The Macleans.ca Interview: Steven Page

The former Barenaked Lady on leaving the band, his arrest and what’s next

Macleans.ca Interview: Steven Page

Q: What’s this all about, you’re leaving the band?
A: It’s a 20-year career. It’s a big decision for all of us. But it came to the point where I think we all realized that we had different ideas about what we wanted to do in the future. It was a while in the works. Nobody’s taking it lightly but it’s one of those strange things where you’re kind of nostalgic in a way and also incredibly hopeful for the future.

Q: I just read the vague descriptions of what you plan to do. Can you go into any more detail?
A:
I’m working on a new solo album right now. The band wants to make a new BNL record ASAP, and I realized that if I was going to jump in to do that, that’s another two-year investment, writing, recording, promo, touring. And we’ve all for so long had to juggle our whole lives, our family lives, our personal lives, and then all our side projects. And side projects became exactly that, they’re just things you do on the side and never really get the full attention that they deserve. And I kind of realized that I need to be clear about what I want to do. Doing the solo record is one thing. I’m doing music for Stratford again this year, it’s the third year I’ve done it and that’s a job I really love and wanted to be around for the rehearsal process. I did As You Like It and was really a part of that and totally loved it. A couple years ago I did Coriolanus and couldn’t be around for the rehearsal process and really felt like I missed out. And I recorded an album with a group called The Art of Time Ensemble, which still hasn’t been mixed yet, but we’ll hopefully get it out in the fall. So it’s a bunch of different stuff. On top of that I have my eyes on writing a musical and I’d frankly like to get in and do some performing, some musical theatre performing. Just, you know, spread my wings.

Q: The question obviously arises, did your trouble in the summer play any role in your departure? Was it kind of a catalyst or did your plans predate your difficulties?
A: Plans? I hadn’t planned on leaving and they hadn’t planned on having me leave. But it was always something that I had become conflicted about. And I think we’d all become conflicted about how to balance our lives with the band being kind of the number-one focus. After the summer—the biggest thing when you’ve had a huge trauma like that is you have to sit down and go, ‘Okay, what do I want from my life, what am I aiming towards and where do I see myself in five years?’ And you gotta take a good hard look at yourself that way. We all had to be completely honest and open with each other. Which in a certain way brought us closer together. I think when we realized that we weren’t all on the same page so to speak. That was when we realized we had to split.

Q: The question I had, ever since I started reporting the story that we wrote in the summer, is what happened?
A: What happened with the arrest?

Q: I guess why I’m asking, and this is how a lot of people framed it, was, this is so seemingly out of character, so the question, again, comes up, how did it happen? What happened?
A:
Well, I can’t really talk much about the legal side of things. But as far as where I was? It’s a long journey. I can’t be particularly specific about it. But you get yourself into situations and you have to kind of deal with it. And I’ve gone through a lot between the arrest, marital split, stresses within the band and so on. I’d love to be able to sum it up and say, ‘well, that’s the life of an artist,’ or something like that. But it’s not. It’s part of the process of getting older and examining what you want from your life. It’s hard for me to be any more specific about it.

Q: Did your arrest make you a kind of incongruent player in the band? That you no longer fit because the trauma was so radical?
A: I don’t know if that’s totally the case. But I’ve always been a fairly formidable force in the group. Both as an energizing force and, occasionally when we don’t agree on stuff, as a negative one. But that’s part of being a leader, in a way. In a certain way, I’ve been a leader of the band, a co-leader along with Ed, for so long. And creatively we didn’t always see eye to eye. But we always found compromises. It comes to a point where compromise isn’t always the goal you’re looking for. What you’re looking for is peace. As opposed to concession. And I think that’s not just me talking about how I get along with them, I think that’s just essentially me being in that five-way partnership for so long. What you were going for in your story was kind of, well, is this kind of scandal the real Steven Page? Or is it some kind of thing we don’t understand? And I think there’s just many facets
to everybody’s life. It’s not about being an artist or about being a social activist or a father or a partner or any of those other things. It’s all part of the puzzle.

Q: But can you have a drug arrest and be a Barenaked Lady, given the reputation of the band, given the fact that you’d released a kid’s album? Was that at all part of what drove your departure?
A: I’ve always struggled with my identity inside of Barenaked Ladies. As much as our repertoire was so varied, and emotionally varied, the image of the band, it’s pretty, not only well-scrubbed, but jovial and so on. And that’s not always my personality. So I think the arrest isn’t even the issue as it is kind of where do I fit as a personality inside of that image we created for ourselves–the image I created for my own self.

