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Interview with Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies

Interview with Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies

The former lead of the Barenaked Ladies talks about his life, music and new solo career.

What’s it like being a musician, how did everything happen to get you here?

I got very lucky. As a kid I never thought I was going to be a musician, I always loved music, I was obsessed with it really, but at that point I never thought I was good enough at anything you know?

I loved to sing, I was a creative kid but I never thought that meant I could actually do this. I didn’t pay enough attention in my piano lessons.

I sang in school musicals and choirs and then wrote my own songs and started making tapes with a friend of mine and so on. Shortly thereafter, I started to hangout with Ed Robertson and all of a sudden there was this instant magic.

The first time we sang a song together we just realized how well our voices blended and how neither of us had witnessed something like that. Then we just had a lot of fun. We never took it seriously, like in the early days it was almost like we were pretending we had a band.

We would joke about a band when it was just the two of us and we’d say stuff like, “Oh remember back in 1967 when Barenaked Ladies were playing at the Monterey pop Festival?” and we’d make up histories and talk about fake other members of the band that weren’t there.

We used to say, “so and so is the fifth Barenaked Lady” and there were only two of us. Not imagining that in a few years there would actually be five people in the band and be on Fire Records which was the record label as a teenager that I dreamt of being on. Then all of a sudden there we were.

I remember the first time we played with Jim and Andy Creeggan as our “band”, it was the four of us. Ed and I treated it like it was a joke, saying things like, “hey everybody how do you like our band tonight?” It was sort of a one off thing.

It was another situation where as soon as we started playing, I remember in Ed’s parents basement rehearsing, and after the first note Ed and I looked at each other like, “Holy Shit, there’s no turning back now.”

It was a string of not really taking it seriously until we had no choice but to. Then once we did we were totally naive. We thought, “Okay we’ll make a tape on a four track cassette in our parents basement and send that out to the record companies and they’ll sign us, we’ll make a record.”

Of course nobody did and we got rejection letters but by that point we were having too much fun and we were playing a lot. We kept playing shows and every time we played more people came.

It got bigger and bigger every time and at that point it was like, “this is what we do.” Now thirty years later here we are, still able to make our livings as musicians. It’s pretty amazing.

Did you have a lot of influences between all of you that played into your sound?

Everybody had different influences. Ed grew up with his parents listening exclusively to old country music. He was also a big fan of progressive rock like Rush and stuff too, both things I knew nothing about.

I was a huge Beatles fan, a fan of the British punk and new wave. Then I started getting into folk, my parents had a lot of folk and jazz records. There was a bit of a folk revival happening in the community and I was really turned on by that.

The proclaimers, those Scottish twins, came out with their record right about the time Ed and I started singing together. I heard it and I was like, “You got to come over and hear this record.”

We were obsessed with it, those guys were our heroes. We’d sing all their songs, the harmonies were amazing and it had all the energy of punk rock. For me it was like them, Billy Bragg, the Violent Femmes. They all had this acoustic kind of folk-rock backbone with the energy and angst of punk. That was what really turned my crank.

Jim and Andy were into 50’s music and jazz/fusion. Everyone had stuff that they liked and brought that the other guys didn’t know, that’s what made it cool. We weren’t trying to sound like anybody else, each of us was trying to bring what we liked to the table.

Being a solo act, are you able to focus on your sound and what you enjoy?

I don’t know what my sound is sometimes. Usually when a song or recording is finished then I go, “Oh, that’s what the song sounds like.”

It’s pretty rare that I’ll go, “Oh, I’m going to try and sound like this band or this archetype.” I’m not really good enough at an instrument to be a great mimic. I have my own thing and now making records on my own I can hear for the first time what my groove is.

With Barenaked Ladies, those guys are all incredible and very individual musicians. Nobody needs to hear me play bass on a song when you’ve got Jim Creeggan in the group,but now I’m forced to do it and I have ideas. It takes me a while to execute them but I’ve learned to grow those ideas.

On top of that, it’s not just me. As a solo artist there’s so much collaboration that happens and whether it’s in a live situation or the studio. I’ve got a full band that I work with quite often. I’ve been writing and producing a lot with Craig Northey from the Odds.

The Odds are my backing band on most of this last record. Since I met them in 1992 they’ve been my dream rock and roll band. Craig brings this deep love of stuff like sax and Memphis soul and RnB which I like but I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of it. It’s in his bones kind of the way that when I bring in a petshop voice reference he doesn’t get it. I’ve got different things in my bones.

That’s what great, when you collaborate you have tons of common ground and that other little thing you bring that the other guy doesn’t know a thing about, that’s what makes original music.

Do you find it’s better in some ways to be a solo artist?

I like it a lot. The hardest part is that there’s nobody else to blame. It’s my name, it’s my responsibility, my yes or no on every creative decision. You’re happy to take responsibility for all of your choices because making music is all choices all the time.

I have the ability to do whatever I want, say yes to whatever gig I want to do. I can play with a classic group one day and a jazz show the following then solo acoustic and then some rock concert in a club the next night. The best part about it is the collaborations, you’re never really alone. It’s just lots of opportunities.

This show in Camrose is a collaboration as well, how did this show and this arrangement come about?

I’ve known Kevin Fox, the cellist, and Craig Northey for a long time. The Odds toured with Barenaked Ladies a lot, we became good friends. They broke up for a while and we basically made them get back together to go on one of the BNL cruises that we did.

After I split from BNL, Craig came down to New York where I live and we wrote some songs together. That was the beginning of my first solo record. It was great, it worked really well. We did some touring together, and wrote most of the songs for and co-produced this most recent album.

Kevin Fox was the first guy I called after I left Barenaked Ladies. We booked some shows right away, and it’s been eight years now we’ve played together.

So that’s two different duos and I realized, why not mash these two duos together and make a trio? We started doing that this year in New York City at the Carlisle hotel. We honed our act and it’s been a blast, I miss those guys when I’m not with them.

I’m looking forward to doing some shows, we do a range of new stuff and some old Barenaked Ladies stuff. We have a very natural rapport on stage both musically and personally. I think audiences really enjoy the ease and the intimacy of it.

I think people should know that if they don’t come they’re missing out on something special.

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