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Q&A With The Barenaked Ladies

By ANDREW FLYNN, Jam! Music, February 22nd, 2001.

Interview with Ladies' drummer Tyler Stewart

We kind of lost track of you guys for a while there after Maroon came out, have you guys been touring solidly since then?

Yeah. We've done in the States here pretty much since the release of the record in September, we have been on tour down here pretty much non-stop. We actually spent a bit of time at home, about a month, all of January, which was really great. Not the greatest month to be home in Toronto.

You're up again for the Grammys. Is this a big deal for you guys? Does it matter?

We get excited. It matters in that it's the ultimate pop culture acknowledgement. To be nominated in the category with the Backstreet Boys is kind of fun too. Winning would be great if we won it. We were nominated in this category before and we lost to Brian Setzer. We went and we were very excited to be there. Just seeing Lauryn Hill up close was enough for me, she's one beautiful woman.

We also saw Ricky Martin that year, he kind of exploded onto the scene, and we were the first ones up giving him a standing ovation. The guy came in with a drum line section dancing down the aisle and stuff like that. We never heard of this guy and by the end of night we thought he was the most electrifying performer we'd ever seen.

That was 1999. Now what do you think of him?

I don't like his new hair style. (laughter). The Grammys are so big and spectacular, it's kind of fun. We are not actually going this year because we have to play in Hamilton the next night.

So Steel Town gets priority over LA LA Land.

In that sort of humble Canadian way. The drag is we won't actually be able to be at the Junos, which are in Hamilton, because we're playing in Prince George (B.C.). that night.

That sort of fits with what you guys have done all along. You are much more fan driven than you have been publicity hawks.

That's true. Our tours are kind of the most important aspect of what we do. Obviously it's great to get recognition from Grammys and Junos and whatever else. Every little bit helps.

You kind of did your part last year at the Junos, that was a pretty spectacular set.

It was fun. The whole idea of award shows is getting more and more grotesque. They are just so big and bloated. It seems like there are 25 different awards. How many awards can you give out?

I remember when we won our first Juno in 1993, and even before that we won CASBY (Canadian Artists Selected By You) awards, it was exciting, yeah cool, this is really neat. Also, it was a good excuse to get together with the whole business and hang out. I kind of like that aspect of it.

The Junos is always different than the Grammys. The Grammys, unless you're with you're homies you're nowhere. You're basically sitting on the edges. With the Junos it's kind of like a melting pot. Everybody gets together and it doesn't matter who you are.

Exactly. So you have Sheila Copps and (Juno co-founder) Stan Kulin sitting in front of the artists. That's who the Junos are for really (laughter).

It's much more of a get together. The Grammys is not, it's more like a showdown.

Yeah, it is actually, isn't it (laughter).

How did they treat you guys (at the Grammys) when you were down there last?

Very well. We have the guys in the media, the underdog supporters, the guy from E!, Dave, he's kind of the music reviewer, he has to do all the groups. He loves us because we always go on and give him funny interviews and he happens to love the group. So, we have our little supporters. We did Showbiz Today, the CNN show live from there, because they really like us. All the smaller, the non-real heavyweights all love Barenaked Ladies. They got us to do all their press things. So that was fun.

You guys are one of the rare bands around that actually look like they're having fun these days. Have you ever noticed that everybody else is a little too serious?

We like to have fun because, let's face it, playing the same songs nightly, and living on a tour bus and being away from your family it could get pretty tedious. So we try to at least inject a sense of humour into everyday events. We like to amuse each other and that's what comes across in the live show. On stage we like to make each other laugh. I think that translates right to the audience, so that the audience feels like they are hanging out with the band not just watching a bunch of guys who are gazing at their shoes.

Sometimes performers make it seem like some sort of privilege to watch them. It's not really. The privilege is to be able to play music for a living. We always try to break down the barrier of audience/band and make it a fun hangout.