Q: What were the consequences of that occasional disconnect? For you?
A:
I’m not trying to suggest that I’m always angsty or un-Barenaked Lady, but I always saw that Barenaked Ladies image as being only a portion of who I am.

Q: A lot of people are going to ask, what is the future of the Barenaked Ladies without Steven Page. Some people will wonder if it’s going to be a viable operation. What do you think?
A:
It’s anybody’s guess. I look at it this way: They’re a great band regardless. I’m not a particularly strong instrumentalist. Think of that four-piece without my guitar playing, it’s not that different. You know, I came up with some good parts here and there. A lot of those songs Ed and I wrote together and from what I understand he’s going to sing them himself. I’m sure they’ll still be a good band. I think a lot of it depends on what their next record sounds like. I imagine that the physical energy that I exert on stage will be a difficult thing to follow up, as well as just the classic sound of the band. But, you know what, I think they’re a good band and they have every chance of continuing to succeed.

Q: Is it going to be a rock ‘n’ roll band, it’s not that they’re going to be producing another niche record for kids or what not?
A:
Absolutely. They want to go ahead and make a rock ‘n’ roll record.

Q: If there was friction between what you wanted and who you were in the band, what are we going to see of Steven Page unbound?
A:
Well, look at the range already between theatrical stuff and the Art of Time stuff. I’ve got almost two sets of material, one is kind of pop-rock and the classic Steven Page style, I think, and one is more adventurous, using chamber orchestra sounds maybe with a cabaret influence or a theatrical influence, those kinds of things—that all those reared their head inside of Barenaked Ladies’ music. I think about songs like Sell, Sell, Sell or Running Out of Ink, that are my songs that I’ve always been incredibly proud of, but I think that there’s room for a whole record of that stuff. Talking about it makes me a little excited.

Q: Do you remain in a relationship with Christine Benedicto?
A: We’re doing great.

Q: You live in Toronto?
A: I live in Toronto but I’m in Syracuse a lot.

Q: Who is feeling the most emotional about your departure?
A: Of the two parties? Frankly, the people who are most emotional right now–although, I don’t want to diminish the way that Ed and Tyler and Jim feel, or the way I feel, but I think the fans are really affected. People are really, some people, are really devastated by this. And it’s devastating for us, it’s been 20 years, it’s been this incredibly close relationship, and hopefully that, on a personal level, will continue. I can’t see why it won’t. We’re bound like brothers in a way. But for the audience, for them to not see the five of us together doing that thing we do, that’s a difficult thing for them to get their heads around. And frankly, it’s a difficult thing for me to get my head around. I wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m not a Barenaked Lady anymore… I might not sing If I Had A Million Dollars anymore.’ Those kinds of things, they’ve been who I am for so long.

Q: Do you envision never singing it again?
A: I wouldn’t sing it on my own. It’s a duet. I feel like it’s almost sacred. It’s me and Ed. But if we get together for, you know, Live 8 2030.

Q: How long have you not been a Barenaked Lady at this point?
A: It’s been just about a week since we kind of finally decided.

Q: What was the scene of that decision? Where were you? What were you doing?
A: We got together at Jim Creeggan’s house and we had a band meeting. And we all had lots to present to each other about possibilities for the future and this is where we ended up. I don’t think for really any of us it was really where we wanted to end up but we kind of realized it was the best way we could all move forward.

Q: Did you arrive at the meeting knowing that this was going to be its conclusion or was it a decision that took place at the meeting?
A: I knew it was on our list of options. I don’t think any of us knew what the outcome was going to be. And you know, we’ve been talking about it since, obviously.

Q: Were they surprised?
A: I don’t know if anybody was surprised. Emotional–everybody’s emotional about it. But this wasn’t a sole decision. It was something that we came up with together. And we had to all agree on it.

Q: When my co-writer, Cathy Gulli, and I were talking about this today, we wondered, what is really going on behind the scenes? Is it all contained in the announcement?
A: Yeah. The thing is, the announcement was hard to phrase. Because for all of us, we all want to show we’re moving forward and we all want to show that nobody hates anybody. Because all that stuff is the truth. And you know people are going to try their best to read between the lines. Nobody else can be in the tour bus with the band or in the dressing room with the band and see the stuff that we’re thinking about. And it’s hard for us to always
articulate it. But there comes a point, especially when you know each other as well as the five of us do after so long, that you kind of realize that this chapter’s over.

