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Barenaked about former bandmate

On their brand-new album, Canada’s most playful band lets some darker feelings out (PHOTOS)


 
Barenaked about former bandmate

Photograph by Andrew Tolson

The Barenaked Ladies are mad as hell—or at least, being polite Canadian gentlemen, they’re rather peeved. “Give it up for anger—it makes us strong!” sings Ed Robertson on the band’s new album, All in Good Time. Having survived a time in their history they describe as “devastating,” Canada’s most playful band is ready to let some darker feelings show.

In the summer of 2008, 20 years after Robertson and co-frontman Steven Page, pals since grade school, founded the band in Scarborough, Ont., their career took what Robertson describes as “a major left turn.” In the midst of promoting their children’s album Snacktime!, Page was arrested for cocaine possession. Plans for promoting the CD were curtailed, and by February 2009, he had left the band.

“It felt like everything we’d worked hard for for 20 years was being dragged through the mud,” says Robertson, sipping on a skim-milk latte at a Toronto restaurant with drummer Tyler Stewart. “I was worried and sad for [Page], but also I was kinda disappointed and angry—it was incredibly tumultuous, because he didn’t go through it as an individual; he went through it as the guy from Barenaked Ladies, and that was all of us.”

Page and Robertson had written the bulk of the band’s popular singles together, including If I Had $1,000,000 from 1992’s Gordon and Pinch Me from 2000’s Maroon. Their offbeat onstage repartee defined the band’s widely popular live shows. But by the time they began to record Snacktime!, Page had apparently begun to drift away.

During the album’s recording sessions, says Stewart, “There were only four guys really participating. A bit of a harbinger? Perhaps.” Creative and philosophical differences were beginning to tell—for one thing, the band’s anti-image image (Robertson and Stewart agree that Gordon has “probably the worst album cover in the history of music”) became an issue. “I heard [Page] say recently that we were hiding behind that image,” says Stewart. “I beg to differ with that—I don’t think we ever did. We embraced wholeheartedly being ourselves.”

In person, Stewart and Robertson are more deadpan than their wacky public image might suggest; they quietly exude pride and the determination to forge ahead. On the first single from All in Good Time, the sombre but nonetheless sweeping and catchy You Run Away, Robertson sings, “I tried to be your brother / You cried and ran for cover.”

“It was certainly a cathartic song to write,” he says, and while he insists his lyrics aren’t directed specifically at his former bandmate, Page’s leaving was “a huge inspiration for the emotion behind it.” Even more direct is the charging rocker, I Have Learned (sample lyric: “I’d use a metaphor, but I’m done with you”). “It was a pretty emotionally raw time,” Robertson says, “and I didn’t want to couch it in layers of poetry.”

Musically, the album feels more spacious than their prior efforts, with fewer overdubs and more room in the arrangements for the songs to breathe. In the absence of Page, the other band members are stepping to the fore as songwriters (bassist Jim Creeggan and keyboardist Kevin Hearn’s tunes are more prominent this time out), as well as onstage—Stewart is even singing lead on some songs “every so often,” he says modestly. “You don’t want to blow everyone’s minds too much.”

Some of the band’s trademark humour remains, especially on the new track Four Seconds, which sounds like a mash-up of the Ladies’ crazier moments. When Page left the band, says Stewart, the remaining members decided, “The psychic baggage doesn’t matter to a crowd that wants to hear all the hits. They also want to see we’re up there having a good time, being entertaining and enjoying ourselves. That was harder and harder to do over the years. Throw in some discord toward the end, and a bunch of challenges and some turmoil, Ed’s plane crash”—a Cessna Robertson was piloting landed in a wooded area the month after Page’s arrest, but no one was hurt—“and all that stuff; it was getting harder to just go up there and be great entertainers.”

“We haven’t just moved on,” says Robertson, leaning forward with a resolute gleam in his smiling blue eyes. “We went through the f–kin’ wringer and figured out how to do this so it was better. It’s not like just one guy left and we’re just walking out on stage and trying to do it without him; we’re putting a lot of energy into doing something good. We’re proud of it, and it’s great that people are responding to it because we care. That’s why we do it—we f–king care.”

Check out Andrew Tolson’s exclusive photos of the Barenaked Ladies rehearsing for their upcoming tour


 

Barenaked about former bandmate

  1. They're baaaaack, and , I for one am so happy, can't wait to go see them in tour and bring my kids…They are Canada to me, they are home, and I wish them all the success in the world!

  2. I don't want this taken the wrong way but I was surprised that Page stayed in the band as long as he did; it always seemed as if he and Ed had parted company creatively when they released the Greatest Hits album.

  3. Curious — why do you think that?

  4. It’s a awesome news that they are back. The music lovers of Canada are totally crazy to see them back. So be ready for enjoying the rocking performance of them.

  5. I'm happy that that the other guys in the band are doing all right, but BNL just isn't BNL without Steven Page. The poetic lyrics, the rich vocals, the expert song craft– they're all clearly lacking on this new album. I wish it could have gone on forever, but they should have just called it quits when they lost the heart and soul of the band.

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