(Editor’s Note: Rick Moranis performs four of his songs on CMT.com’s Studio 330 Sessions.)
After launching his television career in 1980 on SCTV, Rick Moranis moved on to a successful film career three years later with Strange Brew. His film credits include Little Shop of Horrors, The Flintstones, two Ghostbusters films and the Disney trilogy of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.
If the Canadian-born actor, comedian and singer has any fear of open spaces, he overcame it for the recent release of The Agoraphobic Cowboy, an album of his original country songs.
CMT: What’s the sort of Cliff Notes guide to how your album The Agoraphobic Cowboy came about?
Moranis: The Cliff Notes history of The Agoraphobic Cowboy is that a couple of years ago my daughter started to listen to a lot of bluegrass and alternative country and jam bands in the house. Prior to that, there was a lot of classical music and jazz on. But when my kids were really young, I played them all kinds of stuff, including a lot of country music, and now my daughter at the age of 17 is listening to this stuff. So all of a sudden, the house was full of all this music which reminded me of the music I listened to growing up, and I just started writing these tunes. And as I wrote them one at a time, I would sing them for a couple of close friends of mine, and I was getting pretty good feedback on them. It was post-9/11, and that sort of inspired a take on the old Hank Snow song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” We did a kind a reversal on it called “I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and it was taking on themes that were really reflective of how a lot of New Yorkers were living and how I was living. I was spending a lot more time at home. I had kind of stopped working in films and in television and was kind of home looking after the kids and writing and things like that and just finding it less and less interesting to go to airports and get on the subway and do those kinds of things. And one night, I was talking to a friend of mine who was trying to get me to go to a restaurant, and I said I didn’t want to go. She said, “You never leave the house. Come on, you’ve gotta leave the house.” I said, “You know, I think that I’m just gonna call this album The Agoraphobic Cowboy.” Because by then I was well into it and it was sounding very country. So that’s how we came up with the name.
I think a lot of people don’t know or have forgotten that you’ve been involved in music for a long time.
Yeah, I’ve always had music a part of my career and certainly a part of my life. Growing up in the ’60s, I think it was pretty impossible to not have music affect you. When I did stand-up comedy, I used to use my guitar in the act. Sort of the way that Steve Martin used his banjo. Interstitial stuff, some musical bits that usually didn’t have endings to them, and when I got to SCTV, I did a lot of musical stuff, a lot of musical impressions and tried to work in as much music as I could just because I loved it. And then I got very fortunate and was cast in The Little Shop of Horrors and got to sing the part of Seymour Krelborn, which was in character. Up until this, I’ve always sung in character. This is the first time I’m sort of singing as myself, oddly.
You were once a country disc jockey.
Yeah, I started out in radio in Toronto when I was in high school. I worked my way through high school spinning records. They called us operators so they could pay us very little, and I got a bit of a reputation for being a little witty because I used to tell the DJs what to say if something reminded me of a joke from the record title or whatever. Word got around, and they asked me to go on the air. I was a rock disc jockey and a middle of the road disc jockey, and then one day I was working at a small radio station way up on the end of the AM dial, a real struggling rock station. I came in to work, I was doing an evening shift, 7 to midnight, and there was a letter in my mailbox. I thought I was getting fired, and I opened the letter and it said that the station has become a country music station. So for the next year, I was playing country music. Songs that I knew and songs that I hadn’t heard of. And it was right around the Outlaws time, the Waylon and Willie time and the Hollywood revival, too. Mac Davis and a lot of Roy Clark on television in those days. Hee Haw was huge, of course, and Glen Campbell had his show. So there was a real crossover between what was happening in country music and what was happening on the pop and rock charts in the ’70s, and we were playing it all.
There is one artist in particular that I suspect was an influence on you because I can sense that you’re kind of carrying on what he did in songwriting — and that’s Roger Miller..
Yeah, I was a huge fan of Roger Miller. Some of the earliest memories I have not only of country music — but of music — are listening to some of those early Roger Miller tunes. I would add Ray Stevens to the mix. I mean, Roger Miller to the extent that there was a lot of wordplay, which is so much fun, and I think he was great at that. … This was later on after Ray Stevens had done “Mr. Businessman” and “Gitarzan” and all those, but the first time I heard “Misty” by Ray Stevens, it was the first time I heard a bluegrass version of a classic, of a standard, and it blew my mind. And then later … when Bill Murray did his lounge singer on Saturday Night Live or I did the middle of the road singer on the Gerry Todd episodes of SCTV, we were doing it for laughs, sort of mixing genres for laughs and getting laughs doing that. But here was Ray Stevens doing a perfect, beautiful job of covering a song. So I never forgot that. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ray Stevens.
Many of your song lyrics, such as “Four More Beers,” are also — depending on how you look at it — full of a lot of social commentary and political subtext.
Well, I think again that’s one that I prefer to leave to the listener because there is a lot of … I don’t know if there are a lot of layers to it, but there are a lot of sides to it. Essentially, what it’s about is apathy and how too many people let things happen because that’s what they want to have happen. Voter turnout is very low, and they’re sometimes a little too trusting of what they hear. I think we’re at a point now where it’s just getting harder and harder to understand what’s going on out there because we’re told we can’t believe what’s in the newspaper and we can’t believe what we’re being told by other people, and it leaves you very confused and wondering. I guess for many people, they just want to walk away from it and not deal with four more years. They’d rather deal with four more beers. So that’s sort of the area that I was playing with.
And country music is very good at addressing that sort of subject.
Yeah I think that country music is a genre for playing with humor and playing with satire. I don’t think it gets any better than that. Broadway show tunes, obviously, there are many that are hilarious, but it’s really country music where you can come out and say it — or come out and not say it, just suggest it. I think that’s what drew me to writing stuff in this form.