SameDiff BNL

Every Night Is Ladies' Night!

By SANDY MASUO,, August 5th 1998.

For all the free-flowing wackiness that threads through the Barenaked Ladies' music, the Toronto quintet has built its career the hard way — one convert at a time.

Though the Ladies have recorded some five albums, which have sold close to two million copies in the U.S., they only recently made any real dent in American airwaves, and the music press seems more concerned with the fact that the five fully-clothed men that make up the band don't live up to their moniker.

"We get no respect," jokes bassist Jim Creeggan, imparting a dubious Rodney Dangerfield impression. "It's funny how for the longest time we'd be touring and have lots of people coming out to the shows, and there'd be this level of press that we wouldn't be getting and always wondering why. It was as though that world wasn't reachable, or it was sort of mystical. Then all of a sudden we started receiving it, mainly through one person or two people here and there taking a chance on us. Like Jason Priestly, who directed one of our videos and got us on Beverly Hills 90210. That sort of warmed this level of media to us. Everybody sort of went, 'Ooooooh.'"

But achieving a higher profile isn't the only development in the Ladies' camp. Their latest album, Stunt, is their most mature effort yet. A more relaxed approach allows the music some breathing room, but that doesn't mean Creeggan & Co. have grown out of the features that won over their fans. The comic drive of "Be My Yoko Ono" and the wistful charm of "The Old Apartment" are still there, they're just tempered a bit, the humor more wry than quirky, the emotions a little moodier than before.

"I think this album's a little simpler, actually," Creeggan says. "It's also a little more — what's the word? — a little more clear. Or it congeals... all the songs seem to work together harmoniously — it has sort of matured in that way. Sort of more laid-back humor."

Stunt is the first studio effort from the Ladies since Creeggan's brother Andy left the band in 1995 to study music formally at McGill University in Quebec. (The two still play together in an outfit called the Brothers Creeggan.) Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn, a veteran of the Toronto music scene, took his place. Hearn's band at the time had just split up and according to Creeggan, Hearn was eager to leave his job at a food storage company and play music again.

"He's quite a galaxy unto himself, he really added a lot of color," Creeggan muses. "I always describe him as having 3-D capabilities and he really expanded our dimensions on [Stunt]. He's got lots of tricks and he's really into samples. So like the song 'When You Dream,' he really added this great atmosphere. And his guitar playing all over the album is really full of Kev stuff, full of character. I don't know anybody who plays guitar like he does. It's totally his own thing."

Though he hadn't worked with the Ladies in the studio before Stunt, Hearn had toured with the band before. He was in fact part of the lineup for the live album Rock Spectacle, which re-popularized " Brian Wilson" (actually from their debut, Gordon). So he was an old hand when they hit the road as part of the H.O.R.D.E. tour this year, an experience which Creeggan feels has helped his band tap into a wider audience in the States.

"For a while it was college people, but I think it's starting to stem out — especially now because we're doing the H.O.R.D.E. tour. Different subcultures are starting to key into us. It's getting to be a little more, you know, accepted."

Of course, most Americans consider Canada to be a subculture — a large, sparsely populated state to the north with a big border, different-colored dollars and a French-speaking neighborhood. But the differences are there, and as Creeggan and his bandmates make inroads in America those subtleties become more apparent. Though the Ladies are frequently lumped into the "neo-Dead" scene along with bands like Phish or Blues Traveler, their music is grounded in more of a purely pop sensibility, an indicator of their Canadian musical legacy.

"I was kind of noticing, at the H.O.R.D.E. tour at least, that there's a lot of blues players," observes Creeggan, who was classically trained. "I mean, that's just because it's more of a bluesy tour, but when I go to Chicago, like I notice that blues is an actual tradition, and I can see being influenced by that as a young musician. But in Canada, it's just not a tradition of blues. If anything, there's traditions of folk music as far as Cape Breton fiddling and stuff like that. Most of the influence is through radio pop. Especially bands our age, because our teenage years were in the '80s and that was major pop pop time, so I think that had a big influence on the way we take a stab at music."

There's plenty of room for different takes on pop, and Creeggan is both optimistic and realistic about the Barenaked Ladies' conquest of America's pop scene. "For instance, we just got written up in Details magazine and they gave us a one out of 10 for the album," he laughs. "That's like, 'Aw shit, the cool people aren't into us!' But maybe the geeks will be."