Change has been the name of the game for Barenaked Ladies. When the Canadian group first got together in 1988, they were a duo consisting of singer Steven Page and singer-guitarist Ed Robertson.
Change has been the name of the game for Barenaked Ladies.
When the Canadian group first got together in 1988, they were a duo consisting of singer Steven Page and singer-guitarist Ed Robertson. Over the decades, they’ve morphed into a quartet, then a brief stint as a trio, then back to a quartet, then a quintet. Along the way, they also switched from a low-key acoustic outfit to a full-fledged electric rock band.
Their most recent album, “All in Good Time,” is their first without Page, who left the band in 2009. Band members have been candid about the stormy parting of ways with their former frontman. Drummer Tyler Stewart admits that the five-piece relationship had deteriorated to the point where “fans were starting to notice a bizarre dynamic onstage.” Yet he maintains that it would be near-impossible to replace the voice and stage presence of Page.
“But the fact that there’s three other singers and multi-instrumentalists and songwriters in the band now certainly comes in handy,” he said by phone from his cottage near Ottawa. “We had to kind of convince ourselves that we’d be OK, but it was an adjustment. We had to learn how to use the stage a little more. Ed has really stepped up as a frontman, and Jim (Creeggan) and Kevin (Hearn) have brought in a little more energy. Kevin also has an opportunity to play a lot more guitar.”
In fact, Stewart brought his own change to the band when he joined in 1990, just after first seeing them perform at a festival.
“I was playing with the Would Be Goods, which was an acoustic band with accordion and guitar and me playing a suitcase with brushes,” he recalled. “The Ladies were playing at the festival, and I loved what they did. They were funny, their songs were really good, they sang great. I thought, ‘I need to be with those guys.’”
Aside from Andrew Creeggan on bongos, the Ladies had no drummer. Stewart talked his way into sitting in with them, and over time moved from playing suitcase to adding a snare drum, then a bass drum, then a cymbal, until finally there was a full kit, and he was a member.
“I was holding back a little bit at first because the nature of the band was very acoustic,” he said. “We were designed to play in living rooms: acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, lots of singing. So I used a lot of brushes and tried to respond to the songs. I tried to blend in and not overpower. Eventually, as we got more popular and started to play bigger venues, we had to get a little bit louder. So over the years, we’ve evolved into a rock band.”
Their shows also evolved into a combination of laid-back ballads and full-out rockers, some of them old, some of them new, along with a good amount of spoken shtick.
“We always design the set list,” Stewart said. “That’s sort of the key. We get a good, flowing set list, and then that leaves us free to improvise in between songs. A name like Indian Ranch will probably provide us with lots of fodder.”
The band is scheduled to go into the studio in the fall to make a new recording, but Stewart, with just a hint of disappointment in his voice, said they won’t be playing any new songs at Indian Ranch.
“It is nice to test out new material,” he said. “But I feel like we haven’t played the songs off ‘All in Good Time’ to death yet. So we’re still enjoying those, and are sprinkling a lot of them in the set.”
He was happy to announce, aside from his regular contributions as a back-up singer, he’ll also take a couple of opportunities to step out front.
“We’ll do the song ‘Four Seconds,’ where I get out from behind the kit and sing,” he said. “And we’ve been doing the song ‘Alcohol,’ where Ed gets behind the drums, and I get to be free from my cage and go a little bit mental singing it.”
Asked how Robertson fares as a drummer, Stewart laughed and said, “Can I say kick-ass in your paper? He’s a great drummer.”
Stewart also reflected on his almost two decades touring with the band.
“It doesn’t get any easier to be on the road and be away from your family constantly,” he said. “As you get older, the old body doesn’t respond as well to travel. But we’re also very thankful that we still get to do this after 20 years, and that we have an audience who loves to come and see us ... That kind of outweighs all the whining that men in their 40s are prone to after spending 12 hours on a bus.”