It is a moist, hazy, gray summer day as I walk through the park, the place of tonight’s Friendship Festival in Fort Erie, Ont. This is a festival that goes on yearly to celebrate the friendship between the two neighboring countries, Canada and The United States. Each year, thousands gather to celebrate the borders’ friendship and to soak up some Canadian beer and music. This year, the event featured one of Canada’s most successful bands ever, Moist. This band went quadruple platinum in Canada with their first record, Silver, and they continue to grow in popularity as one of Canada’s finest exports.
As I entered the site to find the members of Moist, I felt like I was trapped in a maze of some sort; I knew where I was headed but could not get there. When I finally got into the backstage area, I was greeted by one of the stagehands who asked if I knew where in the hell I was going. After climbing over three barriers, I found the man I was looking for, Jeff Pearce, bassist of Moist.
Jeff, this record is another great effort from the band. However, I noticed that Creature was released on Arista, and Mercedes Five And Dime was issued out on Capitol. What’s up?
There was big change up at Arista. All the people that we knew that were working at the company and were really big into the band left the label. Over the year, there has been these big mergers going on, and there was a bit of a shake at Arista. To the band, it just seemed like an uncomfortable place for us to be. We had the option of going to Capitol because the president of Capitol used to work for Arista and he was a big fan of the band.
I’m glad things worked out that way for the band. Now that you’re on Capitol, are you still considered a Canadian band? You know how labels divide bands up between US, international
In Canada we are on EMI Canada, and we have always been. [Silver] first in America came out Chrysalis, which is a subdivision of EMI. [Chrysalis] fell apart and EMI went through a whole bunch of changes.
Yeah, I have noticed that too. I think EMI now is just strictly working with international and Canadian artists. Do they just distribute records or what?
No, they are still a record company in a couple places. In other countries there’s still an EMI Canadian, EMI UK, in the States it breaks into Virgin, Capitol, and bunch of other smaller labels.
Thanks for clearing that up. I noticed many Canadian acts on EMI but they are released on larger labels like you said. How long was Mercedes Five And Dime out in Canada before it hit the States?
It’s been out a year in Canada. That’s because the whole the shake up at Arista, it took us about a year to figure out where we should take the record. It was going to come out on Arista, but it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen for the record is to have the people that were working for you leaving. Then you got to deal with all new people who don’t know you. So, it just happened to take that long. It was a long process of just sorting the whole matter out. There was interest in Capitol Records right away but it took a long time for the whole thing to just come together.
Are you just now booking clubs in the States?
Yeah. We just booked a show at Grape Jam Summer Music Festival co-headlining with Fishbone. After, there will be a bunch of other club shows to follow, I’m sure. Our American tour plans have just been up in the air.
I tell you what, you’re going to have fun at Grape Jam. It’s a great crowd, excellent atmosphere, and a good lineup of talent. It’s one big party that’s well run by its promoters. I have not heard the band’s new material live yet, but one thing I have noticed about the record, it’s less about being aggressive and more vibe and textures.
The songwriting process was different for this record than the previous, Creature. The way we wrote the songs for the previous record, someone would come up with an idea or riff and we would just jam on it until it morphed into a song. With Mercedes Five And Dime, we actually discovered that we like just hanging out, sitting around with our acoustic guitars. We spend less time in the rehearsal studio and more time in our living rooms just jamming. (Lead singer David Usher, fresh out of bed, is walking around the site looking for band members and stops by to say hello) We all had our own home studios running and we started just having a lot of fun playing around with the songs we were working on with acoustic guitars and just adding layers in. The demos that were done in that fashion is the basis for what the new record is all about. In a lot of cases, we just took the computer we were working on with us into the studio and slaved it up to the tape machine. With the record’s final product, it was just a matter of recording live drums and loud guitars on top of what we already created.
It is easier to write the songs this way? After experimenting, do you ever go back and decide that the song might fit better rock-oriented with electric guitars or maybe it should be acoustic? And vice versa?
We did a bit of tinkering. We would be going into rehearsal studios occasionally to jam songs out, but even the more rock material that we came up with, it sort of had these ideas for textures and instruments that we wanted to play a role. “Underground”, we wanted to experiment with a full orchestra that was something that we realized we had the freedom to do.
An article I was reading stated that the band rediscovered the art and fun that goes into songwriting. How did you trace back the enjoyment of creating music again?
When we made the second record, Creature, the band was in a sort of a weird spot at the time. We had made the first record, Silver, and was very successful here in Canada. It kind of threw us into the spin. The record went four times platinum, and when making the second record we kind of felt that we had to outdo ourselves. The pressure takes the fun out of it. When you’re examining everything, not for its musical merit, but for Creature every little thing was a painstaking effort. Creature is a record I’m truly proud of, but when you’re asking yourself, well, is it Moist enough or is it this? We decided we did not want to have to worry about that anymore, we would just write songs for the pure joy of writing. When we wrote the first record, we were an indie band. We had jobs, you know, and we had no idea that someone would actually buy it. So, for us it was like trying to find that head space again. We are five friends who enjoy writing and playing music together. It’s just getting back to that point.
Do you think success for the band came too fast? Because the band put out a demo tape and before you knew it you were double platinum.
