SameDiff BNL

Really, we're just... COOL

Manchester Metro, October 3rd 2000.

Two men are sitting in a hotel room, which is dotted with black and white photographs of British comic greats — Windsor Davies, Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan. "Last time I was here, I was in the Ronnie Barker suite," jokes Barenaked Ladies vocalist, Steven Page. "Which is quite fitting, as I am the Ronnie Barker of pop music."

This might sound like a rather obtuse observation from somebody inhabiting the fickle world of pop music, but then Barenaked Ladies are slightly wackier than your average band.

Hailing from Canada, the quintet are renowned for their quirky lyrics, which manage to combine such things as a lovers' spat, country star LeAnn Rimes and the X-Files.

Page, accompanied by group member guitarist Ed Robertson, is visiting the UK to promote the group's latest album, Maroon, which was produced by the legendary Don Was.

Their latest offering seems more raw than last year's multi-million-selling album, Stunt, which spawned the top five hit, One Week. It comes complete with the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang video, and the Top 30 hit, It's All Been Done.

"I think we actually sound like a cool band," laughs Robertson. "I've enjoyed making this album — not that I haven't enjoyed making all the others," he adds hastily.

"We hit the studio a month and a half before the album was due to be finished, and had no songs. But that's the way we always work — under pressure, we always get the best results.

"Steven and I have been writing together for almost 12 years, and the whole process seems to be natural. We have so much history that we can work really well together without having to say a lot to each other."

After 10 years of receiving critical praise and acquiring a hardcore of devoted fans, largely by word of mouth, the single, One Week, was the big breakthrough for the band.

"It's funny how, all of a sudden, we had this song which just seemed to drive people mad. And although it was a weird tune it was indicative of what we do," says Robertson.

BNL have earned a reputation for putting on something of a show when they play festivals. In the States, their concerts have evolved into an almost surreal experience, with Rocky Horror-style audience participation.

Page says: "When we used to play our song, If I had 1 Million Dollars, people would start throwing boxes of macaroni and cheese at us, which wasn't very pleasant. Luckily that seems to be dying down.

"People can sing as loud as they want. We don't mind having our songs thrown back at us."

Each of the band's gigs includes a grand finale. "We do a medley. At the moment we do it in the style of N-Sync, but we are always open to offers from any other groups reading this."

This year, the band's only UK appearance has been at the August V2000 festival, where they were billed as being "very special guests".

"I've always wondered what 'very special guests' meant," ponders Robertson.

"But we had a late afternoon slot, which was a nice place to be, as I like playing festivals where you can see the audience. I know it's considered to be the most corporate of the festivals, but they had a great line-up. It was well run, and there was a good vibe from the audience. It didn't feel stuffy or formal."

"I love festivals," chips in Page. "When we did our first one in 1992 at Glastonbury, I thought it was the most exciting thing I had ever seen. I wanted to camp out all weekend. Now I have a walk around, look at everything and say, 'Let's go back to the hotel'."

As well as 30-year-old Page and Robertson, 28, BNL consist of Jim Creeggan, 29, drummer, Tyler Stewart, 31, and keyboard player Kevin Hearn, 30. The latter is back on board after being struck down with leukaemia two years ago. He has undergone chemotherapy and received a sickle cell transplant.

BNL first started out when Robertson and Page formed a duo 12 years ago, after working together at a summer camp in their home town of Scarborough, Ontario.

They were joined the following year by high school pal Creeggan. Drummer Stewart came on board after meeting up with them at a street buskers' carnival in 1990. Five years later Hearn complete the band's current line-up.

But their road to success has not always been an easy one. Page says: "We've always had our own small group of supporters, but then, all of a sudden, there was this huge good feeling about us."