From Indie To Majors

An Interview with Keith Maryanovich

By: Karen Bliss
Canadian Musician
April 1995

Vancouver's Moist didn't push too late. They pushed just right. it wasn't more than the band ever wanted, but it was way more than they ever expected. Their once independent album, Silver, has been taken over worldwide by EMI Music Canada. It's sold double-platinum in Canada and continues to fly off the shelves with each new single and tour.

"You have to do it in stages. That's the trick," says manager Keith Maryanovich in hindsight. "You have to make sure you take care of everything at every level."

When Maryanovich's best friends in Moist asked him to manage them in January 1993, one month after they'd formed, he was "blown away" by what he heard -almost half the tracks would eventually be Silver. But he didn't want to take money from his friends; plus, he was also busy at university (on his way to a medical career) and working at Music West - so he made them a rather odd proposal: "Just make me the sixth member of the band. That way, I'm involved creatively in the videos, the marketing, the logo design, producing the record and hanging out in the studio criticizing all the songs. The idea was that we all struggle together and, if we get somewhere, we'll make the same amount of money," explains Maryanovich. "We just did what we thought was right at the time, but a lot of things backfired." You'd never know it. The band, comprised of David Usher (vocals), Mark Makowy (guitar), Kevin Young (keyboards), Jeff Pearce (bass) and Paul Wilcox (drums), always maintained a solid work ethic, common sense and a friendly, unpushy manner.

Moist's self-titled indie cassette wasn't ready in time for their first gig in February 1993 (at Vancouver's Lunatic Fringe), so the band handed out flyers and 'talked up' the show - 270 people attended.

Once a band hits the live circuit, Maryanovich suggests it has music to sell off the stage, even if it's homemade. Because Moist didn't have $4000 initially to manufacture compact discs, it settled on a tenth of that price and printed up cassettes. They cut costs even further by doing up their own cassette sleeves. "They were just colour photocopies on card stock and we folded and assembled them ourselves, " offers Maryanovich. Moist's cassette cover had a black background with the band's name cut from a picture of an infant's foot with sky blue behind it. "It was really eye-catching," Maryanovich says. The band also had stickers and t-shirts printed up right away. "Stickers worked really well for us because we have a really interesting name. People wanted to put them everywhere."

As far as getting the cassette racked, the band gave a handful of copies on consignment to Sam The Record Man in Vancouver as well as local independent record stores like Zulu and Black Swan. HMV came next. "By the time we started running off tapes for the stores, a lot of people knew about the band because we were playing a lot of shows in Vancouver. We had a lot of support from Coast 1040 before its demise and got some play on Z-95 too. Then, when the cassette sold, Sam's have a chart system and they put us on the Top 10 bands in Vancouver.

In 1993 Music West Conference was the first time Toronto-based A&R would have the opportunity to see Moist. When hundreds of bands are showcasing at events such as this, Maryanovich suggests you create some sort of buzz, either by selling out shows or writing great songs. It's that simple.

He also recommends getting a press kit to A&R well befor ethe show. "Advance it with a phone call, ask if they've heard of the band, then Fed-Ex it to them so they'll have it the next day. Then, follow up again to make sure they received it."

After Music West, it was time for Moist to conquer the rest of Canada. Toronto powerstation CFNY-FM had already started playing "Push", so naturally a supply of cassettes had to meet the demand, however small. Roblan and Cargo both distributed the cassette to stores across the country. "Once we toured across the country and played around Toronto, we started to sell a lot of independent cassettes that way." But as victims of too much hype, their very first Toronto show at Ultrasound in August of '93 cooled the initial interest. "I made a mistake in that we didn't have a roomful of screaming people, which you need when you're under the microscope," admits Maryanovich. "It was classic. Everybody was there except our fans -we had 30 people and 75 industry people at the back of the room. I think everyone was expecting the second coming of Christ."

Everybody, that is, except EMI Music Publishing. After two months of negotiations, they struck a deal. The band did one more cross-Canada tour before returning to Vancouver to record five more songs over the Christmas holidays. In the meantime, EMI hired Bobby Gale of B.G. Enterprises to handle radio, retail and press. By the time Silver was released in February of '94, everyone was primed for the first single and video, "Push". "Bobby started getting all the CAR stations on 'Push' and it started going up the charts. The video was released to MuchMusic and loved it. The CD kept selling out. All those things started to snowball."

After a February tour, Moist felt "a deal was in the bag" with EMI in America, so it decided to follow through with a showcase at SXSW in March, just to make press and radio contacts. The buzz was so nuts for this 'almost signed' Canadian band, it sold out a 700-seat venue. By April, the deal was signed with EMI Music Canada instead. Without missing a beat, the label repackaged Silver with the EMI logo and it hit the stores in May. From Maryanovich's perspective, who is now based in New York City, he says, "We didn't want to sign a U.S. deal. As a Canadian band, we want to build up our home market, and Canadian labels are supportive of Canadian product. So we ended up with a worldwide record deal with certain promotional commitments from the U.S. company."