(Soundbite of "Nine More Gallons")
Mr. RICK MORANIS: (Singing) I work all day to pay the rent. Before the money's earned, well, it's all been allocated. I got nothing on my plate, but I wish that I were fat. Nine more gallons and I'll have me a hat.
LIANE HANSEN, host:
The sound is pure country, but the singer is no cowboy. Comic actor Rick Moranis is instead best known as one of the beer-guzzling McKenzie brothers on "SCTV" or Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks' movie "Spaceballs" or the father in "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." He can sing, though. Moranis played Seymour in the film version of the musical "Little Shop of Horrors," but he says most of the singing he's done since then has been in the shower. So what's he doing making a country music album called "The Agoraphobic Cowboy"? Well, let's ask him. Rick Moranis is in our New York bureau.
Welcome to our program.
Mr. MORANIS: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.
HANSEN: It's a pleasure to have you. What do you think you're doing?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORANIS: I don't know exactly. I wrote some tunes and played them for a couple of people who encouraged me to do something with them. Brian Camelio, who started a group called Artist Share, a community of artists, a lot of jazz artists actually here in New York, who sell their stuff over the Web, insisted that I meet a guy named Tony Scherr, who's got his own little analog studio in his house, is a renowned musician out of Brooklyn, recorded a lot of early Norah Jones and Jesse Harris and folks like that out of Brooklyn. So I went out there and I think I wound up staying there for a few months and this was the product.
HANSEN: Oh. Well, is being a country music singer--What?--some deep-held dream you've always had?
Mr. MORANIS: I don't know exactly. The whole thing was sort of a lark. I mean, the songs kind of lent themself to the style that he wound up producing them in. They were inspired, really, by my kids who--well, now my daughter is 19 and my son is 17. A couple of years ago, they started listening to a lot of bluegrass and alternative country. But they just got me hooked and the music just got under my skin. I had little bit of a background in it 'cause I had actually been a country music deejay many, many years ago in Toronto for a short while. So--I don't know. It was just one of those things that happened.
HANSEN: Let's hear a chorus from that first tune, "Nine More Gallons."
(Soundbite of "Nine More Gallons")
Mr. MORANIS: (Singing) Two more times a lady, three more hundred blows, four more easy pieces, five more days on the road. Seven more days a week now, eight more lives a cat, nine more gallons and I'll have me a hat.
HANSEN: Now this is some pretty sophisticated stuff. I mean, you refer to Francois Truffaut's film "The 400 Blows," the Jack Nicholson movie "Five Easy Pieces." And, you know, country music is pretty much rife for satire. The thing that came to my mind was Ray Stevens' novelty tune "Gitarzan." When you were doing these, was your goal to make it smart?
Mr. MORANIS: I don't think I'm very good at making anything smart, but I--the goal was just to--as an idea would come to, I would try and write a song. And after that, I don't really know that there was any larger goal, except once I had enough of the songs and Tony Sheer thought that there was an album here then we started recording them. You know, within that chorus, too, is a nod to Dave Dudley, who had the song "Six Days on the Road," and I think there's a Lionel Richie nod in there. I mean, it's just a counting thing and playing with words. So I've always liked just playing with words and jokes. And a lot of humor just comes out of the logic of wordplay, I think, in many cases.
HANSEN: A lot of the songs are, I mean, country in nature when you listen to them, but they're more like, you know, the suburban cowboy, because you're talking about, you know, pressing buttons on your cell phone. You're singing about things like osso buco. You know, it...
Mr. MORANIS: The suburban cowboy or somebody called it the urbane cowboy or something like that. But I don't know. I think cowboys are everywhere. And--you know, `country' is a funny word because it incorporates so many different styles within that one label. But the thing that it all seems to--or one of the things it has in common is it's accessible and the stories that it tells are understandable. And in terms of a context for humor, there are a limited number of places that you're going to find that in music. Certainly, Broadway and off-Broadway show tunes can be hilarious. I mean, "The Little Shop of Horrors," as you mentioned, is one of the great scores of all time, I think, by the late Howard Ashman. And there have been some hilarious jazz records that have been written through the years. But country is a place where you can do this kind of thing.
Mr. MORANIS: And I think that's why Tony heard it with banjoes and fiddles and that kind of stuff.
HANSEN: Now when did you start writing these songs? What was the first one you wrote?
Mr. MORANIS: I think the first one I wrote didn't make it onto the album.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORANIS: As they say in show business, `It was too Jewish.' But I can't remember after that which was--I think this "Nine More Gallons" is one of the earlier ones...