Q: But it’s not over for them?
A: Well, the chapter’s over. They’re moving over to a new one. We’re all moving over to a new one.

Q: What did you think of our story?
A: I had trouble with it. Obviously it was a terrible time for us. I was pleased that…honestly, I felt like, you couldn’t find any dirt on me. Because there really wasn’t. I felt like I am that guy that my friends know. And that made me feel good. Christine wasn’t so crazy about you guys grabbing her picture off Flickr.

Q: Did you think we were going after dirt?
A: Yeah, I got that sense. It felt like it was going for scandal. And my sense was that the conclusion of it was, well, there’s not much beyond these facts. That he was arrested and he’s in a new relationship. And that was kind of the deal. So I was pleased with that angle of it. But it’s hard to read a whole thing about yourself like that.

Q: Do you think you’d still be a Barenaked Lady without the arrest?
A: I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Not because of any kind of punishment or changes in dynamic, necessarily. But I think the arrest certainly pushed me to think harder about making what I think are positive changes in my life.

Q: What was the immediate feeling of that event.
A: Well, the hardest thing was all the media attention. It just felt inescapable.

Q: You had to hide out somewhere?
A: You feel like you do. And I really felt like I had to protect my kids. It was hard on them. That part of it made it really difficult.

Q: Was it an embarrassment? It must have been a whole cocktail of feelings.
A: Yeah, there’s all those things. It’s not what I’m used to being in the news for. If you’re on the front page of a magazine or a newspaper, you want to be on the front page for the quality of your music. So that’s a tough thing to face.

Q: Even having my byline on something, it’s risky.
A: When you put your name to something, you put yourself out there. And in the world of the Internet, in the world of comments on news sites and all those kinds of things, it can be a lot to swallow. Even a man with the thickest skin would have a hard time with that.




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The Macleans.ca Interview: Steven Page

  1. Wait a minute…making the new BNL record would be a “two-year investment”? They want to record in April, have the album maybe out by the fall, and then tour it a bit. And the last big tour — the B.L.A.M. American tour — was two months long. You’ve got to use some pretty fuzzy math to get to two full years on this.

    Scheduling is a lame excuse. The fans deserve better. If you decided that making your own music was more important, Steve, please just say it. Be straight with us. We’ll support you, anyway.

    • For 20 years the band made music and you enjoyed it, but in truth Barenaked Ladies OWES you NOTHING.

      • Every group that goes out and tours for their livelihood is a bit in debt to the audience who supports them. Remove the audience, and they go back home to work day jobs.

        BNL has been great to their fans over the years, and in turn, the fans have kept coming back to shows. It’s a two-way street, a symbiotic relationship. After 20 years, just be straight with the fans. And it IS good that we’re getting more straight answers since the Web site announcement.

        That said, I do feel really bad for Steve after reading Terry McBride’s comments. Mr. Page deserved better.

  2. Who cares what his real reasons are – it doesn’t matter. My hats off to the band and Steve for the way they’re carrying themselves through this. I’m not a huge BNL fan, but I’ve always been impressed with the attitude of the members of this band. They really do seem like the guys who live down the street that you play road hockey with from time to time. If that’s public persona only, then so be it. I don’t need to know what they do in their off time, because quite frankly, it’s none of my business.

    Good luck in the future Steve – all the best and thanks for the memories.

    • To a big BNL fan, the reasons do matter, and I would think the band would understand that. The band has always been very fan-friendly and straightforward, and the result of that is a very loyal fan base that has kept arenas packed for them, even when they aren’t on the radio. The lame “well, it was just time” stuff is actually kinda insulting. Be straight with the people who allow you to keep on being rock stars. Just come out and say the truth — “hey, I love the band, but I don’t want to compromise my artistic vision.” That’s understandable.

      • You’re nuts.

        Maybe he’s tired of it. Period.

        20 years of doing the same thing is more than a lot of people can handle. And if it also includes living up to an expectation (hint) then it would drive most people crazy.

        FWIW

        • It’s not “nuts” to have expectations. For instance, you pay money to go to a concert and you expect to get your money’s worth.

