Lowdown: TPOH records new songs, plans tour
The Pursuit Of Happiness, whose 20-year-old power-pop anthem “I’m An Adult Now” is still as funny and cool and relevant as it ever was, has reassembled to record two new songs for a hits package and will back it up with a tour.
The Toronto-based band cut a new song, the single “Hey Mary Anne,” and a cover of Prince’s classic “When Doves Cry.” Both will appear on “When We Ruled — The Best Of The Pursuit Of Happiness,” due Nov. 22 on EMI Music Canada.
“I had a meeting with all the people there (EMI) and they haven’t heard the new tracks yet, but they’re excited about the prospect of working it,” says manager Jake Gold of Toronto’s The Management Trust. “We actually have a tentative date scheduled for the single, which is going to be delivered to radio the week of Oct. 10, and they’re going to ask for adds on Oct. 17. There’s not going to be a new video.”
Led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Moe Berg, TPOH went through various line-up changes over the years, but everyone who was in place when the band went on “an extended hiatus” in the late ’90s signed on — Dave Gilby (drums), Kris Abbott (backing vocals, guitars), Brad Barker (bass, backing vocals) and Renee Suchy (backing vocals).
“I knew everybody would be into a best of, and then in terms of getting into the studio and recording and possibly playing some shows, that was a conversation I had to have,” says Berg, who played a series of reunion gigs with TPOH in 2002.
Berg has been busy with all kinds of endeavors since TPOH’s final studio album, 1996 “The Wonderful World Of… ” He released a solo album, “Summer’s Over” in 1997, a book of short stories titled “The Green Room” in 2000, and produced other artists, most recently Toronto rock band Robin Black, and Baltimore’s Andy Bopp of Myracle Brah and Lovenut. He is working on a novel and is slated to work with Toronto band Tacoma Redd at the end of the month and finish up Bopp’s tracks in November.
With so much on the go, earlier this year Berg asked Gold if he would manage him. They had known each other for about two decades, but recently socialized more because their wives are good friends. “I’ve always been friends with Jake, but we just became better friends,” says Berg. “I think it was a logical extension of that, and I’ve always had a ton of respect for Jake, ever since I first met him however millions of years ago. I’ve always thought he was one of the best managers in Canada.
“Basically, I’ve been wandering around without an advocate for a really long time and I think that’s a lot of the reason why things haven’t happened that probably would have happened,” Berg explains. “I just needed someone to present opportunities and work out the deals for me.”
Case in point, during the initial what-can-I-do-for-you pow-wow, Berg mentioned that Razor & Tie had released “Sex & Food — The Best Of The Pursuit Of Happiness” in the U.S. The 18-song retrospective, an initiative through Capitol special projects, had never been released in Canada.
“I said, ‘Maybe we should see if anyone wants to put one out here. Would you do some new tunes?’ and he said, ‘yeah,'” Gold recounts.
“So then I started talking to some different labels and then realizing that EMI owned most of masters because they had bought Chrysalis, and the band was originally signed to Chrysalis, I ended up talking to (EMI Music Canada president) Deane Cameron and Deane put Warren Stewart, who is one of the marketing guys over there, on it. Warren said, ‘Yeah, we want to do this,’ so we ended up negotiating a new deal for them with the two new songs.”
EMI didn’t own all the TPOH catalogue. Only 1988’s “Love Junk” and 1990’s “One-Sided Story” were on Chrysalis. There were some indie recordings Berg owned (originally distributed by WEA Canada), plus 1993’s “The Downward Road” (Mercury), 1995’s Where’s The Bone? (Iron Music Group) and the aforementioned The Wonderful World Of… (Iron Music Group). “We went around through the track listing and we licensed those other tracks,” says Gold.
Over the summer, pre Katrina, Berg had gone on a road trip to the Gulf Coast with his expectant wife and when he returned wrote five new songs about, what else, being on the road. “Hey Mary Anne” is one of them. He decided to cut that song with the newly-reformed TPOH, along with Prince’s “When Dove’s Cry, ” a song the band often played live.
Producing the two songs himself, Berg, Gilby, Abbott, Barker and Suchy recorded most of the tracks at Chemical Sound and did some stuff at Orange. “I was very impressed with how everyone played and how seriously everybody took it,” says Berg. “Everyone behaved the way they behaved when we used to make records back in the day.”
The ultimate question is, did it go so well that there’s a chance of a brand new studio album from TPOH?
