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Barenaked Ladies find their footing

Departure not slowing Canadian Hall of Famers; visiting Embassy on Oct. 2

Barenaked Ladies will be at Embassy Theatre on Oct. 2.

Alan Sculley

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 28, 2022

Back in 2018, Barenaked Ladies got one of the highest honors a Canadian music act can receive when they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

For the occasion, the current four-man lineup of lead singer/guitarist Ed Robertson, drummer Tyler Stewart, bassist Jim Creeggan, and keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn reunited with singer/guitarist Steven Page, who left the band in 2009 to pursue a solo career, a split that according to most accounts involved some tension.

Media coverage of the induction featured plenty of speculation over whether the reunion would result in emotional fireworks, or would possibly lead to a lasting reunion with Page, who along with Robertson, wrote the bulk of the songs that made Barenaked Ladies the biggest band in Canada during the 1990s, when early singles like “If I Had $1,000,000” and “Jane” blew up in Canada, and later on “It’s All Been Done,” “One Week” and “Pinch Me” became global hits.

That sort of coverage missed the point, according to Stewart.

“Ultimately it was beautiful because to be recognized by your peers and by the Canadian music establishment as hall-of-fame worthy was really incredible,” he said. “But yeah, there was definitely lots of focus on the fact that after 11 years or whatever it was, we were getting back together with Steven. But ultimately, that was really easy. On a personal level, we just got together and rehearsed the songs and laughed and talked about our kids, kind of like we used to do. Instead of playing music, we snacked and told jokes. That’s sort of how it went. And that was great. I think the media were expecting something different and certainly tried to push a narrative of, ‘Hey, they’re getting back together.’ And it’s like actually, both parties have no real intention of that. I think both sides are quite happy with where things are at.”

Four years later, Page continues to build his solo career. And the four-piece edition of Barenaked Ladies seems more established than ever, and will visit Embassy Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 2. 

Moving full steam ahead

Proceeding without Page, Barenaked Ladies  released Detour de Force in 2021, then a deluxe edition in June.

The 14-song album is the most musically ambitious, wide-ranging album in the band’s 16-album catalog. It includes four songs written by Hearn and two Creeggan co-writes to go with Robertson’s songs. The music ranges from the hooky rock-pop of “Flip,” “Good Life,” and “New Disaster” to warm pop ballads like “God Forbid,” “Live Well,” and “The National Park” to the lively horn-infused rocker “Roll Out” and a multifaceted five-minute-plus opus, “Internal Dynamo.”

Ironically, the band started the project expecting to make a more modest, largely acoustic, and live-in-the-studio album, and in early 2020, gathered at Robertson’s cabin in Northern Ontario with producer Mark Howard to record that very album. 

Finding their voice

The four musicians emerged in March 2020 with a dozen or so songs and feeling great about the band’s internal chemistry.

“I think if anything, we confirmed the magic that has been percolating ever since we became a four-piece,” Stewart said of the cottage session. “I think one of the great things is now each band member kind of gets to utilize more space. We all get more space to be ourselves within the group. So, whether that means bringing songs in and singing lead on them, or singing different parts or helping arranging in different sessions or co-writes, whatever, I think each guy does a lot more now than when we were a five piece. That continues to grow. That continues to evolve, and we continue to broaden everybody’s involvement.”

But the four band members also felt they didn’t have a finished album. 

“We kind of were thinking you know what, we’d like to maybe beef some of these (songs) up,” Stewart said. “There were a couple of songs we didn’t record, which were more kind of production numbers, songs like ‘Flip’ and ‘Good Life,’ things like that. So we decided to go back into the studio in Toronto. 

“We kind of married the two (sessions),” the drummer said. “We got the acoustic off-the-floor, intimate sessions mixed with the bigger, shinier, full studio production. So there you go, the album is ‘Detour de Force,’ but we had to take a detour to get it there.”

Going live

Now, Barenaked Ladies are back to playing live, having brought their “Last Summer on Earth” tour to the states over the summer with the Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket as opening acts. 

They are now headlining shows for the fall, and Stewart said he and his bandmates are getting creative with the set lists.

“You’re going to see a very varied set,” he said. “You’re going to see some departures musically. You’re going to see some different guys singing lead vocals, taking over. We’re going to try to vary the set as much as we can. We kind of made a commitment as well to do some acoustic (versions) and to not limit ourselves in any way. Even if it’s an electric song, we’ll break it down to its simplest element and play it acoustically.”

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