SameDiff BNL

The Ladies Laugh Last

By MIKE ROSS, Edmonton Sun, February 27th, 2001.

If you thought they were all washed up, you'd be wrong.

The Barenaked Ladies don't mind that Canadians burned out on them. Really, they don't.

It was being abandoned completely that hurt.

"I still have a little bit of a bruise from that," says drummer Tyler Stewart during a phone interview. "But I'm pretty much over that.

"When somebody deliberately ignores you, that was the thing. People went out of their way to not notice us. That actually takes effort. I think of 1996 and we put out two albums in that year and not only were we not nominated for a Juno, we weren't even invited to the Junos, not even to sit in the audience. Meanwhile, there's a top-40 single in the U.S. So in '98, we won four friggin' Junos and this year we're nominated for five."

The phrase "triumphant return" seems to be the Canadian angle on all subsequent Barenaked Ladies stories, Stewart laughs. The last time the band was here in 1996, they failed to sell out the Jubilee Auditorium. Now they're here on Thursday, failing to sell out Skyreach Centre (but at least they're close).

Times have changed. The Barenaked Ladies have since become huge in America — an overnight success story resulting from years of hard work.

While some Canadian journalists were penning "Where Are They Now?" stories or doggedly ignoring the goofy acoustic band many had come to know and hate, a little song called One Week from the 1998 Stunt album quietly hit No. 1 in the U.S. The album sold four million copies. The latest album, Maroon, is platinum. The band recently sold out Madison Square Garden in New York and appeared on Regis. They even got a Grammy Award nomination — so at least someone is taking them seriously.

Says Stewart: "From a career perspective, from an ego perspective and from a financial perspective, the U.S. saved our ass."

That's right: The song If I Had a Million Dollars has finally come true. The band members can now afford all the Kraft Dinner and dijon ketchup they want.

What now? Have they come back to gloat? Have they returned to their native land to exclaim "in yer face!" like a gleeful Homer Simpson?

"We don't gloat," Stewart says. "Doing that to Canadians is like picking on your kid brother. Sure, you can do it, but it's not very satisfying in the end."

So, sure, the band feels "triumphant," he says, not because they've suddenly become rich and famous rock stars, but because they're still together. The carnage heard in Maroon has its inspiration in real events: Marriages, children, member changes, the near death of keyboardist Kevin Hearn after his battle with cancer, not to mention the rigours of being away from home most of the time.

"We're still together and that's a miracle," Stewart says. "We've always believed in ourselves and known we're good. And we've always had the validation from our live concerts. In the U.S., back when we were playing arenas in Canada, in '93 and '94, we went down to the clubs and played to 20 people. The next time we come back we maybe play to 40 people, then maybe 100 or 400. We just kept going back. So in the U.S., it's always been a steady growth thing, whereas at home it was huge right away and then it just went downhill from there."

Aside from the fact that they can play and they can write clever songs, one of the reasons the Ladies connected with American fans is the same reason they hit it big in Canada: They're geeks and proud of it. While they have a less of a reputation for being "wacky goofballs" among the Yanks, the band's winsome, unpretentious style and unabashed honesty of their songs seem to give fans permission to be uncool. In a land where cool is king, it must come as a great relief.

The Ladies will never be cool, Stewart says. Spin magazine will always give their albums bad reviews; they will never be invited to share the stage with Limp Bizkit.

"Just look at the album cover from Gordon and look at the fashion disasters we were," he says. "I think we've already hit the bottom of coolness...

"We still have that element. (Singer Steven Page) and I joke that we have the world's geekiest fans. Just go on the Internet, that great hallmark of geekdom, and there's easily 200 Barenaked Ladies sites or more, started by fans. There's a picture of them and they look like you might imagine an Internet freak would look like.

"And any Internet freaks reading this: I own a computer and I spend a considerable amount of time on the Internet, too. So I'm one of you."