Published Nov 24, 2020Archie Comics' love affair with Vancouver began well before Riverdale began shooting its first episode in 2016. Take the album cover to self-described cuddlecore group cub's 1993 debut, Betti Cola, which featured a caricature of the band as interpreted by beloved Archie cartoonist Dan DeCarlo. Off the comics page, there was also the time a few thousand British Columbia teenagers got the chance to see a Josie and the Pussycats concert...sort of.
Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan's 2001 comedy Josie and the Pussycats was filmed at various Lower Mainland locations, including quick shots within the downtown core's Virgin Megastore (later an HMV, now a Victoria's Secret) and a bowling alley out in North Vancouver. The key to the whole shoot, however, was a massive concert scene finale filmed at the city's Pacific Coliseum.
The Pussycats (portrayed by actors Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid) close out both their concert and the movie with a performance of a pop-punk cut called "Spin Around," a song co-written by Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz and sung on record by former Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley. Mid-performance, Josie's love interest crowdsurfs to the stage and gives her a kiss. The crowd, understandably, goes nuts. It's corny, but effective.
In the film, Josie and the Pussycats' success is partially indebted to the disappearance of the world's biggest boy band, DuJour. The IRL twist is that the big crowd amassed on the concrete floor of the Coliseum were actually there to see another boy band: Toronto trio b4-4.
In a canny move, producers booked a concert for the fictional Pussycats on a province-wide professional development day — stacking the odds in their favour to get as many teens into the Coliseum as possible. Thousands of complimentary tickets were given out at record stores, with the afternoon promising a free performance from b4-4, then cresting off the popularity of their unforgettable oral sex anthem, "Get Down." They played the track multiple times for the Vancouver audience that afternoon, between takes of the Pussycats miming to "Spin Around".
b4-4 themselves experienced a quick rise to pop fame in Canada. As the story goes, brothers Ryan and Dan Kowarsky and their friend Ohad Einbinder cabbed over to Sony Music Canada's headquarters in Toronto on a whim to try and get a record deal. It worked. By 2000, the group had recorded a self-titled debut album featuring "Get Down". Their biggest hit was a pop banger written by Prozzak's James Bryan McCollum and Jason Levine. While the barely masked innuendos likely raised more than a few parental eyebrows at the time ("Communicate, and I'll go undercover / Gonna make you come tonight…over to my house!"), a music video was in constant rotation on MuchMusic and YTV during the summer of 2000. The single ultimately got the group a Best New Group nod at the JUNOS in 2001.
Ryan and Dan Kowarsky are still active in the music industry: they'd released a pair of albums as RyanDan and sung backup during Shania Twain's Vegas residency in 2014, while Ryan also manages Toronto singer Dan Talevski. Einbinder, however, transitioned from performing in a somewhat pre-fabricated boy band towards working in the manufacturing sector. In 2005, he and a business partner created Boomphones, a line of personal headphones that doubled as boombox speakers (the company is currently plotting a relaunch). He's also the co-owner of Cerca Homes, a recently founded laneway/backyard housing company he hopes will help folks through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking from his home in L.A., Einbinder recalls, among other things, the time b4-4 performed a real show within a fake one.
This interview has been edited and condensed for flow.
How did you end up being asked to be the in-between-shots entertainment for Josie and the Pussycats?
I remember that day pretty well, actually. I was a fan of that movie that Tara Reid was in, it was a big hit at the time…
Yeah! I knew her from American Pie. I was just excited to be there, and I love British Columbia. Every time we were there we were treated well. You know, we opened up for Destiny's Child as well. [Vancouver] was one of the cities on the tour. I'm very familiar with those areas, I love it there.
So what happened was, they needed a crowd. I've never really watched the movie, to be honest with you, but the girls [Josie and the Pussycats] were onstage in one of the scenes, performing. When you see the shots of the crowd, the crowds are really cheering for us. They took the B-shots of us performing for the crowd and used it in the movie. It was fun! It was my first time performing on demand like that, where you had to perform, stop, and then do the same song again. It was set up through Sony — we were signed to Sony at the time.
Had you played arenas prior to this?
We had. Our fist show ever was at the SkyDome in Toronto, but it wasn't packed whatsoever [laughs]. We did a show for 10,000 girl guides. That was my first time ever on stage with the guys, aside from rehearsals. After that, we did the YTV tour [2000's Psykoblast tour with soulDecision, Snow and Wave], which was also in arenas. I remember feeling comfortable [at the Josie shoot]. It was just another day onstage, you know?
Was the Josie shoot a one-off show for the band?
I think we were in the middle of a tour. We were either doing a radio tour, or just performances. We were always performing and doing appearances… [One time] we did a Walmart tour. I seem to remember we just flew in for a day or two, and then ended up getting back to our daily routing, which was radio interviews and appearances.
What were the conditions like at the shoot? Was it weird to keep starting and stopping the momentum?