Mr. MORANIS: ...and I don't really remember the order after that.
HANSEN: And you deliberately set out to write, you know, comedy versions. I mean, you had no idea about writing straight country music?
Mr. MORANIS: Well, I don't think anybody wants to hear me do anything straight. And, you know, I can't take myself that seriously. So unless there's some sort of a hook behind it, I can't really get behind it myself. There's a track on the album that's a very straight song, but it has a comic hook to its title, and it's called "Bonus Track." And I had just seen so many CDs that had bonus tracks on them that I just thought, `I wonder if I can write a song called "Bonus Track" and I can put it on and maybe even collect royalties from other people's bonus tracks.'
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORANIS: So I wrote a song which turns out to be a very straight, almost an homage to country train songs. And there's nothing funny in that song, and I was just amusing myself seeing if I could write a song called "Bonus Track."
(Soundbite of "Bonus Track")
Mr. MORANIS: (Singing) Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe, Glendale, Poor Valley, mystery train, Cold Mountain, Sligo, a tie-walking man, midnight and I'm doing what I can. For these trains always take me away from you and right away I want to get back. So I'm leaving here tonight on the next one that comes. I'm riding on the bonus track.
Tony had a good time with it, too. He did a great job on it. He put a sort of a rockabilly guitar on it, as he did on a few of these tracks, which kind of shifted it away--shifted away from more of a folky country feel to it and more of an electric feel, which I just loved, as he was doing it.
HANSEN: Do you play any instruments?
Mr. MORANIS: I play guitar poorly. You know, I've said many times that growing up in Toronto in the '60s, after The Beatles hit, we all put down our hockey sticks and picked up electric guitars, and I was no different. And I had a band and I wasn't very good, but we sure had fun pretending to be The Beatles.
HANSEN: Hmm. I want to play another selection. This is a tune that many may recognize from Johnny Cash as well as a Comfort Inn commercial. But the lyrics are very different.
(Soundbite of song "I Ain't Goin' Nowhere")
Mr. MORANIS: (Singing) I never go nowhere, man. I never go nowhere. Traffic's bad out there, man. I'm saving wear and tear. I like conditioned air, man. I never go nowhere. I go upstairs, downstairs, back yard, lawn chairs, living room, bathroom, bedroom, furnace room, hot tub, cedar deck, build a fire, washer-dryer, pantry, patio, Bartiromo video, coal cellar, rec room, Ping-Pong, mah jonng, ...(unintelligible) then speed dial, order in. I ain't going nowhere, man. I ain't going nowhere. It's dangerous out there, man. Might have been a big bomb scare. Hard to get off of this easy chair. I ain't going nowhere.
HANSEN: Was this a pretty easy one to parody?
Mr. MORANIS: You know, that song had been in my head for many, many years because Hank Snow--who had the original North American version of that hit, this was in the '50s or early '60s--was Canadian. I was in radio when the Canadian content regulations came into play, which was how the McKenzie brothers were born many years later. We had quotas that we had to play of Canadian music, and that Hank Snow got played a lot. And if you listen to the version that Hank Snow did, and Johnny Cash subsequently did, it's full of Canadian towns, because Hank was a Canadian, Mattawa and Ottawa and all these places through Ontario and western Canada.
HANSEN: Huh. How do your kids like the recording?
Mr. MORANIS: My son loves it, and my daughter is--it's growing on my daughter. She's--as her friends are discovering it, she's liking it more and more. And I think she was a little bit scared of me turning into a cowboy. She's cool with it now. She's at college and I think the college radio station is playing it. So...
HANSEN: You haven't gone out and bought a pair of cowboy boots or a 10-gallon hat or...
Mr. MORANIS: No. No. I mean, I'm not really making fun of country music here. I mean, it's really done out of respect and reverence for the form. So if Nashville wants to give me the hat and the boots, then I'll take it. But no, I don't pretend to be wearing boots and hats and stuff like that.
HANSEN: Comedian, actor and now country music crooner Rick Moranis. His album is called "The Agoraphobic Cowboy," and you can find it on his Web site, RickMoranis.com. Rick Moranis joined us from New York.
Rick, good luck with this, and thanks for your time.
Mr. MORANIS: Thank you very much for having me.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: You can hear several selections from Rick Moranis' CD from our Web site, npr.org.
This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.
HANSEN: I'm Liane Hansen.
(Soundbite of music)
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