Steven Page talks life after Barenaked Ladies

Former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page talks life in the solo lane. - photo submitted
Former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page talks life in the solo lane.
— image credit: photo submitted

Steven Page arrived for brunch at the Hawk and Hen restaurant on Yates Street in shades, which he soon changed for his iconic black rim glasses. His attire, orange khakis, casual blue canvas shoes and a grey on white flowered shirt untucked, and his firm but comfortable handshake, reflect a musician who has become comfortable and confident in a rewarding solo career.

Since leaving the Barenaked Ladies in 2009, Page has released three albums: A Singer Must Die with the Art of Time Ensemble (2010), Page One (2010), and Heal Thyself, Pt.1: Instinct (2016). And he has continued to tour, honing his solo act, while collaborating with other Canadian music personalities. I took the opportunity of our brunch together to catch up on his career after BNL.

AR: “Tell me about your new band, the TransCanada Highwaymen.

SP: “I’ve been playing with Craig Northey (The Odds) a lot. He and I have been writing together, and producing my records together, and The Odds play on most of my last album. We fell in with Chris Murphy of Sloan, and with Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, and we talked about doing something together. We ended up going out to do each others’ songs as a band. Four lead singers. I play drums on one song, Craig plays drums on another, and I play bass. We’re each others’ backup band. It’s not a new project. Its a hobby side gig for us, but its a fun one. We’re all fans of each others’ so its a great chance to learn to play the songs that we love of each others’.”

AR: “Was it difficult to transition from the Barenaked Ladies to a solo career?”

SP: “The difficulty is learning how to do (solo) performances with the same level of confidence and uniqueness that I would have with the Barenaked Ladies.” It was important for Page to jump into his solo career quickly after leaving the Barenaked Ladies. “It was a lesson to book a tour right away without the band. I did solo shows and duo shows with Kevin Foxx (Toronto based comedian and radio personality). I would follow others and model myself on them: ‘Oh he’s the guy that does that, and I like that.’ Once I had established that, I realized that I could work with whomever I like. It’s exciting and I’ve been able to develop a bunch of really great relationships, with Craig or The Odds or the Art of Time Ensemble. I think I’ve given myself more licence to experiment, that doesn’t mean musically or sensibility, just the ability to communicate with other musicians, to trust them.

AR: “Last year, you spent two weeks in residency at New York’s Club Carlyle Cabaret. Why it was important for him to do that?

SP: “It was novel, and the chance to do hone your show was a luxury I had not had since I was a young musician. A cabaret, it’s not the same as doing a club gig downtown. Everyone review-specs a show, so the New York Times comes to review you on opening night, and the audiences that come want to see the show that was reviewed. So it’s not like a different set list every night, stories different every night, you have to make a show like you would a play or a musical.

AR: “Why New York, why not Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver?” I asked.

SP: “Honestly, I think that Canadians would have cared less. They aren’t all that interested in their own performers unless they have success elsewhere. So, because Drake is so huge internationally, now Toronto goes nuts whenever he’s around. Otherwise, I don’t think that the camera even pans to follow Fresh Wes when he goes to a Toronto Raptor’s game.”

AR: “So is it harder to succeed as a Canadian musician?”

SP: “I don’t think its as hard as it used to be. What used to happen was that international record labels and promoters, especially American ones, would look at Canadian success as fake success. It wasn’t real because the government forces radio to play local content. They saw it as some kind of a cheat to get on to Canadian charts. But audiences like it (music) because they like it. They only buy concert tickets because they want to see the show. Now they (they old guard) realize that the gatekeepers are the fans. The success of (Justin) Bieber is the classic example, because his YouTube beginnings had nothing to do with the system in that way, and that’s threatening, and its great.

Something that I’ve struggled with is a record that is essentially only available in Canada, which is the way the business used to work thirty years ago. But now everything is international and they (fans) expect international and that can be frustrating. They’re not going to work hard for it, trying to find it. And you’re competing against very internet savvy kids who are really good and really committed to reaching out. I’m not comfortable about selling myself all the time. I just want to do a few shows. I love that there are so many ways of getting music out there, but there are so many more efficient acts who you are competing against.

AR: “How has the Internet affected your career?”

SP: “There are all these other ways to access music, and it’s instantaneous. The nostalgic part of me loves going to a record store, browsing and hearing the stuff while I’m looking, searching for rare things. But now you go on-line and it will be in your mailbox the next day, or on your phone right away. Now we have to get the word-of-mouth out. Then, it was actual word-of-mouth. Now it’s playlists, and people who like to talk about it. For young people, that can be really helpful. I think for people who remember the old ways, it can be hard. I did some shows with the Winnipeg Symphony last year. They did three sold out shows because of all the posters on the sides of busses and stuff. If you were out, going to work in the city, you were like ‘Oh, I should see that.’ It’s old school, but if you’re over thirty…”

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