“For us, we let the circumstances dictate what will happen with us,” says Berg. “We’re more inclined to let whatever demand there is for something manifest itself before we push our own agenda on the world. We didn’t come up with the idea of recording new songs. It was (Jake) who suggested it and we went along with it, so I guess it would depend on what kind of influence we got from outside whether we would actually go and do more songs or not.”
The track listing for “When We Ruled — The Best Of The Pursuit Of Happiness” does differ from “Sex & Food — The Best Of The Pursuit Of Happiness” in more ways than just the addition of the two new recordings.
“I think this one has a few more songs, but this one is a little bit more heavily weighted on material that is already available, whereas the Razor & Tie record has a fair amount of unreleased material on it,” says Berg. “The similarities are there were two tracks (“Let My People Go” and “Take You With Me”) that we recorded for the ‘Love Junk’ record that didn’t make it on, and both of those are on both records.
“It also features both versions of ‘I’m An Adult Now,’ both the indie version and the rerecorded version (produced by Todd Rundgren), whereas the other one didn’t. The other one had a lot of live tracks and other stuff. This is a really good record to have if you were a Pursuit Of Happiness fan, but didn’t buy all the records. It has all the pertinent stuff on it.”
Ralph James of Toronto’s The Agency Group is presently putting together a tour so TPOH can support the album.
“After I talked to EMI, I talked to Ralph and then asked Moe to talk to the other band members,” says Gold. “The idea was if they’re going to get together to record these songs, they might as well go do some shows, so we’re planning a national tour for December, and will hit most of the major cities. All of that is in the planning stages.”
The whole band is up for it, says Berg, but is not willing to slum it, as they might have back in the day.
“If there’s a real demand for it, then theoretically we’ll be able to travel in a certain degree of comfort,” says Berg. “We’re not going to rent a jet or anything like that, but it will be somewhere between renting a jet and all piling into a van with our gear and a crew guy and sleeping in the McDonald’s parking lot (laughs). Ralph is technically still our agent. As far as I know, the initial inquiries have already been made, so the idea of a Pursuit Of Happiness tour is floating around amongst club owners.”
Below, Toronto’s Jeff Rogers, TPOH’s original manager, and now good friends with Gold and Berg, reminisces about how he first came to work with the band:
“I met Moe around 1985/86. I found out about TPOH two ways. One, I saw the original ‘I’m an Adult Now’ video on Much. I flipped out and dreamed that it would be so cool to manage them. It seemed impossible to me that they did not already have a manager.
“A few weeks later as they were becoming the Arcade Fire of 1985/6, my close friend Joni Daniels begged me to meet her friends in a band. She said they were great and if I managed them they could really do something. I was working as rock consultant on a movie called ‘Hearts of Fire,’ starring Bob Dylan and I didn’t want to blow it, but, because I loved Joni so much I said I would meet them. She told me the were called “The Pursuit of Happiness” and I think I started to cry.
“I later went with Joni and Erica Ehm to see them at Larry’s Hideaway. I loved them like I had never loved any band before. Because of the movie, I couldn’t commit immediately and a few weeks went by. They started getting more and more play and eventually achieved something no one else had ever achieved – they became the number one most requested band on both Q107 and CFNY.
“Much continued to support and now Bruce Allen and Val Azzoli were calling to manage them. I kept meeting with them and convinced them to let me help them until they decided what to do. “With the help of John Derringer I got them a gig up at Tony’s West near York. John came out and introduced the band for me. I also got them five times the pay they were getting at Lee’s Palace the next week. When they played Lee’s, Moe made the cover of NOW. I thought I was sunk. Every manager with any juice in Canada was at the show. I couldn’t even talk to the band. I waited until everyone left and approached them.
“It took a few weeks and with nothing really under my belt except for some industry people liking me and enthusiasm they signed with me. We worked independently for a while and got friends at WEA Canada to help with a release. Mike McCarty had signed on as publisher. When WEA wanted to continue, the deal wasn’t what I thought it should be. At that time, a video in Canada was 100 percent recoupable, but in the U.S. it was 50 percent recoupable. I stood my ground and we did not get the deal.
“McCarty supported us and we eventually found our champion in Kate Hyman at Chrysalis records. She helped us land Todd Rundgren that led to all the great stuff we did together. It was the time of my life. “The other day I went with Meghan to meet our mid-wife. Moe walked in with Laura and we found out they were due two weeks before us. I am sure Moe would agree that our past was amazing but I look forward to sharing new adventure with him and his family starting sometime in November.”
Lowdown: TPOH records new songs, plans tour