Barenaked Ladies on a grinning streak
There is no band that embodies the virtues of Canadians more so than the Barenaked Ladies.
With dogged energy on stage, they also bring a sense of humour with catchy hooks that engage listeners and has resulted in more than 14 million albums sold. It is that mix of serious musicianship and the ability to be playful that allowed them a 25-year career in the music business and plenty to smile about with their latest album Grinning Streak.
Since the release of the well-received All In Good Time album (recorded without co-founder Steven Page who left the band in 2009) , the Barenaked Ladies feel they have a renewed energy and it shows with some of their best work being produced on their latest album Grinning Streak.
Tyler Stewart said the album came together quickly recording with friends who they grew up with in the Canadian music scene in Howie Beck (Feist, Walk Off the Earth) and Gavin Brown (Metric, Tragically Hip, Billy Talent).
“It was such a great creative process and really kind of experimental and anything goes in the studio. I think that translated to the live show because we have been playing a lot of these new songs live,” said Stewart. “I think the most invigorating thing for most groups is to play new stuff and that certainly has been the case for us where we have managed to incorporate the new songs into the set rather seamlessly I think. We also play a lot of the hits that you are familiar with and that the crowd loves and some back catalogue that is maybe more obscure and rediscovering that with a freshness is pretty fun too.”
For the drummer, the markers of a successful album are not just how many copies are sold. Stewart said it is about the experience and watching your songwriting capabilities grow and well as the group mature.
“I think in both of those cases for us it definitely has. The band is at a place where we feel very comfortable as a four-piece. I think people are stepping up in different ways they didn’t before and that is why it feels the album is a success,” he said.
For him that means not just bashing away on the drums, but taking command behind the microphone singing.
“I had no hesitation at all, I think much to the chagrin of my bandmates at times,” said Stewart. “I really embraced it and it is one of my favourite elements of the show now. Definitely the guys have been helping me, but knowing those harmonies deep in your soul because you have been playing the songs for so many years is where it comes from.”
With a capable frontman in Ed Robertson the transition to a four-piece, said Stewart, has been seamless. Figuring out their new roles during a three-year break between studio recordings, performing almost 1,000 live shows together, has brought them back invigorated and focused. Their enthusiasm is found on the catchy-chorus hooks they are known for on songs like Odds Are and Boomerang, but also let them be loose and experiment.
“I think in some ways All In Good Time was the sound of a band that was struggling to re-emerge and find a new identity,” said Stewart. “I am proud of that record too but I think as a cohesive piece of work Grinning Streak stands above All In Good Time.
“It sounds more like a band who is comfortable and knows exactly what they are doing. Ed has also written some of his best material ever.”
It is that signature blend of tunefulness and witty sophistication that made BNL hits such as Pinch Me, Brian Wilson and One Week.
Taking cues from their early days of what is now known as the Yellow Tape which featured five songs including Brian Wilson, If I Had $1,000,000, Be My Yoko Ono, Blame It On Me and a cover of a Public Enemy song, they have tapped into the energy that started it all.
“It is so funny because that cassette really sticks out in people’s minds because it was the first time they heard the band,” said Stewart.
“So many people said that tape was the soundtrack to my camping trip or to my Grade 8 year.
“Nelly Furtado actually said that to us once. In Grade 8 she went to Quebec City and all they listened to was the cassette.
“I was like wow, I’m really old first of all, secondly thanks.
“I think that palpable energy is always in there somewhere with the group … I think that is the secret that I can only attribute to magic,” said Stewart.
“We have something that is undeniable. It is our job to nurture that and maintain it the best way possible. Coming up with new material and new ways to express ourselves is the best way to do that and also to continue to find enjoyment in our accomplishments and achievements.
“Now more than ever we realized how important it is to do.”
It is partly why their second album as a four-piece felt different, said Stewart, who is credited with naming the album.
“I was thinking about winning streak because at the time we were recording the Chicago Blackhawks were on this ridiculous winning streak so it was an easy play on words,” he said.
“It was also a story of how things were going a bit better for the band.
“We had all these new songs and were experimenting and having a great time in the studio with our pals and it really seemed like grins all around.”
Their ability to laugh at themselves is part of what has made them work all these years.
The band name came while batting around ideas as well. Stewart said Five Cent Wing Night and The Dog’s Breakfast were also potentials before they landed on Barenaked Ladies.
“Sometimes things can be monotonous when you are in a studio working on a song for hours and hours and it is not coming or you are in a van, bus, delayed waiting for a plane,” he said.
“The stupidest things make you laugh and they actually save the day because you have to remember to not take things too seriously.”