Tumbler Ridge, like any other community, has its fair share of local myths and legends. For anyone that’s been living here for an exceptionally long period of time, many of those stories are linked to people, places and events that we knew or were a part of ourselves.
One of these local legends is a man by the name of Joey Moi. Who the heck is Joey Moi, you might ask? If you’ve been involved in anything related to tourism development and promotion in our region, then you’ve undoubtedly met a powerhouse known as April Moi who once headed TR’s Chamber of Commerce and now works for Northern BC Tourism. That’s Joey’s mom.
Not legendary enough? OK – then have a peek at the album credits by such artists as Default, Theory of a Deadman, Nickleback or, more recently, Dallas Smith and Florida Georgia Line. See it now? That’s Joey Moi and, yes, he grew up in Tumbler Ridge.
On September 13, Joey earned the Canadian Country Music Association Producer of the Year award, for the second year in a row – the latest in a long list of industry accolades he’s earned.
Joey and I went to high school together and I was a part of the journey that brought him to where he is today. The last time we saw each other was in 1995 at UBC’s Arts County Fair music festival when he literally popped out of a crowd of 10,000 people and unsuccessfully tried to drag me towards the stage.
When I finally got on the phone with the legend himself he didn’t clue in that it was me until about 10 minutes into the conversation when he asked, “Wait a minute. What Ray am I talking to?” Once I told him, and the laughter subsided, we yakked for about two hours and I did my best to weave the questions I prepared into our stroll down memory lane that yielded some gut-busting stories (ask Rob Muise to tell you the one about Joey’s impromptu speech at a hockey banquet) and, more to the point of this article, the highlights of Joey’s journey from Tumbler Ridge to Nashville, Tennessee where he resides today.
Despite what Wikipedia says, Joey was born in Whitehorse, Yukon in 1976. Joey’s mom April explains, “Dawson City was our home but the doc was on vacation so we had to hang around Whitehorse for a month and wait for Joey to arrive.”
In 1979 the Moi’s relocated to Gambier Island, near Gibsons Landing. The early 1980s recession prompted a move to Tumbler Ridge in 1986, where Joey attended the former Claude Galibois Elementary School (now the PRPRC).
It was during this time that a teacher discovered that he possessed a gift for retaining information when it was delivered in audio format. “Anytime I had to watch or listen to something and absorb the information I always did great on tests,” Joey explained, “My Grade five teacher pointed that out and I remember it to this day. I ended up in the right spot. I listen for a living.”
Despite residing in the same community for several years, our paths first crossed in high school when, at the time, students from both elementary schools converged in grade eight. My first impressions of Joey were that he was an extremely nice guy (some things don’t change) that was fully embedded in the local hockey community, which was a social tribe of its own. Joey recalls the prominence of the sport in his childhood, ‘Hockey was a huge part of our life. It was literally the only thing we did all winter.’
Despite the impression that it was all-hockey, all of the time for Joey, he had a great musical education through exposure at home: “I’ve always listened to music. Mom taught aerobics, so there was always music on in the house. My brother was a big music listener as well.”
Joey recalls one of the most significant tipping points in his musical journey was the arrival of a new channel in Tumbler Ridge’s local cable package (this was prior to satellite TV, kids), “I remember when CMT Canada came online. I would sit with my nylon string guitar and try to learn as many songs from CMT Canada as I could. That got me into the musical side of things.”
During his senior years at TRSS, Joey found himself in a work experience program based on his keen interest in the technological side of music: “I got into it all about the buttons, the knobs and the gear.” One of the program’s placements was a two-week stint at CKNL, an AM country station in Ft. St. John (now known as 101.5FM, The Bear) where he assisted the music director. “My main job was to edit down their music playlist out of a reel to reel. It was an introduction to really paying attention to what songs were being played on the radio. At a young age, I really focused on what music gets played on radio. This is what has inspired me and the people around me.”
By the time grade 12 rolled around Joey and I spent a fair deal of time together listening to, talking about and playing music. In June of 1994 he asked me to lend a hand by playing guitar on a demo he needed to put together for his entry application to an Audio Engineering program at Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Imaging and Sound (CDIS).
Alongside classmate and drummer Berk MacDonald we hunkered down in Joey’s basement for two days to record a couple of songs (including a sweet version of Dwight Yoakam’s ‘Fast As You’) that would turn out to be Joey’s ticket out of TR to the big smoke…no, not Toronto, the other one.
Joey’s time at CDIS was true demonstration of drive and work ethic. On top of his regular suite of classes he worked security at the school studio from 6pm until 2am and: “squeezed as much live sound as possible to make a few extra bucks.” During that time Joey developed a network of friends and associates that would eventually help land him his first high-profile credited contribution as Engineer on Nickleback’s third album Silver Side Up, which was released in 2001.
From there, it was a steady upwards trajectory for Joey’s career as he built upon his technical foundation and evolved into other roles: “Once you realize that in order to maintain your sanity and have a little bit of control over what kind of music you’re going to record and what kind of songs you’re going to work on, you have to evolve into the producer role, where you get to manage the creative side of the process. Then you realize that in the producer role you still don’t have 100 percent control, so then you slowly start evolving into songwriting side of things.” Based on Joey’s description, his time spent behind the recording console was another significant portion of his musical education: “I managed to meet some really great songwriters that I got to sit in a room with for a long time and learn a lot of great tricks—the methods of writing songs.”
Fast forward a few years and several projects later, Joey found himself in an unfamiliar situation, “I finished all my rock obligations in Vancouver, and for the first time in several years I had a clean slate with no projects to jump into or pressing deadlines.”
With that his management sent him on a two week songwriting trip to Nashville: “I literally cut all my long hair off and flew down there with my guitar case in hand.” It was new territory for Joey as all his writing beforehand had been in done in a band scenario. Any fear he might have had quickly disappeared: “I happened to meet a whole bunch of amazing people on my second day here that turned out to be my business partners. We immediately struck a bond.”
Now in Nashville for the past four years Joey and his business partners have built what he describes as, “A nice little management company, publishing company and record label, all based on artist development. It’s been a huge blessing.”
So there you have it – the legend of Mr. Joey Moi has been uncovered and despite his attempts to maintain a low profile, you’ve now got the general idea of what he’s been up to since he left TR in 1994.
More importantly, his story demonstrates to anyone with roots in a small town that it’s OK to dream big. With hard work, some luck and more hard work, you can become a legend in your own right.