SameDiff BNL

No More Ladies, No More Cancer

By MIKE ROSS, Edmonton Sun, March 5th, 1999.

TORONTO — It's Day 2 of Canadian Music Week at the Centre of the Universe and there's a chill wind blowing down Queen Street.

But there are pockets of warmth.

Navigating through the homeless squeegee kids on the Whyte Avenue of Toronto, you can catch a vast and bewildering assortment of bands playing dozens of nightclubs. On Wednesday night, after seeing the Waltons, Shawn Mullins, a Halifax group trying to be Jamiroquai and some horrid rock band I won't embarrass by naming, only one act stood out: Kevin Hearn.

The name should be familiar. He temporarily left his gig playing keyboards with Barenaked Ladies when he was diagnosed with leukemia last year. He's since beat the cancer. Now he's fronting some bizarre acid-jazz combo. It's a strange and fascinating group that includes two guitarists, a flautist, an upright bass player and Hearn himself on vocals and an arsenal of synths, loops and samples. The music is hard to describe, but it makes the Rheostatics sound like Triumph.

Hearn, 29, developed a taste for the avant garde during stints with the Rheostatics (a-ha!) and Look People.

"I'm not averse to pop tunes, but I don't think you'll hear anything of mine on the easy rock station. I think pop music for me probably isn't pop for other people," he laughs.

As for going back on the road with the Ladies — who are ready to receive him anytime he's ready, great guys that they are — it'll take time.

"It's going well," Hearn says. "There's no sign of any residue cancer cells, but I had to have a bone marrow transplant that's really taxing on the body. I can't handle touring right now."

He says he'll try a two-week European tour next month — "if the doctors say it's OK" — and hopes to fully rejoin the band by summer.

"It's been weird," he says. "I haven't been there to see the stadium tours. I've just been watching and reading about it. I watched the album go to the top of the charts while I was in an isolated hospital room."

He's grateful for his recovery, of course, something that's being shown by a $72,000 donation ($62,000 raised from the Kevin Hearn Fund plus 10 grand from Warner Music, the Ladies' label) to the Princess Margaret Hospital where he was treated.

"It's a place where no one's happy to be," he explains, "but everyone's happy it exists."