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Barenaked Ladies Become Stunt Men

By STEPHEN COOKE, Halifax Herald, June 29th, 1998.

"Never is enough," sing the Barenaked Ladies on their latest album Stunt, but like most bands, the Toronto quintet will try anything once in the name of selling records, even if the result eerily resembles a scene from every musican's favorite movie, This Is Spinal Tap.

"We've done contests where we play in somebody's backyard or house," says Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page. "Once we drove eight hours to Georgia to play in the yard of some military people who didn't really care about the band at all, but they did enjoy the free keg of beer and barbeque that they got."

Better yet are the promotional stunts that the band can admire from afar.

"My favorite was the day Gordon came out and Kim Cooke, who was then head of promotions for Warner Music Canada, actually dressed up as an alien, painted green from head to toe, and walked up and down Yonge Street advertising the album's release.

"That's cool," says Page. "We mean something when one of the big guys at the record company dresses up as an alien and walks up and down the street at lunch-time. He went all the way for the team."

The one stunt Barenaked Ladies don't have to worry about is stunting their growth. Their last release, the live Rock Spectacle, went gold in the United States, actually becoming an obstacle to getting into the studio to record their first new material in two years.

"We thought we'd have a new record out last fall," explains Page, "but every time we wanted to go into the studio with some new songs, management would say, 'Nope, record's still selling. Just another three weeks.'

"Three weeks turned into three months."

Those months were spent on more of the relentless touring that's made them one of Canada's most popular bands, and a Modern Rock favorite down south.

Finally, the time needed to write and record Stunt surfaced last winter, and the band sequestered itself in an Austin, Texas studio to turn out some of the sharpest songs they've done yet, like the pop culture reference-laden pop-rap of the first single, One Week, to the sly Motown homage It's All Been Done.

Stunt is full of the kind of manic hooks that drove previous hits like Brian Wilson and Shoebox.

"We hoped to make a good all-purpose, summer kind of record," says Page. "The kind you just put on and like. I think that's what everybody tries to do, but I think we REALLY tried.

"I don't think we recorded it with a sense of making something that would do something commercially from the record company's point of view. But Rock Spectacle was designed to act as a bridge between Born on a Pirate Ship and this record, and it did that way better than we ever expected."

There is also an increasing sense of maturity about the songs on Stunt, which should come as no surprise since some Barenaked Ladies, including Page, are now fathers, and it's been several years since they first sang about having a million dollars to spend on treeforts and Kraft Dinner.

It may come as a shock to hear the band sing about heavy petting on In The Car and pregnancy on She's On Time, songs that are a far cry from the innocent romance detailed in older tunes like Enid and Jane.

"In The Car is a poignant look back at youth and the other is a funny song about birth control," Page says. "I think they were both fun songs to write and to sing.

"Canadians don't really sing about sex very much, do they? People don't expect us to sing about it, so they get kinda embarassed. 'You're not supposed to say that sort of thing, especially from YOU guys.'

"But hey," he says, as if about to unveil some grave secret, "we have sex, just like everybody else. Except for monks."

Halifax Barenaked Ladies fans should appreciate this Wednesday night's show, since it's one of only two Canadian dates this summer, most of which will be spent in the U.S. as part of the H.O.R.D.E. Tour, with Blues Traveller, Ben Harper, Paula Cole and Smashing Pumpkins.

The show also has a special meaning for Barenaked Ladies, since the fort looks down upon the Palace Cabaret, where a disastrous gig became fodder for Hello City, an anti-Halifax diatribe for which they've since repented.

"I may have to roll down the hill at the end of the night," Page laughs.