Interview: Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies

Interview: Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies
November 16, 2006 01:14 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

For 15-plus years, Barenaked Ladies have watched their fans become part of the band's family. Attending a BNL concert has become a rite of passage to some. The Canadian pop act, known for its witty and sarcastic lyrics, acknowledges this and honors those fans with the title of the latest album, "Barenaked Ladies are Me."

"I think fans feel a lot of ownership over this band," singer/songwriter Eric Robertson said. "They're very vested in what we do and how we do it. We see so much interaction from not just shows and our website but from the blog we maintain, and with the title we just wanted to reflect that.

"People feel we're their band," he added. "The people who come out to see us time and time again, it's their thing. It's what identifies them. It's gone beyond these five guys making music. It's people identifying themselves through it. We kind of wanted to reach out and embrace that a bit."

The band--which also includes singer/guitarist Steven Page, bassist Jim Creeggan, drummer Tyler Stewart and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn-- released the new album Sept. 12. It is the group's most mellow to date, marking a departure from its humor-filled collections that include songs such as "One Week," "Be My Yoko Ono" and "If I Had a Million Dollars."

On the eve of the Barenaked Ladies' tour, Robertson talked to LiveDaily about the change in tempo, adapting the new material for the stage and the potential downside of hosting a cruise.

LiveDaily: Are you looking forward to the tour?

Ed Robertson: Hell no. I'm excited about playing all this new music, but I'm very unexcited about sleeping on a tour bus again. It sucks a trailer load of a--. [Laughs]

I'm looking forward to hearing the songs from the new album.

We're all really happy with it. Oddly, I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's a very band-oriented record; we recorded it very naturally. All the stuff is translating really naturally to live. Where it seems like in the past the new songs took a couple weeks of rehearsal to kind of work them in and figure out how to play them, some of these songs, from the first time we played them, it was like, "Oh that sounds really good." It was a lot of work on the back-up vocals because we went a little back-up vocal crazy on this record. So that's been a lot of work. But I'm looking forward to playing them.


BNL Easy - TheVideoSense.com


It must be really flattering to know that fans take such strong ownership of the band.

Yeah, flattering and frightening at the same time. There's this whole dominion of people who are in some ways reliant on what it is you do. At the root of it, you still need to be making music based on what moves you creatively, where your mood is at, what you're thinking about. Sometimes, it's daunting to realize that there are all these people listening.

Especially with this album. This seems like the most emotional album you've released so far.

I think for years, since we released "Maybe You Should Drive" [in 1994], every record we've put out, people say, "This is a much more serious record for you guys." It's just the fact that people don't think of us as a serious band. They only see us kind of clowning around and goofing around. That's certainly a huge part of who we are and who we've always been. Every time we release a record, people always say, "This is a much more mature record." For the first time, I think they might actually be right. This might be a more mature Barenaked Ladies record. We're older. We're 36 now. We're not 18 anymore. I think this record is more emotionally close, a little less guarded than records in the past. There's still wit there, but I think there's less sarcasm.

Why is that? Did that reflect the mood you were in at the time?

I think it's just where we are at writing right now, and what we wanted to say. It's a lot of music. We're thinking of it as all 29 of the songs [that were written for the album] that we released in various ways. It's kind of difficult to deconstruct and say what it's about. It's about a lot of things.

It's definitely a logical progression, though.

Yeah, absolutely. It felt really natural for us. That was kind of one of our main thrusts this time around--and to not worry about a collection of songs so much and not have to pare it down and say these are the 12 songs that represent where Barenaked Ladies are at right now. In the past, some really great songs have been left behind because they don't really hang with a small group of songs. It would shift the mood to too ballad-heavy, or too dark or too rock or whatever. This time around, it was very liberating to say, "We're going to work on all the songs and make each one as good as we can as a song, and we'll put them all out and not worry about it."

Was it hard to open up a little bit more, and make this a lot less guarded?

Um, yes. There are songs on this record that have been kicking around for a while that I was almost, maybe, too close to to finish them. There are some songs that are emotionally raw. Sometimes you just think, "Do I really want to go out there and play that song every night and talk about that song?" It was playing a part of one of those songs for a friend and having them say, "Wow, I think that's my favorite song I've ever heard you do." You realize sometimes things that are difficult for you as an artist or a writer connect the most. I think it was just not being afraid to let those songs in there. I know that some of the songs that I like the most are pretty emotionally raw. It was just having the guts or the abandon to let it go and let some of that stuff out there.

What song are you talking about?

Not telling.


BNL Wind It Up - TheVideoSense.com


Fair enough. It seems like on this album there was a lot more of the sharing of the vocal and writing duties. Would you say that's true?