When we stopped there was interaction between us and the fans. At least the fans in the front — it was, you know, a big room [laughs], well over 10,000 people, if I remember correctly. And they were all our fans! It was advertised as a b4-4 concert. It was everything to me, just being onstage and seeing the fans and their reactions. I can't imagine being onstage right now, at all. It's funny to me.
The shoot took place a few months after "Get Down" came out. What do you remember about this period of the band's career?
Look, I moved to Canada from Israel. I spoke English well, but I had a heavy accent. I was more or less an immigrant. I went from being a kid that goes to high school, doing normal things, to having a record deal. All of a sudden I couldn't walk the streets. I would get mobbed in Toronto, or wherever. It was overwhelming, but at the same time I was loving it. I was really enjoying the fact that I found something, to do with my life. I would turn the radio on and our song would come on every five minutes; I bought my first car with my own money. That was an exciting moment. My family [and I were] on cloud nine.
Did you meet any of the movie cast, since they were also there to shoot the fake concert scene?
We had dinner with them afterwards. I don't remember much about the dinner. Nothing really juicy happened, but it was nice. The cast was there, our manager was there, the agent was there, people from Sony — we just had a nice big dinner. But even in the dressing room [at the Pacific Coliseum], the cast came back and we hung out with them.
How much of the movie have you seen?
I've seen parts of it. I've fast-forwarded through it to find that specific scene, but it was so long ago.
The movie features a subplot around a boy band called DuJour, whose big hit single in the movie is called "Backdoor Lover," which is this over-the-top parody of boy band innuendos. It's somewhat comparable to a song like b4-4's "Get Down." Did you have a sense of humour about your own song, and how it was marketed back then?
First of all, I was an immigrant. My English wasn't that good. Of course, everyone knew what the song was about at the time. Now I look back and I don't even wanna, you know, talk about it — I wouldn't sing a song like that today, let's put it that way. But the answer that we gave back then was that it was about the give and take in a relationship. I think back about it now, and it's kind of funny.
Ryan and Dan had previously said that the label wanted you to play down the theme.
They [Sony] were the ones that told us what we were supposed to answer with during interviews. I mean, we were a fabricated boy band at the end of the day. Yeah, we were different than Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, because we put ourselves together — we were friends. It's not like we were casted by someone.
The Josie and the Pussycats movie is a satire around the music industry, specifically these meteoric rises that pop acts and rock bands experience. I'm wondering how you can relate to that experience, and the absurdity that came along with it, through your time with b4-4.
Obviously there was a point where we were at our peak, and there was another point where we had nothing on the radio. And then we went our separate ways — that moment was humbling, I can tell you that much. I moved to the U.S. after [the band broke up]. Nobody knew b4-4 in the U.S. Nobody recognized me. I came here and I just had to start over. My goal was, really, to break here in the U.S. market.
We weren't world famous, of course. If you compare us to the Backstreet Boys, for example, they were in a whole other league. They were famous in the U.S. It's a big difference, having fame in the U.S. and having fame in Canada, though we were released in Europe too. We had a deal there, toured through Germany and throughout Europe. I had a taste of it [fame], but it can be dangerous.
In what sense?
It can get to your head, and when you come down from it, people get depressed. They don't want it to stop. Thankfully, I found something I was passionate about, and I'm a positive person. I have a good family. To me, life isn't about fame and money. As much as I indulged in it, that wasn't my main goal.
What do you remember most about going solo?
I was more interested in the songwriting aspect of it than performing, or becoming the centre of the song. I made some songs and I put them online at the time, but my goal was to write songs for other artists.
Were there any songs in particular that people might not know you've written?
There was a song that was played on a show called Army Wives, it was called "Home." I was trying to get movie placements — placements with other artists, more than anything. That was my main thing at the time. I was really into writing.
The Josie and the Pussycats shoot at the Pacific Coliseum was unique in that it was a real concert tucked inside of a fake concert. Looking back now, during a period where we can't even go to these kinds of arena shows, are you nostalgic at all for big concerts? Whether it's performing for a crowd, or even just seeing something live?
It's always nice to see a concert, to see someone do a performance. As far as being on-stage... I miss being in shape, more than anything.
Were you all put on a workout regimen? Did you have to work out on tour?
We did it because we wanted to be in shape, but we also knew it was part of what we had to do [as members of a boy band]. We were constantly benching and rehearsing. Every day we did at least one performance or rehearsal. I would do an hour, even two hours of straight dancing, and then we'd go to the gym and work out.
Are you still in touch with Ryan and Dan?
I talk to them every now and then. They're doing well! Ryan's been writing a lot of songs. There's a guy, Dan [Talevski], that they're writing for. They're not here in the States so I don't know the artist, and I rarely visit Canada, but they have some songs on the radio.
When was the last time you sung a b4-4 song? Ever sing them for your kids?
No [laughs]. I haven't, to be honest.