SameDiff BNL

"Marooned"? Not The Barenaked Ladies!

By REX RUTKOSKI, Themestream Newsletter, November 14th 2000.

Twelve years is a long time to be Barenaked.

Ed Robertson, Steven Page, Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn and Tyler Stewart long ago have proven they were up to the task.

They are, after all, rock's much loved Barenaked Ladies. Not only haven't they been left out in the cold without any clothes on, artistically speaking, they've been able to withstand the sometimes chilly winds of change of the business to not just survive but thrive.

Now they arrive, under the guidance of superstar producer Don Was, happily "Maroon (ed)." The album is the follow-up to "Stunt," their quadruple platinum release, which included their first number one single "One Week."

Lead vocalist Ed Robertson thinks "Maroon" is no less than the best record the group has ever made.

More important to Robertson, and the fellow members of the band, is that their friend and keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn is back in a big way from a two-year battle with cancer.

He was diagnosed with leukemia just as "Stunt" was reaching the stores. While Hearn waited for a stem cell transplant in a Toronto hospital, he was unable to join the band on its first arena tour of the United States.

Now, says Robertson, his friend is back having "kicked cancer's ass."

"He's doing great," says Robertson. "He's looking and feeling better than he has in three years. It's just a joy to have him out with us. Nightly we look over at him on stage and say 'My God, he did it! He's back!' It's not some shell of his former self either."

It has been a reality check for everyone, Robertson says.

"Absolutely. Kev came back out of necessity, much sooner than probably he should have. For his own health mentally he needed to be back in it. It was difficult for us to see what bad shape he was in."

It's great to be able just focus on the music now, Robertson implies.

"I'm happy with where we are, but I don't know where on the road we are," Robertson says. "I know we are at a really great point where we are seeing a lot of success and a lot of rewards for the hard work we are doing. But I don't know if it means we are just at the beginning or coming to the end (he laughs)."

What is important about being in a band is assessing where you are at the time at all times, he explains. You make short term projects and goals and go for them and just keep re-evaluating, he says.

"Right now it's really good for us," he adds.

The musicians work very hard to engage and entertain people, he says. "Certainly the live show has a lot to do with the success of this band," he says. "But we are a guitar based pop-rock band and we sing about some universal ideas in non-traditional ways."

Robertson believes people perhaps gravitate towards that viewpoint. "When we play a show we meet people that in a lot of ways are like us. Maybe they share a similar viewpoint and a certain approach. I think there is a lot of people like us out there."

The Barenaked Ladies are appreciative of their loyal fan base.

"We are really, really fortunate," he says. "We worked hard for it. We've been touring exhaustingly for 10 years now."

The live show always has been a strength of the band, he says, and that's how the fan base was built. "We were playing arenas in some northeast cities before 'Stunt' even came out, before we had a hit single. We kind of came in through the back door."

It's the spontaneity of live that is so appealing to him. "It's the magic of the moment, the energy of the moment, engaging a live group of people and tapping into something unique that night live," Robertson explains. "I don't know how bands go out and do the same show every night. I love getting up there and improvising, going with the vibe of that town. We never put on the same show twice. We've done thousands of shows and never the same one twice."

Even a veteran like Don Was, who has worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Iggy Pop, Paul Westerberg, and others, was impressed with how the Ladies present themselves on stage.

And he was struck almost spiritually in watching Robertson.

"I was looking at the smile on Ed's face," Was recalls. "It never leaves his face for the entire show. He's Mother Theresa, man, for that alone. If you're going to stand up there and smile and have fun for two hours and show people that there can be joy in life, you really can effect other people by example. There's no greater thing you can do than to demonstrate how happy you can be, to that many people night after night. That's a fantastic service to perform."

"That felt good to hear that," says Robertson. "We love to write music and discuss more serious or darker things, but when we go out and do a show I want everyone to leave that show feeling better than when they walked in.

"I want them to be able to say, 'I'm glad I spent two hours with those guys, I'm glad I chose to do that with my life.' You might go to a lousy movie and want those two hours back. I want people feeling enriched and glad they spent that time with us."

What's the secret to maintaining that happiness on stage?

"It's enthusiasm. It's not happiness," he replies. "Everybody has ups and downs. There have been times when I was visibly shaken before a show. Then I go on stage with four other people who I trust implicitly and respect, and have an audience that deserves to be entertained and feeling that energy."

He never has failed to rise to that occasion, he says. "It's worth it, it's magical and worthy. The beauty in it has helped me transcend some really incredible things in my life."

Even after 12 years, it's still enjoyable out there, Robertson says. "That is the bottom line. Touring is really hard. I miss my family like crazy. It's really hard. It takes a lot out of you sleeping on a tour bus, showering in a locker room and doing it 10 months of the year.

"But I get to walk on stage in front of excited people every night and do what I do, and play music and feel the adoration that brings. Playing really is still enjoyable for me. When I get on stage it's not work. I'm constantly reminded of how lucky we are to be doing what we do."

Commitment is one of the greatest strengths the Barenaked Ladies offer, in his view. "We are committed to what we do and committed to the quality of what we do," Robertson says. "It seems like it should be a given and needs to be there, but I don't see it everywhere I look. We have a commitment to our performance and to our musicality and our fans to do the best show we can. This is the single best strength of the band."