Stripping Down the Layers with The Barenaked LadiesBy JASON M. BURNS, The Green Room magazine, July 9th, 2001.
Remember the days of being an infant and having the legal freedom to run around as naked as you wanted? Wouldn't it be great to have that freedom again? That goes for everyone not just the already naked guy reading this. Think about it: Wouldn't it be an interesting experience to look at the world and see Barenaked Ladies everywhere?
In a way you can. Behold... the fully clothed (And Canadian) Barenaked Ladies who have built a career on writing catchy rock tunes filled with speedy vocals and humor laced lyrics. They are the all singing/ possibly all dancing, gladiators of modern radio after breathing life into a behemoth single, "One Week." Although success has been kind to this group of birthday suit wearing musicians, they too have seen their share of darker days. I had a chance to sit down with keyboard player, guitarist and accordion pumper, Kevin Hearn.
Kevin himself was diagnosed with cancer at about the time when the band began getting major attention in the US. His battle with the illness was well documented during their very own VH1 Behind the Music. He has since recovered and has returned to the very place he belongs... in BNL.
JB: The Barenaked Ladies are often criticized for lacking seriousness in their music. It's been called fluff rock. What do you say when you hear something like that?
KH: Well I can see how people may have a first impression like that, but I think if you dug a little deeper you'd find most of the songs are kind of candy coated with often a bitter quality to them.
JB: You guys were doing this independently for a long time before things actually broke, but when it did it seemed to happen quickly. Was that an odd transition to go through?
KH: Well for us it didn't seem like anything happened over night. So for us it felt rewarding. It just felt right.
JB: After chasing success for so long do you tend to appreciate it more than someone who might have fallen into success sooner?
KH: Yeah definitely. It's been an uphill battle in the sense that people would write us off as novelty or comical and we really had to use our live shows as our calling card.
JB: Do you ever miss any of the grassroots aspects of the band? Do you miss any portion of how things used to be? Everyone says that the early years are great because it's like a baby opening its eyes for the first time.
KH: (Laughter) Sure, that's very much our memory of it but I don' t think we want to go back to that. (More laughter) We did a show this one time and it was a contest winner type of thing. It was in a smoky club and we were in a grungy dressing room with gum all over the walls. I think it was Tyler that said, "I really miss this. We should do a club tour." He said it with a straight face and we all looked at him like, "are you serious."
JB: You guys are obviously getting older. That said do you look at the band differently now than when it all started?
KH: Well, certainly yes. I think when it started it was just the band and our soundman in a van and now it's security guards, a whole management team, field staff and a huge crew. It changes your perspective on it I guess. You start to think of it as more of a company.
And like a business their stock has risen. Currently the not so nude Barenaked Ladies are waging war on the road for a tour that will take them to a city or town near you.
JB: You're currently on break before you go on your big summer tour. These days off must be a gift?
KH: They are but it's also culture shock in a way. I wake up and I wonder where catering is. (Laughter) How do I cook an egg?
JB: Are you back in the studio?
KH: Yeah, we're going to be releasing a Greatest Hits album in September and we're going to include two new songs on it.
JB: When "One Week" hit it seemed to be everywhere. Was it odd having a single like that manifest into something bigger than even the band itself at the time?
KH: Yeah, we had no idea it was going to take off that way. When we were doing the record that song was definitely the song that everyone thought would be the first single. So we kind of sent it out into the world and then watched it go to number 1. It was really a dream come true.
JB: And then "Maroon" comes out and another single, "Pinch Me" proves that the band has longevity on modern radio. Did you fear the failure of that album after such a successful one?
KH: We kind of consider "One Week" our freak child. (Laughter) It's hard to hit that bar with a single again so we just really felt we made a good record when we did "Maroon." It's done well so we're fine with it.
JB: We talked about how the band has a great sense of humor in their music but you also seem to have one in general. Why do you think that element is so apparent?
KH: Well, we have it to keep our sanity. Touring is so intense. You're in the same room all day... the same van... the same elevator. I think that for us it's just a release and a way for us to re-humanize ourselves.
JB: You no doubt found a fan base in Canada before you did in the States, but now that you have both can you see any differences between the two?
KH: The history is different with each audience. In Canada they've known us a lot longer. We've gone through a cycle with them... a peak and a valley and now we're back to being a real popular band there. That hasn't really happened in the US. It's been a more gradual rise.
JB: Was the Canadian audience jealous of your American success in the sense that they had discovered you first, so why do we get to have you?
KH: I think it was, "You're ours but go away for a while." (Laughter) "If someone else likes you, maybe that means we can like you again."
JB: You guys actually did an episode of Beverly Hills 90210?
KH: That's right. We were at the Peach Pit.
JB: Well, you guys have the CD's, the film, the tour, a 90210 cameo... what could possibly be next? What would you like to see... Barenaked Ladies on a lunchbox?
KH: (Laughter) Maybe action figures.
JB: Was there ever a discussion as far as the band goes to call it Bucknaked Ladies as opposed to Barenaked?
KH: (Laughter) Not that I know of. It started as a joke to begin with anyway though.
JB: In the board game Scrabble, is Barenaked considered a legal word to use?
KH: Wow that's a good one. I would say yes. You should ask Ed because he's the Scrabble champ of the band.
JB: I'll have to check how many points it would be.
KH: Technically it isn't one word though.
JB: Yeah, but at the same time it isn't a proper name.
KH: Well, same to you.