SameDiff BNL

Success Hasn't Cost Ladies Their Quirkiness

By DAVE TIANEN, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 19th, 2001.

Life as a Barenaked Lady is good. Just ask Ed Robertson.

Although the members of Robertson's band, Barenaked Ladies, seem too normal to ever really be rock stars, rock stars are what they are.

Smart, quirky and Canadian isn't the standard formula for mega-stardom, but the 1998 hit "One Week" lifted BNL into a strata from which it has yet to descend. Confirming its major-attraction status is Wednesday's show at the Marcus Amphitheater. The band's audiences still radiate a cult-like devotion, but the cult seems to have grown dramatically.

The Ladies, however, seem basically unchanged. Their most recent album, last year's "Maroon," is a bit more serious and political than their norm, but the guys themselves seem to have adjusted well to the spotlight.

In a recent interview, singer-guitarist Robertson talked about life as a Barenaked Lady.

Q. I understand Brian Wilson has recorded your song "Brian Wilson." Have you heard it, and what do you think?

A. I have heard it. While we were recording "Maroon," he actually dropped by the studio to play it for us. It's being released on a live record that he either just put out or is in the process of putting out... I know he's been opening his shows with it for the past couple years now.

Q. What do you think?

A. Well, God. It's insane. It's amazing. It's bizarre as hell. Actually, he was in town last night and invited us to come sing it with him on stage. He and Paul Simon are doing a double bill right now... We'd been rehearsing at home in Toronto, and a couple of his band members dropped by and invited us to come to the show and sing.

I didn't do it... I'm going on the road... for the rest of the summer, and it was my only chance to see my daughter play soccer. I chose the soccer game, but Steve and Kev and Jim went to do it. I haven't talked to them yet to find out how it went.

Q. Which lady would you most like to see barenaked?

A. For me, it's the person I don't know crossing the street while I'm waiting at a stoplight. I'm weak on celebrities. I'm more into the anonymous nude.

Q. I understand you did the theme for the coming PBS version of Maurice Sendak's "7 Little Monsters." If you could live in the world of a book, which book would it be?

A. I think it might be a book called "Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm," not to be confused with Harry Potter. It's a children's book. I love children's literature. The paintings in it are done by a guy named Mark Buehner. Fabulous artwork, and the story's about this rural farmer who grows genuine Grade A, government inspected balloons on his farm. It's just this beautiful, colorful, cartoony world.

Q. Did you pick up any good moves from working with Tom Jones (on the Jones song "Little Green Bag," from Jones' "Reload" album)?

A. God. It was non-stop good moves and good sayings. He's a great guy. He's a great guy, man. We recorded that thing at midnight in... I think, UB40's studio in Birmingham... It was the only time we could make our schedules meet up. He walked in there and said, "I think I've only got a few passes in me, boys. My voice is (expletive)." He just wanted to get right to work and get down to it and was really warm and kind... He ended up rerecording his part another day, but was kind enough to let us take samples from the that first initial pass, some of his yells and growls, and so we use them in our show now.

Q. You must have a million dollars by now. Is it as good as advertised?

A. Nobody wants to hear about rock stars making money. We're supposed to be the repressed rebel. We've been very successful and very lucky and, you know... It's expensive to put on a rock show, though. I'm not rollin' in dough. We've done very well. Extremely well.

Q. Let's put it this way. You must have had some fantasies going in of what it would be like. Is it as good as your fantasy?

A. It's entirely different and better. Better in the way that now that we've had a degree of success, we can tour with a degree of luxury (so) that our families can come out. It's comfortable, and we can afford to fight for a little sanity time and take some breaks here and there. In that way it's better.

It's different because I know that I thought it would be quite glamorous, and it's not glamorous at all. It's unbelievably average. It's so much more like being a traveling salesman than it is like being a movie star. It's all time on buses and planes and waiting backstage and waiting and waiting and waiting.

But what I get to do, which is the best thing in the world, I get to walk out onto a stage night after night and do what I love to do — play music and engage a crowd and have a great time... I'm totally fulfilled in that way.

Q. What's your favorite decadent rock-star indulgence?

A. I'm not a decadent person. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't do any drugs. I don't really drink wine.

Q. I'm sorry, Ed. It sounds like rock stardom is wasted on you.

A. I know. It's true. It's totally true. My decadence is maybe just in my toys, in my boat and my jet-ski, my lake toys.

Q. Who should play on the Barenaked Ladies tribute album?

A. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Kiss. Nah. I'm totally kidding. My desire would be for it to be peppered by people that I love. I would want it to be Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Crowded House, Ron Sexsmith, a Canadian band called the Rio Statics. But honestly? Anyone who likes us.

Q. What's your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

A. Maybe Destiny's Child. I've been lovin' "Bootylicious" for the last couple days.

Q. What's your favorite country song?

A. Probably "Crazy." It's a classic tune. There was a boxed set put out a couple years ago called "Willie Nelson: The Early Years," and it has one of his early demo versions of "Crazy" on there, and it's so great.

Q. What's your ultimate Happy Meal?

A. A hamburger from a restaurant in Toronto called Lick's. It's a burger joint. They're kind of peppered around southern Ontario. The first one was just a couple blocks from my house, and they make a big, nasty, garlicky hamburger, and they serve it with fries and onion rings.

Q. If you could have one super power, what would it be?

A. Flight. I've always been intrigued by flight. Just read an amazing article in Harpers... about a plastic surgeon who wants to give you wings. It's about a guy who in all seriousness wants to give you wings and thinks that your brain would learn to work them if he attached them properly.

Q. Elvis was done in by a combination of Demerol, Eskimo Pies and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. What's likely to finally catch up with the Barenaked Ladies?

A. Our schedule. I think we must be living dog years at this point. We travel a lot. We work really hard, so if anything kills us, it will just be exhaustion.