Page: Permanent reunion with BNL won’t happen
Earlier this year, Steven Page received a series of texts from Ed Robertson.
They included pictures of old set lists from the Barenaked Ladies, the band the two singer-songwriters formed as a duo in the suburbs of Scarborough, Ont., back in the 1980s and co-fronted for more than 20 years before Page left the fold in 2009.
“It was funny, I look at these set lists from 1990 or something and I can still rhyme off what the order of the first seven songs in the set were,” says Page, in an interview with Postmedia earlier this week from his home in New York City. “Because we did it so much in those days. The idea of calling out a set list and writing it out was so rote for the most part. So to see that, in my own handwriting, 25 to 30 later, was fun.”
Fun always seemed to be ingrained into the DNA of the Barenaked Ladies, one of Canada’s most successful acts that amassed a giant following here and abroad thanks to cheerfully goofy songs such as If I Had $1,000,000 and One Week. Which may be why Page’s departure from the band nearly a decade ago seemed such a shock. The split was, at least by Canadian showbiz standards, mildly scandalous and more than a little acrimonious. The decision to part ways was officially made by “mutual agreement,” but occurred not long after Page’s highly publicized drug bust in New York.
Until recently, he had not been in the same room with the other four members in nine years. On Wednesday, Page will join former bandmates Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Tyler Stewart and Robertson at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, for a formal plaque ceremony as part of BNL’s induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. It also marked the launch of Milestones: Barenaked Ladies at the National Music Centre, an exhibition that opens to the public on Thursday and features a treasure trove of artifacts from BNL’s history. Presumably, some of those old set lists will be on hand, as is the acoustic guitar Robertson used in the video for Falling for the First Time and early cassette demos Page made of songs that appeared on 1994’s Maybe You Should Drive and 1996’s Born on a Pirate Ship. For his part, Page enlisted his parents, who were apparently unofficial archivists for the band’s early history, for help unearthing memorabilia for the exhibition.
“I wish I could find perfect books of lyrics, where it’s like: ‘Hey, here’s all the lyrics from the Gordon album,’ ” says Page, referring to the band’s 1992 major label debut. “But it ended up being books that have shopping lists, diary entries, love letters or whatever, and in the middle of it are the lyrics to Old Apartment.”
BNL have continued to tour and release albums since 2009. But Page and his former bandmates have had plenty of opportunities to look back at their colourful history and early days as of late. In March, the five reunited to perform One Week and If I Had $1,000,000 at the Juno Awards in Vancouver to mark their induction into the Hall of Fame. Page said the night was a “blast,” went by very quickly and was “not nearly as weird” as he feared it would be.
“We’re guys who knew each other for a long time,” he says. “There’s baggage and there’s lots of water under the bridge but there’s lots of great shared history and friendship. The biggest thing for me, at Juno time, was meeting everybody’s kids 10 years later. Some of these kids weren’t even born yet when I left and I had never met them. Others are adults now. Having those guys meet my kids as young adults, that was exciting and new and that’s out of the way. And now we’ll go and have some good memories to share and be off on our merry ways after that.”
Creeggan, Hearn, Stewart and Robertson were indeed off on their merry ways after the plaque ceremony, but Page is sticking around. As part of the National Music Centre’s RBC Master in Residence program, he will be spending the next couple of days mentoring a handful of emerging artists that he helped pick. The three-day program will end with a Songwriter’s Circle on May 19.
“I think the focus will be on writing,” says Page. “But, really, whatever anybody wants to pick my brain about or discuss is up for grabs, too.”
As for sharing his own tricks of the trade, he admits he is not the most disciplined of songwriters, which is ironic since his upcoming sixth solo record is called Heal Thyself Pt. 2: Discipline.
“I’m a horrific procrastinator,” Page says. “I basically get ideas when I’m not in a position to be writing, like when I’m driving or travelling or somewhere where I don’t want to be singing into my phone in front of strangers. I get home and think ‘I should be working from 9 until 4 every day, writing.’ Unless I’m co-writing with somebody else, I’m terrible at that. I’ll go downstairs and pull a guitar out and play or I’ll tell myself I’m researching by watching Netflix. It just kind of gestates for quite a long time.”
Still, like BNL, Page has soldiered on and has been productive since 2009. Discipline, due out this summer, is the followup to 2016’s Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct, a collection of candid songs that addressed, among other things, the songwriter’s experiences with mental illness. In 2011, Page went on CBC’s The Current to discuss publicly for the first time his struggles with depression and anxiety. Since then, he has regularly given talks about living with mental illness.
“I think one of the things that people feel when they are struggling is ‘why me?’ or ‘This can’t be real, because my life is good. What do I have to be anxious about or depressed about?’ ” Page says. “Which is not really the way it works. It’s not really about something. I had a lot of those same feelings and thought ‘I got it pretty good here.’ But it didn’t make me immune to depression and anxiety. I’m not all fixed either. It’s a work in progress and I’ve learned to work hard at it and hopefully can give people some inspiration to do that as well.”
As for BNL’s induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Page says he is proud of the honour and what the band has accomplished. Still, he says a permanent reunion with the other members is not in the cards, although he doesn’t rule out singing with them again at some point.
“It was pleasant enough when we did it last time that my knee-jerk reaction wouldn’t be no,” he says. “But I know that both parties have tons of other stuff on the go. I can’t speak for those guys, I don’t know if they would have any interest in doing anything together. I don’t think anybody wants me to be back in the band full time, myself included. But to do something together, a one-off or whatever, it’s nice to see we’re all grown-ups and could probably do it, especially if the occasion was the right one.”
Milestones: Barenaked Ladies opens May 17 and runs until February 2019 at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.