By Keith Sharp
It’s a comment that has become second nature to Steven Page as he goes about his business. “Someone will stop me in the street and say, `Hey Steven, I saw you guys (The Barenaked Ladies) in Orlando last month and you were great!”
The trouble with that comment is that Page hasn’t been in the band since February 2009 when he and former mates; Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart, Jim Creegan and Kevin Hearn parted company in what has been termed as a mutual decision but in reality was the result of Page’s minor drug bust in Fayetteville, New York, July 11th 2008 when he and then-girlfriend Christine Benedicto plus another apartment tenant were the victims of a police raid which turned up a small amount of cocaine in Page’s pocket. Charges that were later reduced to a misdemeanor and eventually tossed out after Page completed certain court conditions after six months.
“Yet people still insist that they’ve seen me in concert with the band or maybe they continue to hear me sing Barenaked Ladies’ songs on the radio and just assume I’m still in the band,” he mused. And while it’s true, Page has been keeping a low profile since going solo, all of that is about to change with the imminent release of his latest release; “Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct”. Although technically, his fifth solo record since striking out on his own in 2010 with `A Singer Must Die’ performed with a classically-trained group of musicians called The Art Of Time Ensemble (Page had released The Vanity Project in 2005 while still with BNL), Page’s latest opus is probably is strongest effort to recapture the quirkiness and pop sensibility of those early best-selling BNL releases.
“After I left the Ladies, I told my manager to book me on as many folk festivals as possible, I just wanted to get out and perform again so I teamed up with Kevin Fox and we went out and started playing,” explained Page. “Then I got into writing music for performances at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, performed with the Art of Time Ensemble, just doing all sorts of things I hadn’t been able to do with The Ladies.”
Page’s first original material album under his own name was titled Page One, released October 19th 2010, he opened for The Goo Goo Dolls across Canada and the U.S. Page then hooked up with The Odds’ lead vocalist Craig Northey to record two songs; “Manchild” and “A Diffferent Sort of Solitude” for an EP of the same name and the creative spark between the two forged a collaboration that has led to the creation of `Heal Thyself Pt.1:. Instinct.’
I was always a big fan of Craig and The Odds,” confessed Page. “He is more of a minimalist kind of writer and producer while I am more of a kitchen sink kinda guy so the two of us worked well together. When I was in BNL, I always thought the song “Brian Wilson” had too many words and I would think, “I wonder what The Odds would have done with this song.”
Recorded at Northey’s Vancouver studio and his own Toronto area facility, Page says the majority of the work for the 11 featured tracks was basically laid down inside three days. “I just listened to what we had done and said; well that’s basically the record. The original recordings were very sparse so we just added a few overdubs with my backing band, The Original Six and that was it.”
“Lyrically, the record is about my journey from angry youth to achieving a little more of an enlightened adulthood,” Page explained. “It’s about the power of music and the power of people who make this music to heal both themselves and the people they can reach.”
Containing plenty of the quirky humour and pop sensibility of the Ladies’ earlier records ( a quality now missing from the band’s two post-Page releases), `Heal Thyself’ has a good chance of positioning Page back in Canada’s pop mainstream. The first single; “Surprise Surprise” was selected as a debut single “because it does sound like a Barenaked Ladies song” and there’s other strong commercial possibilities in the faux Calypso “Mama”, the tongue-in-cheek “I Can See My House From Here”, the melodic “If That’s Your Way” and “Linda Ronstadt In The 70’s”, a song Page wrote in response to an online challenge to write a song about Linda Ronstadt which he tackled as a therapeutic assignment just after leaving the Ladies.
“When I started to record this album, I thought `God it’s been a long time since I felt like this. I had an opportunity to step back and figure out what I had learned from leaving the band, and now I felt that urge to get back in the saddle and be creative again.”
So the million dollar question, why did Page leave the band? To fully understand the circumstances of such a drastic move, you have to go back to re-examine the band’s earlier success with their infamous bootleg tape, that achieved platinum sales, hit airplay for tracks like “You Can Be My Yoko Ono”, “If I Had A Million Dollars” and the major U.S success achieved by their Sire/Reprise record deal for their debut `Gordon’ release.
“Ed and I were the principal songwriters so after the success of Gordon, Ed and I could afford to buy houses but the other guys were living with their parents or renting basement apartments,” allowed Page. “We didn’t think that was right so we adjusted the publishing so the other guys would get their share as well. We looked at bands like U2 and Radiohead, how they split the royalties and how that kept their bands together. Gradually, we started writing as a group and although this led to some interesting experiments, to my mind, they weren’t as successful as what Ed and I had created earlier and I started to become disillusioned with what we were recording.”
The band hit their zenith with their 1998 hit record “Stunt” which sparked a No.1 U.S single with “One Week” written by Robertson but their 1999 follow-up record “Maroon” didn’t fair quite as well and “Pinch Me” a song co-written by Page, couldn’t match “One Week” on the charts.
The experimenting, Page alluded to was evident on the band’s 2003 “Everything To Everyone” which received modest airplay and after the band terminated their distribution agreement with Reprise Records.
Page claims the band reached a point where they weren’t enjoying playing each other’s songs anymore. “In the early days, there was so much exciting energy in what we did but eventually, to me at least, recording and performing just became a technical exercise.”
Things were already coming to a head when the 2008 drug bust occurred. “In the year between my arraignment and dismissal, I was on probation which meant I had to register at the border before playing with the band in the States,” explained Page. “So we had to make different travel arrangements, I would arrive at the gig just before the sound check and they had already been there the night before so eventually a split started to happen between me and the band and I started to feel like a fifth wheel, we just lost a certain connection.”
The band’s insistence that they record another album right away was the final straw for Page. “I was so tired out by the time everything had wound down that I didn’t have time to think about another record but it was clear they wanted to move forward, so that became the catalyst for me splitting.”
In retrospect, Page says there hasn’t been a single day when he’s regretted leaving the band but he does admit to catching a song on the radio or viewing a video clip on his iPod that does trigger great memories. “I have a lot of admiration and respect for the band, and when you’ve been there from the very beginning it’s hard not to form an attachment. Being in a band is worse than a marriage, the relationships you have with each other are so complex.”
So Heal Thyself Pt.1: Instinct is set to go and, as the title suggests, his sessions with Northey were so creative that he has a second album in the vaults virtually ready for future release.
But for those people who continually ask, `what are the chances of Page reuniting with the Barenaked Ladies’, although Robertson is emphatic that such a possibility is off the table, Page is prepared to keep that option open. Yes there is an unresolved law suit between Roberson and Page over a financial dispute over royalties owed to Page from the Robertson-written Big Bang Theory theme song but Page says he is not closed to the possibility.
“If the rest of the guys are up for it, I’d consider it,” he admitted. “I am sure the shows would be great and they have continued to play as a four piece instead of replacing me with someone so the oppotunity is still there. Ultimately, it’s their call though, they would have to want it to happen; but in this business, never say never.”