Steven Page's barenaked truths

Supplied publicity photo
Steven Page Supplied publicity photo

At age 34, Steven Page is a rock star, the lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies. The once obscure, Canadian quintet of fully clothed men has risen to international fame on the back of their best-selling pop records and constant touring.

Page is the lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies (or BNL, as they’re known to fans), which he formed with singer-guitarist Ed Robertson in 1988 while the two childhood friends were at summer music camp in Scarborough, Ontario.

The band’s first full-length CD, Gordon, introduced their intoxicating pop sound and Page’s clever lyrics to North American audiences in 1992. But, it wasn’t until the popularity of the Grammy-nominated Stunt that BNL became a radio staple around the world.

The band’s unique concert style, filled with song improvisations and silly banter, developed naturally, according to Page.

“It’s just the way Ed and I related to each other, the way we enjoyed making music together,” he says.

However, it’s the old classics from BNL’s first album, some of which Page wrote as a teenager, which elicit the strongest fan response.

How do you prepare for shows? Is it different lately?
I’m terrible at warming up. Now we are changing our clothes when going onstage, making a difference to our appearance. Before we would wear what we had on. Now we delineate the difference between ordinary life and stage life.

You’ve been performing many of your hits for almost fifteen years now. Do you ever tire of your own songs?
I don’t really get sick of them. Occasionally there are ones that you do. I see other guys in the band that really struggle sometimes. Being a front person is different. If I were playing drums, I’d get sick of it. Part of the charm of performing with us is the banter and the chitchat. My wheels are spinning during the breaks. For me, that’s a fresh experience. For songs I don’t sing, I look at the audience and I get a sense of where I am. But sometimes I think, “God, that’s not doing anything for me right now. Did I sing the third verse?” We did an entire tour last fall where we didn’t do “If I Had a Million Dollars,” just for the fact that we could.

What do you think makes BNL stand out among the litany of ephemeral pop acts today?
Some of it has to do with the personality with the band members and that fans have gotten to know us and grown up with us to. It’s the value of the songs for those people. This song, or this or that album, they tell us ‘it reminds me of a special time in my life.’ Rather than see this as transient, they see it as timeless.

Okay, you guys can be pretty goofy. Do you think that has helped you professionally or hindered you? Are you serious about your work? Should people be taking you more seriously?
I think we’ve always taken ourselves seriously, even when we profess not to. We certainly didn’t want people to misunderstand what we were trying to do. They did both things in large numbers. At this point we certainly have more confidence in what we do. We are more tolerant of people who are dismissing us as a comedy band, but they miss out on the good work we do. But that’s partially our fault because of how we present ourselves. Something that really bothered us about other artists is their desire to be important, serious. That wasn’t the point of making music. We did it because it was fun. We weren’t going to pretend it wasn’t fun just to impress people. We’re lucky enough to have a fan base that appreciates our fun stuff and our serious stuff. Like any kind of friendship that you have, you have different sets of emotions that you go through when you spend time with them.

Do you ever run into fans that take your music too seriously?
Sometimes I run into people who think they have a deeper connection [with me] than they really do.
On the Internet and chat rooms, people say all kinds of crap about me and they believe it 100 percent. They read into the lyrics or how I walked past them one day and they think they can tell what’s going on in my life. You have to take it with a grain of salt. You have to just ignore it sometimes.

What’s it like to take a Canuck band with a wacky sense of humour and perform in, say, Japan or Britain? Do they get it? Do you have to change things up for them to get the gags?
Early on, we thought that’s what we had to do. I’m always the guy who is most nervous about that kind of thing. When we first toured Japan or Germany, we once thought that they wouldn’t [appreciate our] culture or sense of humor. One year we opened for Bryan Adams when he toured Scandinavia and Germany… they still loved it. Of course, we would try to incorporate the five words we knew [of their language], which they always found funny at our expense.

There are actually more differences in Alberta versus Texas. Europeans have a generalized knowledge of North America. Places across North America sometimes are very vigilant about their otherness – they are NOT New York or Toronto. When we go to Alberta, we get the sneering from newspapers as “the Ontario band.” It has nothing to do with the value of my music or me as a human being, just the city I grew up in.

What kind of preparation do you do for albums?
We try to get the full recording done within six or eight weeks. As far as the sound of the record goes, we have no idea. If we go in thinking that way, it never works out that way, and it’s never organic. I think it’s important for us to sound like ourselves, first and foremost.

Are you worried that the next album is not going to be as good, or as well received as the last?
It’s dangerous but you can’t help but think about it. What do people want from our records? Nothing stale, derivative. If you try too hard to be a marketing person instead of being a creative person, you overanalyze your back catalogue instead of moving forward.

Have you ever lied in bed, just like Bryan Wilson did?
There are lots of points in my life where I thought “what would happen if I just didn’t get out of bed today?” I think that song [“Brian Wilson”] is about the power of music to help you find value in your life, either as a creator or a listener.

Tell me something no one knows about you.
I’m half man, half fish.

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