Pursuit of Happiness

discography with jackets
St. Albert, Alberta native Moe Berg learned guitar at an early age, emulating some of his idols regardless of style, such as Beck, Van Halen, Hendrix and Winter. He was still in his teens while going through his first bands – Modern Minds (whose only record finally saw the light of day in 2009 as a Japanese import), Ramage & The Belts, and Troc ’59 (which later morphed into Face Crime, releasing one album).

“We played a few covers to fill out the sets of original material but the main reason we left Edmonton was because it was so hard to be an originals in that city band back then. Any covers we did play were usually in the encore and were never the ‘hits of the day’,” Berg said. Among those originals he was trying out on the world were early versions of “I’m An Adult Now” and “She’s So Young.”

He moved to Toronto in 1985, where he tried his hand at doing a solo acoustic show anywhere that would let him play. Drummer David Gilby, who’d played with Berg in Edmonton, soon followed him east, and together they met bassist Johnny Sinclair, a Saskatoon native also trying to earn a break in Toronto. Winnipeg twins Tam and Tasha Amabile answered a classified ad and the first incarnation of TPOH was born. They slowly but surely made a name for themselves on the Toronto circuit, where “I’m An Adult Now” had evolved and was emerging as a crowd favourite. They scraped together enough money to cut some self-produced demos and shopped them around to little interest.

The band’s big break was somewhat unorthodox. Berg was friends with an aspiring director named Nelu Ghiran, and together they made a low budget music video in ’86 for “I’m An Adult Now.” Although the band was still unsigned and largely unknown, the video was definitely something different than what was on the airwaves at the time, filled with raw angst and emotion. It was gobbled up by Much Music, and before long every copy of the indie single was sold out at the band’s live engagements. MTV however banned the video because of its references to sex, drugs, and liquor. Still, they landed a management deal with Swell Entertainment’s Jeff Rogers. Meanwhile, WEA Canada picked up the single and distributed it from coast to coast.

The band received a pair of nods at the Juno Awards the next year, nominated for Most Promising Group and Best Video, although they won neither. Still, they released a second indie single, “Killed by Love” in the spring of 1988, shortly before the Amabile twins left the band to form their own project, Femme Fatale. They were replaced by two other women, Kris Abbott and Leslie Stanwyck just prior to the band signing a deal with Chrysalis Records, where they were shipped off to Todd Rundgren’s studio in New York State shortly thereafter. Rundgren was familiar with the band, and had seen them perform live on more than one occasion. The end result being their debut lp, LOVE JUNK, released before the end of the year. Along with totally re-recorded versions of the band’s first two indie singles, it also contained the new singles “She’s So Young,” which peaked at #20 on Canada’s charts, “Beautiful White,” which reached #49, and “Hard To Laugh.”

The Rundgren-recorded version of “I’m An Adult Now” even cracked the Top 40 chart in Australia. A new video was also shot for the single, which again tore up the MuchMusic airwaves. “The original indie version almost won a contest called the Basement Tapes but was rejected because the subject matter of the song. That concern went away by the time the new version came out and the video got lots of play on the US MTV, which helped us build our audience there,” Berg said. The single reached #2 on the charts for several weeks, (unable to unseat REM) and charted well on many US radio stations especially in larger cities like Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. Still, the record went platinum after selling 100,000 units and on the back of the album, they toured non-stop across Canada and the US, opening for the likes of Duran Duran and The Replacements, and The Eurythmics while in Europe. The band was also getting their share of press, and had several pieces in Rolling Stone, People Magazine, Musician, and Spin magazines.

