SameDiff BNL

Barenaked Ladies Singer Loves to Twist Tongue Around a Rhyme

By DANIEL LIBIT, Albuquerque Tribune Online, August 1st, 2001.

General Border gave the order
Major Scott brought the shot
Captain Bammer brought the rammer
Sergeant Chowder brought the powder
Corporal Farrell brought the barrel
Private Parriage brought the carriage
But Drummer Hoff fired it off

This is where it began for celebrity vocalist and discerning lyricist, Steven Page, lead singer for Barenaked Ladies. Page remembers the words to the folk poem called "Drummer Hoff," the first verses he came across as a child.

Now 31, Page has used his affection for rhyme to drum up the pop band's popular tongue twisters, like its first Billboard No. 1 single "One Week," which he helped write with vocalist/ guitarist Ed Robertson.

In March, the Barenaked Ladies fired off "Maroon," their first record release since the critically ashamed but extremely marketable "Stunt" (1998), which has since passed the 4 million-copies-sold mark.

Tonight, the Ladies stop by Journal Pavilion as part of their monthlong concert series, which gives fans their first opportunity to hear live such radio regulars as "Too Little Too Late" and "Pinch Me."

On the inside flap of the CD's liner notes is a poem called "Maroon," written by jazz vocalists Ken Nordine and Richard Stuart Campbell.

Platoon cartoon monsoon lampoon spittoon baboon octoroon ducommun
Macaroon buffoon afternoon opportune pantaloon immune
Yeah there's so many rhymes for good old maroon
I'm sure if you try you can think of a few that have slipped me by
See what you can rhyme with maroon

How about Ed Moon? That's the Rolling Stones' writer who dogged "One Week," which came out with "Stunt," as a wordy missive, a musical Instant Message. Moon wrote that the song, like the preceding ditty, was full of "placeholders" — nonsense words used to keep rhythm.

And it's fast. Page and guitarist Ed Robertson may be the only two people in the world who have the dexterity to sing "One Week."

"That was never really intentional," Page says. "It's whatever suited us musically. We never said we wanted to write something very fast."

Page says that song arose from the Ladies' infamous off-the-top-of-the-head bebops they conclude each live performance with — something ticket holders should look forward to Saturday night. (BNL sang "The Bill Gates Rap" last October at their concert in Seattle).

"That's what keeps us fresh and makes us excited," Page says. "It is a way to keep each other on our toes. It's a challenge for us and the audience."

On "Maroon," the band tried to restrict its accustomed use of irony and sarcasm.

"In this last record we tried to stray away from that in some degrees," he says. "What we lacked in some of our (previous) songs was a stronger sense of compassion. That's something we've worked hard to try to achieve."

Finally, critic Moon found something appealing.

"The reigning kings of geek pop, Canadian division, have started making sense," Moon wrote. Many critics condemned 1998's "Stunt" for not making much sense.

"I think people can listen to our music on a few different levels," Page says. "Some listen because it's fun; others listen to it for the jokes, or whatever, which is fine as well. And there's a percentage of the fans who really pay a lot of attention to the lyrics, dissecting each song.

"I don't write it thinking fans will love it when they figure it out."

Like his favorite lyricist Randy Newman, Page also doesn't write for critical acclaim.

And Page doesn't write for the record fat cats either, even though he admits "there's always a pressure to come up with the goods, as far as singles."

"We certainly get into that philosophical discussion about what are we writing songs for," Page says.

"I'll start at an idea," he says, "one that just hits you. You'll get a snippet of music and words and chorus together, mull that over for a while. You ask yourself, `What do I want to say?' Then it starts to flow."