          If Mr. Page is just tired of the lifestyle, hey, I think anyone would understand. But just say so. I do commend him on being a little clearer with each interview he’s given:
          http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090227/ap_en_mu/people_barenaked_ladies_5

  3. I think Steven Page is trying to be as honest as he can. He’s not giving excuses, he’s trying to explain the cross-roads of life. For 5 members of a band to be as tight as they have been for 20 yrs is quite an accomplishment. People grow and change. I wish Steve all the very best and I’m sure the BNL will find their own niche in a different direction. Change is always hard but sometimes it’s the only way.

  4. I still think Steve was told to hit the road! How good does it look, getting ready to release a kid’s album and the lead singer is busted for dope. They will do just as well without him, Ed was the creative one of the bunch anyway. In 2 or 3 years they will probably ask him back and everything will be crazy as ever.

    • You think that after 20 years — and 10 years of friendship before that with Ed — they’d tell him to leave because of one mistake? Friends don’t do that to friends. And friends don’t try to besmirch each other’s value after a big shake up.

      That was left up to Terry McBride. : (

      • Well, if they were such good friends this wouldn’t be happening. Sometimes knowing someone for eons doesn’t mean you really know them. People can be foxes in sheep’s clothing.

        • Fired Perhaps?? 4 guys wanting to continue a proud legacy. One who doesn’t. Was it Pages choice?? One day the real story may come out. It looks to me like 4 guys were on the same page, and one guy wasn’t. Would you choose to leave a very lucrative job in the middle of a recession to pursue a lower paying gamble?? My gut says he was fired, and all parties are being respectful to each other

      • You say “one mistake”…. he was caught once, think of all the years that he wasnt caught. And yes Bands break up when one of the members, would rather get high.

        • Unless you have some sort of evidence you’d like to present to the proper authorities, that’s just conjecture.

  5. This was a great interview and I really appreciate the quality of the questions as well as the candor of the answers.

    I still tear up a little bit at the thought of some songs never being sung again, or never being performed the same way; they’re such great songs and Steven Page has been my favourite vocalist for the past two decades. But, I’m also excited about seeing what “BNL-The Next Generation” has to bring to the table. They’re simply too talented (dare I say, “awesome”) to not pull off something spectacular.

    I just can’t thank BNL enough for the music they’ve given us, and wish everyone the best moving forward.

  6. I don’t understand, why people care. Not that it doesn’t matter. There are bands now that are trying to make it and maybe something happened to them but you don’t here about them. It’s the music, why don’t people understand. Yes, they have been making music for 20 years and thats enough for me, and making more is up to them. I’m sorry, but thinking too much about this situation can make you loose your own life.

  7. All the best, Mr. Page. You are a talented artist, and I look forward forward to your new solo album.

  8. 20 yrs is a long time. It doesn’t surprise me that Mr.Page has other life dreams he wishes to accomplish. Good luck to you sir.

  9. Don’t get your knickers in a knot over this! Even the Beatles didn’t stay together for more than a few years and we still love them.
    The BNL lasted longer than most marriages……even their own.
    Thanks for 20 great years. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

  10. I like how stephen puts it: “I think we all realized that we had different ideas about what we wanted to do in the future”. Translation: I want to be a coke head, and the rest of the band doesnt. What a selfish PRICK

    • Good Lord, what could you possibly know about the reasons, Aaron!? As Pat pointed out, even the Beatles were together for little more than 6 years in the public eye (in North America, at least). BNL have been at it for 3 times as long! I can easily see an irresistable urge develop to try out other projects and make them one’s focus, rather than it always relegated to secondary pursuits when time allows. Why dont YOU stop being a judgemental dick, Aaron. Mr. Page owes you nothing and he gave all of us lots of great music to enjoy as a long-time, integral part of the BNL band. I’m sure, that Steven’s music will continue to bring us joy going forward too… but probably not to such faultless beings as yourself.

    • It’s hard to keep a band together these days. It’s a great thing that Steven was forthcoming about the reasons why he had life problems. Gotta hand it to him.

  11. My wife and I have enjoyed BNL tremendously. Having seen them live a couple of times, we thought it would be interesting to see Steve try Broadway. He is so powerful a singer. It looks as though something along those lines are coming to fruition. We saw the band on The Today Show yesterday, and it was very strange without Steve. Who else could sing The Old Apartment or Jane…. NO ONE ELSE !!!
    I wish Steve and the band continued success.

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