SameDiff BNL

Expanded 'etown' brings Ladies back

By G. BROWN, Denver Post, August 31st, 2003.

It may be a mythical place, but for a dozen years, "etown" has grown.

The not-for-profit, Boulder-based radio program has become a real force, heard on more than 150 stations across the nation.

The weekly show tapes before a live, paying audience, usually at the Boulder Theater. Musician Nick Forster, the show's principal host, brings in musicians and intersperses their performances with discussions of environmental issues. The sets are shorter than standard concerts, but patrons enjoy a smaller venue than those in which the artists usually play.

Celebrating 12 years on the air, "etown" tapes a show Monday at a bigger venue—Red Rocks Amphitheatre. "etown rocks" is an all-day festival with music from Barenaked Ladies, Keller Williams, Michelle Shocked, Blind Boys of Alabama and surprise guests.

Forster hopes the audience comes for the music.

"This is a festival honoring 12 years of 'etown,' so it's not really the 'etown' format (of) short sets and live interviews on stage," he said. "These are full sets from the artists, just a great day of music."

Like the other performers on the bill, Barenaked Ladies are "etown" veterans. The band's last appearance on the radio show was a personal victory lap for keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn.

"It was April 2001, just after I came back," Hearn said recently. "The money for that gig went to cancer research, which meant a lot to us at the time."

In 1995, as founding member Andrew Creeggan was leaving the band, Hearn was asked if he would join Barenaked Ladies for a summer tour. He wound up a full-time member.

With the Ladies constantly touring and solidifying their rabid North American fan base, Hearn made his first recorded appearance on the band's fourth full-length album, "Rock Spectacle." It became their breakthrough platinum record in the U.S.

But in 1998, Hearn, was diagnosed with leukemia just as the "Stunt" album hit the stores. Awaiting a stem-cell transplant in a Toronto cancer hospital, he was unable to join the band on its first arena tour of the U.S.

Miraculously, over two physically and emotionally draining years, Hearn pulled through.

"As any cancer survivor knows, you don't just get better," he said. "It's something you live with, a new life. I have ups and downs. (The time) off from touring has been fantastic, just to be at home and cook and get back in touch with feeling healthy again. It's been a bit of a struggle this year, to be honest, but overall I'm cancer-free now for five years."

The multitalented Hearn is heard all over the 14 original songs that make up "Everything to Everyone," a new Barenaked Ladies album scheduled for release Oct. 21.

"We've done this record differently in that we wrote together as a band as opposed to hearing songs brought in by Steve (Page) and Ed (Robertson) and writing our parts for them in less than two weeks," he said. "Over the course of a year, we wrote 30 songs and brought in this great producer, Ron Aniello, and recorded. It was a hard record to make," he said. "Changing your routine like that is a bit difficult. We're like five cooks in a small kitchen."

At Red Rocks, the band's set will include songs from "Everything to Everyone." "Another Postcard" is about... chimps on stationery?

"It's about someone who's getting upset at (receiving) postcards from a stalker—they're all from different places with chimpanzees on them," Hearn explained. "Steve and Ed started singing it in our writing sessions one day. They laughed it off—'Ha-ha, we can't do that'—and I was like, 'That made me laugh. We should do it. It puts a smile on people's faces, it's a good thing.'

"It ended up being demoed, and now it's the first single. I may have to keep my mouth shut—or not!"

Hearn had a hand in writing "Celebrity."

"It's got a definite Beatles influence to it, but hopefully in a good way—I just love John Lennon's simple piano style, and that's where the song started, with the piano and the vocal line," he said.

"I brought in most of the words, and Ed and Steve tweaked it a little," Hearn said. "I was fascinated by the phenomenon of celebrity and the media hype behind people like Jennifer Lopez.

"And then I'd be hanging out with my cousin, (comedian) Harland Williams—the cop in 'Dumb and Dumber'—and he'd be getting bugged nonstop," he said. "Then I read an interview with David Bowie, who said, 'I wouldn't wish fame on my worst enemy.' All those things were running through my head. I never thought it would end up being the first song on the new record, but I'm happy about that."

Now it's back to the hard work of touring.

"'etown' allows us to strip down instrumentally and play more intimately and acoustically, which is what we did when the band started," Hearn said. "It's always been a good vibe—sorry to sound New Age-y—but it's fun for us to talk and tell stories about the songs and do a little bit of a different kind of show.

"But because we haven't toured in a little while, this looming big tour we have is a little frightening," he added with a nervous laugh. "It's strange when you grow out of four or five guys making music that you like, and it turns into the record company, the management, the audience—you find yourself trying to please everybody. Sometimes you can lose the plot of it if you're not careful."