Barenaked Ladies ready to return to stage after a Detour de Force

·7 min read
Barenaked Ladies hold their new album, Detour de Force. (Jennifer Gosnell/CBC - image credit)
Barenaked Ladies hold their new album, Detour de Force. (Jennifer Gosnell/CBC - image credit)

Among the four current members of Barenaked Ladies, there are differing feelings about returning to the stage. There is the predictable excitement, but it's not unanimous.

"I'm a little anxious about it," Kevin Hearn, guitarist and keyboardist with the band since 1995, said in an interview with CBC's Asha Tomlinson for The National.

"I'm a Cancerian, and the past couple of years I have really sort of introverted. The thought of getting back in front of that many people suddenly again just makes me a little nervous," he added.

"I wouldn't put so much stock in astrology, Kev," quipped the band's lead singer Ed Robertson, in a characteristic moment of Barenaked Ladies levity.

Other members of the band say they're eager to return to the concert stage as pandemic health restrictions ease. They are playing two U.S. shows this summer, and their first post-lockdown show was in Canada on Sept. 16. The band will begin a U.K. tour in the spring of 2022.

"For me, I'm very excited about it," said Tyler Stewart, the band's longtime drummer. "I feel like I can't wait to get back to doing it, because what I realized after not doing it for 18 months is how much a part of my identity it is to be with these guys and in front of people performing."

Despite his reservations, Hearn added that he's also really looking forward to the excitement that comes with performing for a live crowd again. "The energy is going to be amazing."

WATCH | Barenaked Ladies talk about the excitement of returning to the stage:

It's not that Barenaked Ladies have been idle over the past 18 months. Early on in the lockdown, the band launched their Selfie Cam Jam series on YouTube.

They revisited selections from their catalogue, recording individual parts at home. Then they sent them to their friend and filmmaker Edward Pond, who cut all the material together to create the illusion of virtual live performances. It was an ongoing pandemic project that entertained fans, but also helped the band.

"I know a lot of people were struggling with mental health, ourselves included," Robertson said. "So it was a way to keep busy, keep focused on positive things throughout a firehose of bad news that we were all subject to."

"It was something to look forward to," added Stewart. "And also a great way to connect with our catalogue."

WATCH | Barenaked Ladies Selfie Cam Jam, If I Had A Million Dollars:

For the band members, who have spent a huge amount of time on the road over the past 30 years, pandemic life was an adjustment. Being at home for unprecedented amounts of time with their families had its perks, but also its struggles.

"It was so nice," said bass player Jim Creeggan, "I had never cooked so much. We started having family meals together."

Stewart concurred, but added that adapting to home life wasn't all easy.

"You get used to being away, and your partner gets used to you being away, right? So when you're around, you know, it was a certain relearning of how to be together a lot."

Hearn had to make a difficult adjustment of a different sort during the pandemic.

"My daughter is special needs and she lives in a home with five other kids," he said. "I was not allowed to hug her or hold her hand for over a year. That was really tough."

It was only two weeks prior to the interview that Hearn was able to see her again.

"I held her hand and it took a moment to register, and then she started laughing and smiling. It was really uplifting and, yeah, it was beautiful."

Detour de Force

The pandemic also disrupted the recording of the new Barenaked Ladies record, Detour de Force, which was released July 16.

In March of 2020 the band thought they had wrapped up recording, but with the added time to reflect on their work due to COVID health restrictions, they realized there was more to be done.

"We finished the first part of the record at Ed's cottage, acoustically small, just the band in the room," said Stewart. "And then everything got cancelled and we had a chance to look at it and listen to it. And we felt like it needed more."

Once the band was able to get together again, they went to Toronto's Noble Street Studios with producer Eric Ratz, who is known for his slick hip-hop and rock productions.

"We took a detour, you know?" Stewart said. "A Detour de Force."

Jennifer Gosnell/CBC
Jennifer Gosnell/CBC

The band says it is extremely pleased with the finished product — a mix of highly produced songs, and more natural live-off-the-floor recordings.

"You have a song like Flip that's fully contemporary production, but then you have a song like Live Well that's us playing live off the floor and at a cottage," Hearn said.

Detour de Force has the distinctive Barenaked Ladies sound that fans have come to expect, as well as plenty of the quirky wordplay. But that doesn't mean the subject matter is all fluff. Some of it involves expressions of the political and social times we find ourselves in.

Flip explores the way people are entrenched in their own views, unable or unwilling to open up to other perspectives.

New Disaster is a rant about the onslaught of bad news that comes at us in the 24 hour news cycle.

"It's an interesting song, because it was written pre pandemic," said Robertson. "It was written particularly with respect to the last administration in America. It felt like a barrage of crazy all the time. And that's what inspired the song."

WATCH | Barenaked Ladies music video, New Disaster:

Hall of Fame induction fallout

While working through the personal and professional challenges of the pandemic, the band's members have also been dealing with issues from their past that were brought to the surface again during their 2018 Canadian Music Hall of Fame introduction.

They were grateful and appreciative of the Hall of Fame honour, but the induction ceremony's reunion concert with former member Steven Page meant revisiting troubles that its members were eager to leave in the past.

"I mean, we hadn't been on stage with Steve in 10 years and we hadn't really spoken barely at all except through lawyers," said Robertson.

"A lot of people had opinions on what it was like and what it meant. And for me, it was just really stressful."

WATCH | Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson talks about reunion issues:

The barrage of media questions about a possible permanent reunion with Page was a lot to manage.

It's something Stewart said he handled with sarcasm.

"My answer was always, 'Yeah, and you know what? Santa Claus is real, and mom and dad are getting back together after being divorced. That's all going to be great,'" said the percussionist, clearly still frustrated by the media attention on the reunion even three years later.

"It wasn't until a lot of distance afterwards and frankly a lot of, you know, therapy, being able to put it in context and really connect to it and be proud of it and enjoy it," Robertson added. "It took a long time."

Jennifer Gosnell/CBC
Jennifer Gosnell/CBC

As they put all of this behind them, Barenaked Ladies show no signs of slowing down. It's been an unlikely trip for a band that broke new ground as indie artists, became international chart toppers, and now are a Canadian institution — not bad for a band once considered by some to be a novelty act with a funny name.

According to the band, there are no real secrets to their longevity.

"We love and respect each other," Robertson said.

"There's something special about when we play live together, and we respect that. We respect our audience. I think being grateful is part of why we're still here all this time. And more than ever before in our career, I think we're able to just enjoy what's great about it and ignore what isn't."

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