Rick Moranis channels his inner ‘Cowboy’
NEW YORK (Billboard) – Anyone who came of age in the 1980s is well-versed in the filmography of Rick Moranis, thanks to such memorable roles as the accountant/nerd extraordinaire in both “Ghostbusters” films, the evil/clueless overlord in “Spaceballs,” the windsurfing tourist in “Club Paradise” and the bumbling inventor in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”
But the 52-year-old Toronto native also frequently demonstrated his musical talents, most notably as doomed florist Seymour Krelborn in the 1986 film version of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors.” He also made an art out of satirizing pop music during his stint with famed Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, impersonating everybody from Elton John to Michael McDonald and Gordon Lightfoot.
Having phased out his acting career in the late ’90s while raising his children in New York, Moranis is now garnering acclaim for an album of humorous country songs, “The Agoraphobic Cowboy,” which he released last fall via his Web site (http://www.rickmoranis.com). It will vie for a Grammy Award next month in the comedy album category.
Moranis recently inked deals for wider distribution of “Cowboy,” which was made available via online retailers on Monday and in stores on February 7.
Moranis recently filled Billboard.com in on his musical roots and his inspirations for the material on “The Agoraphobic Cowboy.”
DID YOU SING OR PERFORM AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER?
Well, the very first thing I did professionally was working with a partner, a guy I’d gone to summer camp with. We wrote an act and played the improv clubs in Toronto in 1975. I’d already been in radio for awhile, but when we wrote our act and performed live, I used my guitar in that act. We split and I started doing standup, and carried my guitar for a year doing standup. It was before I’d seen Steve Martin, but somebody said, ‘You should see him. He does what you do, but with a banjo.’ I was doing similar, non sequitur kinds of musical bits. I don’t know if I have any of them recorded. Some of them were parodies of rock music. You know that Boz Scaggs song, ‘Lowdown?’ It has that slap bass sound. That was a hugely popular song in 1976, and I would do the entire song just playing this one note. Or, I would say, ‘I need a volunteer from the audience, somebody tall.’ Somebody would come up and I’d play the opening few lines of (Simon & Garfunkel’s) ‘Sounds of Silence”‘ Then, I’d turn to him and go, ‘Come on, Art. What’s going on?’ I’d get into a fight with him and split up with him.
THEN YOU JOINED SCTV, WHICH FEATURED SO MANY HYSTERICAL MUSICAL-THEMED BITS.
When I first got onto SCTV, we were working in a vacuum. We had no idea there was an audience. We were just making each other laugh. I had done, for example, a parody of Canadian Content where I’d re-written a song of Gordon Lightfoot’s. (Cast member) Dave (Thomas) did all these bogus K-Tel commercials, so we came up with the sketch ‘Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written.’ Then, they had the budget to get a local country-sounding band in Edmonton to do a few bars from every single one of these songs I wanted. When I read that at the table, it was very clear what it was. It was a bit everybody could understand. That’s the way things happened, doing a post-production show like that.
SO HOW DID THIS PROJECT START TO TAKE SHAPE? WERE ANY OF THESE SONGS THINGS YOU HAD LYING AROUND PREVIOUSLY?
Well, what happened was, around two years ago, I had been doing more sort of op-ed piece kind of writing and essay writing. I pretty much pulled out of shooting anything in the mid to late ’90s, because I couldn’t stand the travel anymore. I’m a single parent and my kids were young, so I just needed to take a break. After I started spending more time at home, I realized I didn’t miss what I was doing. I hadn’t enjoyed the last few years of what’s called acting. I’m really not an actor. The reason we performed was because we’d written the material. I never studied acting. When I was acting in other people’s things, I knew how to enjoy myself. It was lucrative and it fit into life. But I wasn’t enjoying the work. After I stopped, I really wasn’t missing it.
My kids, particularly my daughter, started listening to a lot of alternative country, jam bands and some bluegrass. I had played that stuff to them when they were little kids. They’d play me something I knew the original of, so I’d tell them, ‘So and so did this a long time ago.’ It got under my skin. On any given day, if I would hear a turn of phrase or get a funny idea or something, instead of trying to write a piece I could sell to the New York Times, I started writing a song. I wrote one, and then another one. I was singing them to a couple of friends, and they’d be relatively amused. After I had a few, they said I should do something with them. That’s really how I wound up having that many songs. I just kept doing it. When I got to the point where I had enough to do a whole album, I stopped writing and started pursuing recording them. Once the recording process started, I wrote another couple of things.
WOULD YOU SAY THAT IF SOMEONE ASKED, ‘WHAT HAS RICK BEEN DOING LATELY?’, THIS ALBUM PROVIDES THE ANSWERS, LIKE GOLFING, HANGING OUT AND ENJOYING LIFE?
(Laughs). There’s a bunch of golf references in there. I couldn’t resist. People are hearing different things in this. Some have heard a theme. Some have heard a lot of self-deprecation. A lot of technology. It’s very much me. I’m writing what I know and what I’m feeling, but beyond that, I leave it to you guys to figure out where it fits.
I NOTICED A DONALD FAGEN THANK-YOU ON THE CD. DID YOU EVER PONDER COLLABORATING WITH HIM?
Initially, I was working on a screenplay a long, long time ago that never got produced. I wanted him to do the music for it, and that’s how we started talking. We just stayed in touch. Whenever Steely Dan would perform I’d go see them. As I was writing this stuff, I knew he’d get a kick out of it. He really encouraged me a lot to do something with this.
SINCE YOU FINISHED THE ALBUM, HAVE YOU KEPT WRITING MUSIC?
Yeah. I’ve written a couple of jazz songs that I guess could be arranged as bluegrass songs, and I’ve gone back to writing the kinds of songs I was writing before this album. Those are a bit more rock-ish, and not as on the nose lyrically as these are, and not as comedic. The jazz ones are comedic like this, but the other ones are a different kind of thing. I’m not good at making plans, because I never have been. I never do things with an idea of where they may wind up.
Rick Moranis channels his inner ‘Cowboy’