Home Features SPILL FEATURE: MELODIC. ENTERTAINING. CHALLENGING. HONEST. – A CONVERSATION WITH STEVEN PAGE

SPILL FEATURE: MELODIC. ENTERTAINING. CHALLENGING. HONEST. – A CONVERSATION WITH STEVEN PAGE

by Bryan Williston
Steven Page

MELODIC. ENTERTAINING. CHALLENGING. HONEST.

A CONVERSATION WITH STEVEN PAGE

“I hum, chronically, but it’s annoying to people around me, ’cause I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s obviously just some neurotic tic, I don’t even know what I’m humming. I always say that I wish I could hear what the song is I’m humming, ’cause I’d write it down. Sometimes I feel like I’m in pursuit of that, even before I try and figure out what it is I’m trying to say.”

Steven Page has had a big year, so far. He was inducted into the Canadian Music hall of Fame this past March with his old band, Barenaked Ladies. His new album, Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II., is being released this month, and this fall, for the first time since 2010, the former BNL co-frontman is mounting a major tour of the United States. Following a series of live dates in Canada and the U.K. this summer, Page and band (Craig Northey and Kevin Fox) are well-primed for their U.S. invasion.

The fall tour will be in support of Page’s new album, and will also include songs from his Barenaked Ladies days, and earlier solo work. Page is cautiously excited about the tour, noting, “I was punching all the dates into my iCal – I hope I can do this! I was going like, four and five in a row! The thing is, I’ll push myself so hard every night, belting songs, and gripping my guitar like it’s a bobcat that I’m trying to strangle to death. The amount of exertion every night and it’s no wonder, after like three hours of talking in a van, which is actually the worst thing for anybody’s voice. When you’re in your twenties, you can talk in a van all day, and lose your voice once on tour. But when you’re in your forties, it doesn’t work that way. So, I get a little nervous about that stuff – I’m trying not to worry too much. I’m just going to enjoy, and maybe that means I don’t have to do every single big show-stopper every single night. Maybe I don’t have to play for two hours and forty-five minutes!”

That said, Page has no intention of holding anything back from his audience. “The funny thing is, backing off, for me, is a greater show of trust than givin’ ‘er – part of it comes from the old days of just trying to win over an audience. It’s still the most important challenge, even if they’re already converted. You have lots to live up to. It’s like, ‘Well, here I am by myself, or with my friends here – but it’s not the other friends that you know – and people want to know if I’m still as good, or if I still have it’. That gets into your head. I want to prove something, which is infantile and useless. I’ve been doing this for thirty years. I can do it. But when the audience is on your side, and in the zone with you – it’s not just about them being in their own zone, but that you do something together.”

PURCHASE DISCIPLINE: HEAL THYSELF, PT. II

That communal experience is aided by Page’s onstage collaborators, Northey and Fox, who have fun throwing him curveballs during live shows. “My problem is that I tend to talk too much, then, because I feel comfortable and I’m having a good time. I’m with two of my best friends. They love to egg me on if I start talking too much. Rather than shutting me up, they’ll push me to talk more. They’ll distract me by saying, ‘Oh, but tell us about this!’ Forever, and ever! ‘Remember dinner last night?’ Just ’cause they want to see me flail – which is hilarious, and you hope the audience is in on it. It’s like three people who you’re already friends with, who just happen to blow you mind with music.”

Page acknowledges that things have changed since his 2010 U.S. tour, especially where understanding the nature of his fan base, and stepping out of the shadow of his former band are concerned. “In 2010, When Page One came out, I didn’t do a huge tour. I didn’t go all over the country. Being a solo artist was brand new to me, and it was brand new to the agents and the promoters, and my management. Nobody knew how to do it. I knew how to do the shows, I had a great band with me. But I’m not sure how many sure people knew who Steven Page was at that point. I think if they had said, ‘It’s the fat guy with glasses from Barenaked Ladies’ on the poster, people would go, ‘Ohhh… that guy!’ People don’t really know what you do. In a band with two lead singers, only the die-hards know who sings what and who writes what. Just ’cause I was a record nerd who was totally invested in that kind of stuff as a young person, doesn’t mean that everybody else is.”

“I’ve had people stop me on the street and say, ‘Hey, I saw you guys in Orlando two weeks ago. You were great!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m sure it was great, but I wasn’t there.’ They were like, ‘No, you were there!’ And they actually went to the concert, which shows you how much they don’t pay attention to what’s important. What’s important is the memory of those songs, to those kind of people. What’s important is the songs that remind them of a time and a place, and they’re there at the concert with the people, they share that with. That’s the nostalgia thing. I’m really lucky though, that now, the core of my audience – some of them are still rabid BNL fans as well.”