They returned to the comfy confines of Utica Studios with Rundgren for their follow-up, 1990’s ONE SIDED STORY. Once the recording was finished, Stanwyck and Sinclair both left to form Universal Honey, who released a string of albums throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s. They were replaced by Halifax native Brad Barker on bass and Susan Murumets on backing vocals. Although it didn’t live up to the band’s own expectations, or the label’s, the album still went gold in Canada on the backs of the singles “Two Girls In One,” sort of a generic statement about the girl next door that wants more adventure in life which reached #30 in Canada, and “New Language,” which peaked at #42. “Survival,” although not released as a single, showed the potential diversity of the band, complete with a sax solo. More constant touring ensued across the country, along with ventures Stateside. Berg, the principal songwriter, capitalized on his natural charisma and sense of humour on stage and parlayed it in the studio. “Shave Your Legs” is a tongue in cheek look at what it would take for a woman to keep him.

But problems with Chrysalis forced the band to take an unwanted break, but eventually came back as a foursome after Murumets also left. During the time off, Berg said it wasn’t hard to find something to do. “We started a band called Monteforte – a joke cover band that we started in the early ’90’s to give us something to do when we had time off from TPOH. It was played for laughs and an excuse to get our friends out to drink and dance,” he said.

They inked a deal with Mercury Records in ’92, and hooked up with new producer Ed Stasium (Living Colour, The Ramones, Smithereens). They spent over three months in Los Angeles recording DOWNWARD ROAD, which hit the stands in the summer of ’93. As a marketing ploy, the cover had the same simple artwork, but was shipped with four different coloured backgrounds. The time off showed a maturity in the songwriting had occurred. “Cigarette Dangles,” whose video appeared on “Beavis and Butthead,” and “Pressing Lips” were both put out as singles, but neither cracked the top 40. He also collaberated with famed songwriter Jules Shear on several numbers, and Rundgren also made an appearance with the guitar solo on “The Love Theme From TPOH.” Rachel Oldfield was also added for backing vocals and toured with the band for the next couple of years, but left in 1995 to pursue other projects. Disenchanted, the band was dropped from Mercury’sroster.

In the meantime, the band covered “The Violent Side” on INTO THE BLACK (AN ELECTRICT TRIBUTE TO NEIL YOUNG) in ’94. The band regrouped for 1995’s WHERE’S THE BONE, released on the independent Toronto label Iron Music Group. It saw Berg assume principal production duties for the first time, with assistance from Aubrey Winfield. Jennifer Foster had taken Oldfield’s place, and four singles were released – “Young And In Love,” “Gretzky Rocks,” “Kalendar,” and “I Should Know.” Although there was much anticipation in the critics’ circle, and they weren’t disappointed, the time off seemed to hamper potential success, and the fourth single achieved the highest chart ranking at #42.

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF TPOH was their next offering a year later, and again Berg took control of production with Winfield assisting. Foster was now gone and was replaced by Renee Suchy. The only singles released were “She’s The Devil” and “Carmalina,” both of which failed to make the Top 40. Still, the band toured Canada to sold out smaller venues in front of legions of die hard fans for the next couple of years.

Although the group never officially disbanded, all the members went on to do other projects, including Berg’s solo record in ’97 called SUMMER’S OVER, and also lent his production expertise to Foster’s first solo record SPEEDYHEAD in 1998.

In 2000, Razor and Tie Records released a greatest hits compilation, SEX AND FOOD – THE BEST OF TPOH. Because Berg was at the time not in control of the masters from the last two records, the ‘best of’ album featured only the band’s biggest hits from the first three records, as well as “Let My People Go” – a b-side single from the LOVE JUNK album, four new studio recordings, and live versions of “Food” and the previously unreleased “Edmonton Block Heater.”

In the fall of 2005, the band resurfaced again when EMI Canada released WHEN WE RULED, another ‘best of’ collection. Unlike its predecessor, it contained tracks from all five studio records, as well as both versions of “I’m An Adult Now,” the new “Hey Mary Anne,” and a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Along with Berg, Gilby, Barker, Abbott and Suchy hit the road, playing throughout Ontario in the latter half of 2005. The following spring, they were inducted into the Canadian Indies Hall of Fame. In ’09, MuchMusic released a studio performance from the band from 1994 on DVD entitled TPOH LIVE IN CONCERT.

  • With notes from Moe Berg