When Rick Moranis jumped back into the public consciousness late last year with the release of his Grammy nominated country/comedy disc The Agoraphobic Cowboy, it was as much of a shock to Moranis as it was the general population. The 52-year-old comedian, best known for his appearances in such films as Ghostbusters, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Parenthood (not to mention his lengthy stretch on SCTV), was last spotted doing voiceover work in the 2003 Disney release Brother Bear, and hadn’t appeared in a film since the 1997 sequel to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the straight-to-video release Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.
Needless to say, Moranis didn’t have huge expectations for the disc, his first since his obscure 1989 release You, Me, The Music and Me. “It just sort of happened,” he says from his New York home on Grammy day. “I put it out on www.artistshare.com at the beginning of October and sold a lot of copies, but I had no idea that”—a Grammy nod—“might happen until I got a phone call the day of the nominations.”
A throwback to classic country and bluegrass music, The Agoraphobic Cowboy’s strength lies in its musical authenticity. Masterfully produced by Tony Scherr on an ancient analogue recording unit, and topped with sterling performances by Dan Reiser (drums), Jason Mercer (banjo), Charlie Burnham (fiddle) and Daniel Marcus (mandolin), the album sounds like a tried and true country/bluegrass album. The atmosphere is warm and crisp, and each instrument twangs, plucks and sings with authority.
Moranis juxtaposes the working class music with some ridiculously sophisticated tales of woe and woo. On “Three Days Rest” he purrs to his lady friend, “I am glad your serve’s improving/ Love the fabric in the den/ The Pinot Noir you bought in Napa/ Was sublime with your Cornish hen,” while on the lyrically dissonant “Nine More Gallons” he laments, “I work all day/to pay the rent/before the money’s earned/It’s all been allocated.” The humour is often subtle, but it works well within the confines of the music.
Moranis says the country music community quickly latched onto the album. “Country got it immediately,” he says, noting comparisons to Roger Miller and Ray Stevens. “Non-country media was a little confused, but people who knew my comedy knew I would do a spin on it. No one wants me to do a straight song.”
Ironically, one of Moranis’ favorite songs on the album, “Bonus Track,” is just that. While the title refers to the extra song commonly found on CDs, the lyrics are a poignant ode to a life on the rails. “It was the last thing I wrote and I hadn’t shown it to Tony,” he recalls. “After the second day of recording the drums he asked if I had anything else, so I gave them a crude chart and sang it. He said, ‘Let’s do it right now,’ and we laid it down. Tony left some intro time, put on the electric guitar, and replaced the melody over the first 16 bars. He did the best job on that song, and I’m really happy with it.”
While The Agoraphobic Cowboy is Moranis’ first album in 15 years, his love for song runs deep. He worked as a producer and DJ at Toronto’s CHFI early in his career, and some of his best loved SCTV sketches—including the K-Tel spoof “Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written” and pre-MTV VJ Gerry Todd—revolved around a goofy tune or two.
“Catherine O’Hara credits me with creating MTV,” he jokes, “but I don’t see any royalty cheques.”
With the record now being distributed in Canada through ADA/Warner Music, homegrown Moranis fans will finally have a chance to hear what the fuss is about. However, don’t expect him to hit town anytime soon in support of the disc. “I have no designs on touring,” he says. “I don’t have a band, and I am as much of a singer as I was an actor.”
And don’t expect him to make a big deal of his Grammy nomination, either. He’s already lost the Best Comedy category before (for the 1982 album Great White North), and didn’t expect to win this year either (in the end, he lost to Chris Rock’s Never Scared). In fact, he didn’t even bother to go to the ceremonies. “If it was in New York I’d probably go,” he deadpans. “I tried to get them to move it to me, but it didn’t happen.”