen beauty of their earlier albums and more about imparting color, textures, depth and new voices to their striking and enigmatic style.
“I think Mercedes Five And Dime is more of a collective and organic album,” says singer David Usher. “Our first disc, Silver, was done independently and we had no clue what we were doing. We just went in and did it, scrambling for time to rent the studio. We’ve learned a few things since then”.
Moist formed in Vancouver in 1993 and immediately started touring, taking time when they could to record the songs that best represented their bombastic live show. The results were Silver, released in 1994, and Creature, from 1996, which are three and four times platinum in Canada. Through extensive world-wide touring with artists as eclectic as Neil Young, Hole, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day, Moist’s notoriety was further consolidated during their headlining arena tour for Creature, which included an outdoor show in Montreal for over 85,000 people.
Then Moist took a long-needed break from the road and resettled in Montreal. Singer David Usher released a solo disc, Little Songs, in 1998 (which saw guest appearances by every member of Moist), and appeared in Sarah McLachlan’s “Building A Mystery” video while the entire band ceaselessly wrote and demoed songs in their home studios.
“This record was written differently,” admits bassist Jeff Pearce when discussing Mercedes Five And Dime. “When we started writing together, we would bring in riffs and then just jam on them for a while. This time, we were all bringing in songs that were closer to being completed. Having songs that were fully realized gave us the freedom to experiment more with the arrangement and sounds in the studio. We didn’t feel like we needed to write songs that would have the mosh pit behaving in a certain way. We felt like we had the opportunity to rediscover the great fun of songwriting.”
On Mercedes Five And Dime, Moist experimented with acoustic guitars, percussion instruments, synthesizers, loops and “bells and whistles,” as Pearce calls them, expanding the bands sound, and extending the roles of each member. Home studios now became laboratories where each song started as a blank canvas and past perceptions of what Moist should sound like were thrown out the window in lieu of producing something fuller. With the crunch and bombast of “Push”, the atmospheric “Breathe”, and the eclectic experimentation of “Fish”, “Mandolin” and “Pleasing Falsetto”, Moist unearthed many new themes in the recording of Mercedes Five And Dime.
When the band entered Studio Piccolo in 1999 with producer David Leonard, they realized the mood of their music had deepened. The previous focus on recreating their live shows in the studio was no longer as important as recording commanding songs. It immediately became obvious that the walls of gnarled guitars, twisted Hammond organ chords and perpetual volume build-up towards the chorus had evolved into something more.
“Paul (drummer, Wilcox) played these great little bells with this marvelous high tone,” reminisces keyboardist Kevin Young, who claims Moist could not have endured the concentrated, lengthy hours in the studio without a Nintendo 64 and a punching bag. “Had Paul showed up with those little thumb cymbals at rehearsals for the last record, we all would have mocked him horribly,” Young laughs. “You can’t mosh to ‘ding’.”
“We had to try new stuff,” Wilcox adds. “The last album was very bare boned. This time we layered elements that sounded good and waited to hear what we had once the dust settled. It’s part of the evolution of the band, a wider spectrum of styles and sounds.”
Mercedes Five and Dime is even playful in places, a departure from the brooding observational quality that characterized the first two Moist records. But the intensity that is the trademark of Moist’s live persona is still present. “We were looking for material that allowed us to stretch out musically, but the songs are going to wind up being very aggressive live”, explains Makoway. “There are elements that we can jam on and we’re looking forward to developing these songs as we start touring.”
Usher agrees: “With every record we’re looking to do different things, and we’re at a different place now. Moist is very much a group of writers and we’re always looking for a new outlook, a new way to present the material as a collective. Records just form. I don’t think there is any mysterious method to it or any grand scheme. We just went in, and wherever our heads met, that’s where the record ended up. Sometimes it’s a good place. Sometimes it’s not. We’re happy with the way this one went.”
Moist were so pleased with Mercedes Five And Dime that by the end, on the last night of mixing the final song, the band celebrated its completion at producer/mixer David Leonard’s Nashville home where they presented Leonard with a huge Samurai sword. Leonard could, at long last, slay the five-headed beast.