Before Avril and Malcolm, there was Moist
By Jim Barber
Posted 4 hours ago
With all the hoopla and excitement over the success of homegrown talents Avril Lavigne and Ryan Malcolm in the music business, it’s worth remembering that there was a fellow with deep roots in Lennox Addington County who blazed the trail.
For the last half of the decade of the 1990s, there few bands hotter in Canada than alternative rockers Moist.
With a string of hits like Resurrection, Push, Gasoline, Leave It Alone and Silver, Moist was part of a new wave of Canadian bands that dominated radio and video play at the time. Alongside them were the recently reformed Big Wreck, Tea Party and Big Sugar, as well as Our Lady Peace, Econoline Crush, I Mother Earth and Age of Electric.
One of the founding members of this seminal 1990s band got much of his musical training in the music department of Napanee District Secondary School, while growing up on Amherst Island.
Jeff Pearce, 44, formed the first incarnation of Moist in the early 1990s after moving to Vancouver with fellow Queen’s University grad and guitarist Mark Makoway. Two other pals from the school had already been in Vancouver for a bit, so when the first version of Moist disbanded, they drafted those two former classmates, David Usher on vocals, and keyboardist Kevin Young.
“The first Lollapalooza tour was in Seattle the week after we moved out west, and that was when alternative music was breaking huge, and that’s what we were all into,” Pearce said from his home in Toronto. “The West Coast was where all the interesting stuff was happening. So Mark and I formed a band called Moist as soon as we moved to Vancouver. We found two other guys from Vancouver to be in our band, and we played around for a year, be we figured that the other two guys weren’t as committed to being in a rock band. So we started hanging out with Kevin and David socially, and were convinced that they were as eager to be in a rock band as we were. So we broke up the old Moist band, and started the new Moist band, and we never looked back.
“We weren’t young guys. We were all 25 or 26, which is fairly old to be starting a rock band. We had all been trying to do it with the right people for long enough that we knew once we had that group of people, we couldn’t waste any time.”
When it seemed as though all four musicians clicked on a personality and artistic level, they brought in Paul Wilcox to play drums, and the band was off to the races.
At the time, by 1993, alternative rock was just beginning to hit the mainstream, thanks to the Seattle grunge scene spearheaded by the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana. But Canadian record labels were still a little skittish about signing a homegrown alternative rock act like Moist, so the band recorded and released its debut album, Silver, on its own.
“We had been turned down be every single record company in North America, so we went ahead and made the record ourselves. We knew we had to do a video, so we did the video for the song Push ourselves too. And it’s only when MuchMusic started playing the video in rotation that all the record companies sort of came back and apologized and realized they made a mistake,” Pearce said, adding that EMI Music Canada signed them, and re-released Silver. The album sold nearly half a million copies, and the follow-up, 1996′s Creature, sold about a 300,000 or so.
By the time the third album, Mercedes 5 and Dime, came out in 1999, the bloom was off the rose as far as alternative rock was concerned, and the band took what was supposed to be just a hiatus.
It’s a break that’s lasted more than a decade, although Pearce and the other members of Moist worked with Usher on his solo albums.
“We all participated on his second solo album. Mark and I co-produced it, and I wrote half the songs on it. And Kevin still plays with David to this day,” he said.
And much of the thanks for the drive to succeed as a musician came from Pearce’s time at NDSS.
“At the time, we had two incredibly dedicated music teachers, Bob Robilliard and Richard Wilson. And they were so dedicated to the school’s bands, and for a town the size of Napanee, we had an amazing music program. We went to the national festivals pretty much every year, and we did quite well,” Pearce said, admitting that he initially started in the music program playing trumpet.
“I had killed some eardrums playing trumpet. I was absolutely the worst trumpet player, perhaps ever. Fortunately, Bob took me aside and suggested that perhaps my talents would be better served being a bass guitar player. So it’s because of him that I started playing bass.
“I kept in touch with Bob for years afterward. He left Napanee for the London area … and every time Moist would go through London, he would always bring out kids from his high school bands, which was awesome.”
It took the U2 album War, featuring the classic songs New Year’s Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Two Hearts Beat as One to turn Pearce from a high school band member to a songwriter who wanted to be a rock musician for a living.
“I changed the way that I thought about music. U2 seemed to have this thing that what they were doing was so much bigger than just the sound of four guys playing. And that was massive for me. That’s what made me want to be in a band. Listening to Rush made me interested in wanting to get good at the bass guitar, but listening to U2 made me want to be a songwriter,” Pearce said.
After Moist, and his work with Usher on his solo material, Pearce was in a short-lived band called Rye, and worked with other artists, such as Damhnait Doyle and I Mother Earth frontman Brian Byrne, before hooking up with his current gigs.
He is the Canadian director for Rock the Stars, which sees his crew work with corporations on leadership and teamwork skills through participating in a School of Rock or American Idol type format.
He also plays in a group called Rock Star Live, which incorporates karaoke with a live band.
As for a Moist reunion. Nothing is in the works, but as Pearce said, “never say never.”
For more information, visit www.rockthestars.com.
Jim Barber is the editor of the Napanee Guide and a veteran music industry journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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