It happened over a space of a year of really banging it out on the road. That’s the funny thing about it because it really did not happen overnight. We had been out on the road for a while and eventually people started to notice. What happened over that period of time was that we were in the States a lot, we were spending a lot of time in Europe, and Asia, so we really did not pay a lot of attention to what was going on in Canada. I remember the last show we played in Canada before we went to America to do club shows, we played a bar gig with a packed house of about five hundred people. We were in America for about two months. We come back to Canada to play a show in London, Ontario for an expected crowd of five thousand people, and we were like, ‘That’s amazing.’ Well, twenty-five thousand people ended showing up! Absolutely awesome! All this sort of stuff, positive things was happening when we were not around for it. We were still in that frame of mind, ‘If I need milk or food, I can go to the store and no one will notice me.’ Well, all that changed. It was a new experience for us because people were looking and pointing. It had gotten to the point where we were low pride, then the point came to expect the attention, to now where we appreciate it.
The other thing I noticed about this record is the sound is more organic.
Part of that is the way we recorded the album. The producer, Daniel Leonard, he’s a real vibey sort of a producer. When we made Creature, we really put the microscope on, trying to get everything to the microsecond, and it took me a week to record the bass parts for that record. It was the hardest week of my life!
No sleep. (laughing)
It was so stressful. Every little thing had to be right. I’d play the bass part, listen to it, then go, ‘Okay, let’s do it again. It got to the point where I lost all perspective. With this record, we really did not do that to ourselves. The bed tracks were recorded in one or two takes. Sometimes in the case of the bass parts, I would play the song two or three times. Then, because we were recording on computers, I could go in and assemble the three takes and the whole thing would only take me an hour to do. So by getting the bed tracks down really quick, which gave the record that organic feeling, and that allowed us to sit back and experiment more.
It would seem on this record you moved away from capturing the live sound on Creature and Silver.
Silver was a documentary about what our life at the time was. We had been playing those songs in clubs and we basically want to record those songs. We like rock songs and that’s what we like playing in front of a live audience. With Creature, we were afraid to see what happened if the mosh pit stopped moving. It was terrifying to play a slow song because we were afraid of the reaction we might get. Now, we are older and wiser and we realized that people don’t have to jump up to have fun.
Totally. Moshing is just dumb. I have seen at least a hundred people seriously hurt from crowd surfing and at least a hundred girls get molested from crowd surfing. I’m more of into listening to what’s going with the sound and the performance of the band than having to worry about getting broken in half.
I think it’s okay for people to have fun, but the moments people are standing there listening and reflecting is nice too.
How are the new songs coming together live?
They are changing a lot and it’s been really fun. When we first starting playing songs on this new record, which again was almost a year today, it’s always weird too, especially the way we recorded the album because we really had not jammed together as a band that much and many have not been played live before. So, then going and playing songs like “Underground” and “Breathe”, which are really textured and sonic tracks, we really did not know what was going to happen with them live. Over the course of the year playing them, those songs they have really evolved. We jam them out more.
It’s cool, because who wants to hear the cd repeated live?
We love the fact that our songs constantly evolve. I do not think we play a song the same way every night. Looking back at the first record and listening to the way the songs were recorded, over the course of time it’s just amazing to hear how the drums parts are all different and some of the chord parts have changed. There’s one thing you don’t have in the studio, and that’s a live audience to react to the songs. That’s a really important aspect for our band. We love to have an audience direct us so we can react to the audience.
I noticed that “Push” (originally released on Silver) was reissued for this record. Why is that? Did you change anything?
Actually, the song was re-recorded. It was sort of a weird decision making process that went into that release, but that song was not re-released on Mercedes Five And Dime in Canada. The first record is no longer in print in America and only sold a handful of copies. When our manager was talking with various radio stations and programs in America, it seemed they were starting to play “Push”. It was suggested that we should go back into the studio and start recording the song for fun. We did that and we liked it, and we put it on the record. We originally thought of doing it as a bonus track on the record. Over the course of time, there seemed to be a real desire for the radio to play it. The song basically just got incorporated into the album.
What songs do you like playing live so far?
“Comes and Goes”
That’s one of my personal favorites off the record.
Yeah, mine too. Sometimes that song goes on for about ten minutes live.
That song just has a really great groove to it.
It has really morphed into, on the record it’s sort of a laid-back groovy number and live it’s become a focal point of our set. There’s a middle section that we like to change a lot.
What about the song “Alive”?
Well, lyrics are something that we really never talk about. The lyrics come from a variety of different places in the band. David writes most of the lyrics. That song, Mark wrote a good portion of the lyrics as well. We never really know until later what a song is exactly about. It’s always more fun for the band to see what the audience’s interpretation is to the song and what they got out of it.
One question I always ask Canadian artists is, ‘What do you think about the state of Canadian music?’ I think it’s stronger than most of the stuff the US is putting out, and there’s a lot of good bands that don’t get recognized.
Yeah, I feel the same way. I’m very proud of the musical community in Canada. One thing that’s really nice about the community is we all know each other. We all cross paths all the time, so there’s a real sense of community. I remember with the first record we spent a lot of time in England, and the musical scene over there is brutal. In Canada, there are various incidences with bands that will badmouth each other, and actually those bands never seem to last that long. When you’re trying to get a tour together in Canada, there is only so many bands you can tour with. If you’re known as a band that’s going to slang another band, then no will want to tour with you. It’s a strong scene with many good bands coming out all the time.
Being a predominant band in Canada, do you feel like you should be a big brother and take some of the smaller lesser-known acts out on the road with you?
Oh yeah. We always try to out acts we like or are friends with. There’s a great band called The Smalls that no one has heard about. Extremely talented. I think when you reach a certain stature, you should do that.
Sorry, but the interview ends here folks. Jeff was working double duty that day because the band’s tour manager was tending to an emergency back home. Jeff had to meet with the promoters of the event to discuss details about the show that night. Moist’s new record, Mercedes Five And Dime, has done extremely well in Canada over the past year. Hopefully the band will break even more ground here in the States.