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INTERVIEW - Get Your Fake Nudes Here

Barenaked Ladies return with new album and tour

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, October 2017, page 30)
L to R: Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart
L to R: Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart
Image by: Matt Barnes

For nearly 30 years The Barenaked Ladies has been one of Canada’s favourite bands and a worldwide ambassador for our country. On November 17th the band released their 15th studio album Fake Nudes and embarked on a cross-Canada tour. The band performs in Calgary November 20th, Medicine Hat the 21st and Edmonton the 23rd.

"We were in the studio like most people in January and early February watching CNN with our jaws on the floor in disbelief as the goal post kept getting moved further and further into the unconscionable. I said Fake Nudes and it resonated with all of us. I said I think that has to be the name of our record," Ed Robertson told Robertson may be considered the "frontman" of the band but BNL is very much a group effort. Bandmates Jim Creeggan (bass), Kevin Hearn (guitar/keyboards), and Tyler Stewart (drums) all contribute vocals and songs. Fake Nudes features six songs written by Hearns, the most of any previous BNL record.

"This is a record where I started writing really early because I was getting tired of that overwhelming stressful feeling of getting close to recording time and not having enough songs to make a record. I’m a lifelong procrastinator," Robertson recalled. "Over the last couple of projects, I’ve really tried to force myself to engage in writing early. Heading into this record I had over 30 songs, Kevin came with around 14 and Jim had a couple. It was very exciting and relaxing to sit down and go ‘ok we have almost 50 songs, what kind of record do we want to make here?"

One of things that has made the band unique is their lyrics. Whether it’s different fancy ketchups for Kraft Dinner or songs about postcards from chimpanzees there’s always something unique about the lyrics. The song Dusty Rooms about living in hotels, written and sung by Hearn, includes the lyrics I gave in, I went for a spin and what did I find? A little tin full of tarantula skin and a house full of butterflies.

"I think we are a product of what we like and our interests. I loved that lyric right away in Kev’s song Dusty Rooms. That song resonated with all of us because it’s what we’ve lived for the last 30 years. I am always looking for an interesting way to say something, or an interesting detail. Often with songwriting you don’t want to paint the whole picture, just give the detail that lets people see it. That is an example of one of those lines that paints an image of a dusty run-down motel with knick-knacks in the lobby. It paints the whole chapter with just one little detail."

With hundreds of songs in the catalogue, narrowing down the show can be a challenge for any artist that has been around as long as BNL.

"We are lucky in that we have a huge body of work to draw from. We have a lot of hits over the years that we can use as bartering with the audience to allow us to play new songs. If I give the audience an hour of songs that they are familiar with and want to hear like The Old Apartment, Enid, Pinch Me, Brian Wilson, that gives me a voucher to play a couple of new songs. I have fun with it that way. I love our old material too. It’s not a burden to play 28-year-old songs because I am proud of them, I wrote them. We are playing four or five songs from the new record. The rest are mostly hits and a couple of deep cuts we swap out nightly. I think the audience is getting an extremely entertaining evening."

One of the aspects of a Barenaked Ladies show that stands out is the improvisation and jokes that seem to flow from them as easily as the songs. A few years ago, at a Calgary show an off the cuff joke about a kraken filtered through the entire show. No 2 BNL shows are alike and the humor between them is part of what makes such a great show.

"To me those spontaneous moments on the stage are the whole show. I know the songs are going to be great because we work really hard. We rehearse those songs, we really focus on the harmony singing. We take performance very seriously but don’t take ourselves seriously at all. Those moments of improv and spontaneity during the show is the whole show for me. That makes or breaks an evening. If those things are fun and go well, I’ve had a great show. That trust we put in each other to not just walk the tightrope but walk it with three other people depending on you is exciting, adventurous, and I love that sometimes these songs come out that people would refuse to believe they are not written and rehearsed ahead of time. They have versus that make sense and choruses sung in harmony but it’s just the four of us listening to each other and going for it. That’s really exciting for me and differentiates our band from so many others."

It’s been a tough few years for music fans losing artists like Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington dying young and legends like Leonard Cohen and David Bowie passing away. As a fan it does effect Robertson.

"Prince, Tom Petty, the list goes on and on. It’s been a brutal couple of years. All of those people were just artists I am a fan of and all of them left their body of work behind. I will always be finding meaning and inspiration in that art. That is the beautiful thing about art is it does live on. It is sad and tragic to lose those people that are a big influence. There were a lot of people with a massive body of work that there is so much more to explore in it."

The loss of The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie last month hit Robertson especially hard.

"Losing Gord was hard because he was a colleague, a family friend, and a neighborhood school dad. Our kids played hockey together and in bands together. That was like losing an older brother for me, it was a whole different experience."

The conversation about artists when they pass or retire often touches on their legacy. There is no doubt that The Barenaked Ladies have become ingrained in pop culture. Whether it’s their song being the theme to The Big Bang Theory, being mentioned on shows like Supergirl and Community or the memories fans have of shows and songs, Barenaked Ladies has become part of us all. While it is obvious Robertson appreciates the history of the band, which marks 30 years in 2018, he prefers to look forward.

"I don’t really think about what the legacy of this band would be. Someone asked me recently how we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band. I am celebrating by releasing Fake Nudes and going out and doing great shows and plowing forward. I don’t think there’s a lot of value as an artist in looking backwards or thinking about the effect that what you are doing is having. I think the best thing we can do to celebrate is to march forward and do great shows. When I think about next year I don’t think about 30 years in Barenaked Ladies. I think about the UK tour in April and the Last Summer on Earth US tour with our pals Better Than Ezra and KT Tunstall and think Fuck this is going to be a fun year."

Recent years have seen bands like Moist, I Mother Earth and The Tea Party reunite, as well as the "never going to happen" Gun’s n Roses reunion. While Barenaked Ladies has paved their own path since the departure of Steven Page in 2009, fans do wonder if there will ever be a reuniting of Page and the band.

"I am a never say never kind of guy. I can’t see it happening any time soon. I worked with Steve for 20 years and wrote 10 records with him. I feel very much a part of that. It would be Steve coming back to this timeline that is still going. All that material we are still playing live every night, I am sure he is too. For me it was just a parting of ways. We had explored everything we could do creatively together. 20 years is a long time to work together. It’s like with the 30th I don’t have any nostalgic or retrospective desire to go backwards, I want to go forwards."

Forward they will go this week. Performing at the Jack Singer Concert Hall November 20th, The Esplanade Performing Arts Centre in Medicine Hat November 21st and the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton November 23rd. Renowned for their live show, expect another memorable evening from The Barenaked Ladies.

"I always say expect the unexpected with a Barenaked Ladies show. We are going to play songs you are familiar with and surprise you with some off the beaten path stuff and new stuff. Every single show will have spontaneity to it. It’s a band firing on all cylinders and doing their best to entertain everyone in the room."

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Contributor Jason Clevett |

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