Are you guys having as much fun as you used to?

More fun. Because we are 12 years into this thing, which is amazing. We're at a level now where we can take out a nice big show across North America. As a band, musically we're the strongest we've ever been. Our personal lives are developed enough that we know a good thing when we see it.

And (keyboardist) Kevin (Hearn, who recently battled leukemia) is back with you.

Kevin is back which is a miracle. It's incredible. One time we were on a radio show and we were introducing ourselves and whatever I'm Steve (Page), I'm Tyler and Kev said 'I'm a walking miracle of modern science.' It's true — he is.

We just did a little show at Princess Margaret Hospital where Kevin spent all that time. We played in the atrium for patients and friends. It was amazing to go back there and to see how proud of him his doctors are, and to see other patients getting some inspiration from Kev. It's pretty incredible. He was at death's door. He was in bad shape. To have him back with us is just such a blessing. It's kind of fuelled everything really in the last year or so.

What's going on in terms of Canadians down south of the border? I don't know if you have much chance to see what is going on. It's like there is a fog at the border. When you guys go south we hear very little about you. Do you sense there are Canadian bands down there doing anything like you did?

The only ones I know of really are the Nettwerk acts, people who are managed by Terry McBride who manages us. You have Chantal Kreviazuk who is out with us right now. Tara MacLean as well. Other than that I don't think Treble Charger's record came out down here unfortunately.

It's just about to come out.

Well hopefully they will do something because they have been around awhile too. There really isn't a huge Canadian presence down here.

I get the sense it's kind of a down time.

It's definitely a down time. There's the uber-stars like Shania and Celine who are always on VH-1 at some time.

Apparently they're the property of the world and no longer able to claim exclusivity as Canadians.

Fine. The world can have them. I have a lot more sympathy for Shania than I do for Celine. I can't believe the publicity machine there. It's just insane. Steve mentioned the other day when we were in the dressing room, he said 'We are the most normal rock stars ever.'

That's the Scarborough quotient though, it's gotta be. Your suburban-Canadian modest thing.

Whether we like it or not, or whether even it is conscious or not, we cling tenaciously to our middle-class roots. We're all doing really well. Married with kids in a nice house. None of us have a Porsche, there's no drug problems, we like nice clothes but we're not clothes whores either. It's insane, we are incredibly normal. You can even see it with some of the acts that have opened for us, they're more divaesque than us. It's strange, we are just incredibly regular. The good thing about that is you attract good people that way. All our crew and all of the people, and our management quite frankly for that matter, are all such pros and so dedicated to all of us that it makes that end of the business that way easier. You don't have people going out to deliberately try to screw you which is nice.

Have you guys ever gotten over the fact that Canada sort of said well we've seen what we've seen from the Barenaked Ladies and we've had enough?

It did happen absolutely. It's just Canada in general. It's just a small place in terms of population . . . there's only room for The Tragically Hip to be popular with every single thing that they do.

We're over it because the success in other places other than Canada has kept us going. The ironic thing in '96 when we put two albums out and we had a top 40 single in the U.S. with The Old Apartment, we weren't even invited to the Junos. Not even invited to sit in the audience. And then two years later we won four.

It's like Sarah McLachlan was never even nominated for a Juno and then she won eight that one year after, of course, she was huge in the U.S. It's just bizarre cultural pathology where once you have your kick at the can in Canada unless somewhere else says it's alright to like these guys, you're done.

This is our first Canadian tour in five years coming up, that sort of says it all. We've played Vancouver and Toronto but not since the ill-fated Born in a Pirate Ship tour in '96, where we were playing to half and quarter full houses, and it hasn't made sense for economic reasons. It just didn't make sense. Now at least we're back and we have a big show. We're very excited. It's kind of neat that we're going back to places like Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George. We're playing North Bay. It's back to the original days on the Gordon tour when we played 70 shows in Canada. I think the crew invented towns back then.