The Macleans.ca Interview: Steven Page - Macleans.ca

The Macleans.ca Interview: Steven Page

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

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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.