Yes. I think, if anything, it was a decision to not think about it too much. The one big sticking point on this record was a song called "Sound of Your Voice," which is a song that Kev wrote and, when we first recorded it, Kev sang it. Our manager came back to us and said, "Love the song. Steve's got to sing it." We never work like that. All that stuff, we do on our own. Like, take a song like "Too Little Too Late." I wrote it, and Steve and I finished it together, but I said, "You'd be a lot better singing this. Your voice is just stronger for this kind of thing." Those kinds of decisions happen very organically. Things that I sing, things that Steve sings. Songs just seem to be suited for one guy's voice or the other. When Kev brought "Sound of Your Voice" to the band, we all really liked it. We were playing it, Kev sang it, it was great. We were all really into it. And then our manager was, like, "Steve's got to sing this one." We were like, "Oh, that's, like, weird now. Now we have to have this whole discussion." Kev, right from the beginning, was like, "I don't care. Have him sing it. Yeah, it's great. I like the song. He'd be great singing it." But we were all weirded out that we were going to upset Kev. Kev totally didn't care. Steve felt he was stepping on Kev's toes. Kev didn't really care--or did he? That was the whole discussion. In the end, Steve sang it and it was f---ing great. I liked Kev singing it, and I was like, "I don't want to let management push us around." And then Steve sang it, and it was amazing.

Are you going to be selling live CDs of each show?

Yes, we are. We've got our main ProTools man with us. He'll be mixing every show and uploading it the next day. We're trying to find a way to be able to sell them that night as people walk out of the show, but it's really difficult to pull off. We want the mix to be better. To do it that night, it would pretty much have to be a board tape or a live mix on the fly. If Paul can spend more time with it and actually mix it the next day, I think people actually get a better product in the end. So that's the route that we're going. We'll see what happens. If we can get up to speed with him mixing it on the fly, that would be pretty cool.

Are you going to be playing any Christmas songs as you get closer to the holidays?

When we get closer to Christmas. Probably not on the tour proper, which goes up until about Dec. 5, I think. Then we're gonna do a swing of Christmas shows after that. Not a proper Christmas tour like we've done the last two years, but we're going to tour still the 5th through the 21st, I think.

I see that you're doing a cruise, Ships and Dip, with Guster and the Barenaked Ladies' side projects. That is becoming a popular thing to do among bands.

I haven't heard of anyone doing it like we're doing it though. After we do it, maybe no one will want to do it, including us. [Laughs] We'll see how it goes. The cruises I've heard about, people go on a cruise, they pull up to an island somewhere, they get off the boat, there's a rock show, and then they get back on the boat and it's like being on a normal boat again, and maybe there's some cool bands on the boat or whatever. Our idea is to be very present on the boat, doing poolside karaoke, Scrabble tournaments on the deck, jam sessions and songwriting workshops. Our plan is to make it be a fan--and especially a real musical fan--dream trip. It remains to be seen if it's stalkertastic or not. We have an area on the ship we can retreat to if we need a little privacy, I believe it's called the boiler room. [Laughs] We'll see how it goes.

Where do you see Barenaked Ladies heading in the next couple years?

My goal and the goal of the band is to be less record focused, and just put out songs when we have them. Not focus on spending all this time recording a huge group of songs. I think the time has come for releasing a song this month, and releasing four songs three months later. Just whenever we have them, record them and put them out there. I think it's a better way to do it.



15+ years after their winsome indie debut, Canada's Barenaked Ladies come full circle here, dropping off the major label merry-go-round to re-embrace a DYI sensibility with typically breezy aplomb. But, as this collection's strong songs and crisp production attest, that hardly means the band didn't learn a thing or three during its successful tenure in the majors. The gorgeous melancholy of "Adrift" is apt preamble to a collection that's more thematically balanced and graced by an expansive sense of artistic democracy. While mainstays Steven Page and Ed Robertson contribute such patently torqued, BNL-mirthful fare as "Bank Job," "Bull in a China Shop," "Rule the World With Love" and "Wind It Up," there's a growing maturity and sense of reflection in their work as well, as evidenced by Page confessing his own emotional disconnection via the evocative, banjo-accordion lament "Everything Had Changed." But it's the strong, equally literate contributions of fellow band members Jim Creeggan ("Peterborough & the Kawathas") and Kevin Hearn ("Sound of Your Voice," "Vanishing") that truly expand BNL's horizons at a career juncture when many bands are all too happy to rest on their laurels or hew religiously to the formula that garnered them.

1 comment:

Janis said...

Eric Robertson, eh?
Heh, good interview. Interesting to read the part about the personally emotional songs, too. I'd wondered some about that, especially about some of the songs Ed wrote about his brother's death.
Barenaked Ladies are the best band ever.