The core of Alta Moda was formed in 1979 when guitarist and keyboardist Norman Orenstein was looking for a new musical direction, following stints with Michael Jordana and then Toby Lark. He happened to see Molly Johnson performing in a small club in Toronto one night. Johnson was a former student of the National Ballet School and the Banff School of Fine Arts, and the two struck it off.
They dabbled on the scene for a few years as a duo, but eventually decided to make an actual group, and added Steven Gelineau (ex of Nails) on drums and bassist Etric Lyons, whose band Liberty Silver was going nowhere. In ’85 they released an independent cassette, used for promotional sales at their shows and to court potential labels. Their song “American Chaser” wound up on the film, “Popeye Doyle,” but it still wasn’t until 1987 that they finally agreed to a deal with Current Records, who had a distribution agreement with Epic.
Johnson was still moonlighting as a lounge jazz singer, but Current was becoming known for pushing Canadian talent, with Parachute Club and Martha & The Muffins both having success at that point, so Johnson decided to concentrate on Alta Moda full-time, and a seven year deal was signed.
Colin Thurston, whose credits as producer and enginner included David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Duran Duran, Gary Numan and Human League, was brought in to re-work some of the material from the cassette and record some new songs. Their debut album was released in time for the Christmas rush in ’87, and the critics immediately jumped on it – but for all the wrong reasons, claiming the band was little more than re-hashed Motown. Program Directors didn’t know what to make of the band either, and although the single “Cool Love” was put out on a 12″ to market them to the dance clubs, radio all but ignored it. The follow-up single “Julian” fared slightly better, making it to #53 on the charts and a video getting decent initial reception on MuchMusic. The song earned them a nomination the following spring, but disgruntled, they politely declined, stating they didn’t belong in the R & B category.
But when the third single, “Notown In Particular” failed to build on any momentum, despite a video being made for it, Epic cut them from their roster, and the band dissolved shortly afterwards. In 1990, Current re-released the album to a German-only audience.
Johnson meanwhile went back to life as a jazz singer with a band that eventually morphed into Big Sugar, while still writing material with Orenstein. Along with a returning Lyons, they went on to form Infidels, who also only lasted one album in 1991. Johnson then went solo, releasing a string of albums, some of which featured Orenstein as producer). She did some time as a radio host for CBC, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2008.
Alta Moda’s only album was re-released by Pacemaker Entertainment in the mid ’00s, but contained no bonus material.