With the understanding that he and his audience are ageing together, Page is realistic about how he is regarded by his fans. “People get older. They don’t go to shows like they did when they were thirty, or twenty-five. When I went out in 2010, they were putting me in all the rock clubs that we played in 1992. So, often you’re playing downtown somewhere in a black box rock club, and you don’t go onstage ’til eleven o’clock. People have babysitters, work – whatever it is. Like, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go see a show that late. Now, people are kind of like, ‘How about a show at eight o’clock, and be done at ten? Maybe I can have dinner while I’m doing that, too.’ I’m not going to sneer at that, ’cause I totally get it. So you have those people. Actually, I’m so lucky – they want to hear the new stuff. Crazy!”

“We always joked, and I still joke with the audience, ‘Well, I know what you’re really here for is the new stuff – I’m going to play some new stuff!’ Most bands of a certain age do that joke, but I have people say, ‘You don’t have to do that joke. We actually do want to hear the new stuff!’ They feel that it’s a conversation with me, like we’re catching up. I mentioned on social media that I had finished my new record, and people were like, ‘I can’t wait to hear your songs, I hope you play them on tour.’ That’s pretty lucky that I get that kind of response. Now, I think I have a more stable place with the fans. In the meantime, I’ve toured Canada a ton. I haven’t had great luck with big tours, per se, because a lot of planning has to happen in advance. You have to plan for: What’s your album release date? What’s your single? Who’s playing the single on the radio? And when you’re my age – who my age gets played on the radio, on any radio station, except for my old stuff? There’s just no place for that stuff, except for in people’s cars, or on their phones and stuff like that. Music that I make isn’t part of some trend that comes and marks a time and a place.”

Of his new album, Page describes the how the songs came about, and gives a few insights into his creative process when recording. “When I put Part I out two years ago, initially the whole project was about thirty songs – a lot of which I had written for a musical that I had written with Daniel McIvor, the Canadian playwright. We had been work-shopping at Stratford, and hopefully they’re going to be staging it either next year or the year after. So, that was kind of the basis for a lot of these songs – they were part of this musical.”

“I picked an album’s worth of songs that I thought hung together, for the first part. And then I had more or less an album’s worth for the second part, that were mostly recorded. You know, maybe the odd overdubs here and there, some editing. Then you live with that stuff for a few years, and you think, ‘Well, I don’t want that. I need to resing that. No, that’s not the right keyboard part.’ That’s the kind of musician I am, the kind of creator I am. I can’t stop touching it. I realized, especially making this record, that what I’m trying to do – at the risk of sounding pretentious but is actually more desperate – is that I can hear in my head what it is that I want. I don’t want to put something out that doesn’t at least approximate what I can hear. Often, what I hear in my head is white noise. There’s so much noise around everything that you’ve got to chip away at it, in order to hear what it is you’re trying to do. Then, to do the work to make it happen takes time.”

Despite having written or co-written so many memorable songs, and taken part in many interesting artistic projects, Page’s muse is still strong, and it inspires him to create. On writing, he observes that, “Sometimes songs just come, and those are always the ones I’m most thankful for. I can probably count them on both hands – the songs in my entire career that just came out in one vomit of song. Those are the ones where I go, ‘Whoa! That’s a real song, and it’s a good one, and people like it and get attached to it.’ It doesn’t always happen, but that’s how we wrote, ‘If I Had $1,000,000’ – as you heard it is how we wrote it. A song like ‘Brian Wilson’ was just that quick.”

Being politically progressive and a long-time proponent of social democracy, Page acknowledges the changes in the landscape since the last time he toured the U.S., and considers how these changes have informed his life and work. “When Trump was elected, people seemed very surprised. I live in central New York, which is very different from New York City…Where I live, in the suburbs, the votes are mostly (Democrat) red, and you get fifteen minutes from here and you’re going to see Confederate flags on people’s houses, even though we’re in upstate New York. What it represents to them is what it represents to us. They may not say it, but it represents the dominance of the white race. Making America Great Again, with the definition of ‘great’ being so bizarre and offensive. I can see it. I can see this from Facebook and everything else. Whether or not they were speaking specifically about Trump, the fear of immigrants, the fear of the rise of women, of gender issues – all those kinds of things. I spent years getting told, ‘What do you know? You’re just a musician. Shut up and sing.’ That never bothered me, ‘cause I was like, ‘How many people did you employ  last year?’ At the height of Barenaked Ladies, we had a pretty successful small business, if that’s how you want to gauge success. I don’t gauge success that way, but if you want me to speak your language, then, there you go.”

“I look now at Justin Trudeau. It was really encouraging for me, especially living away from home, when he was elected. Even though at that point, I didn’t know what he stood for, something about him holds a mirror up to Canadians, and Canadians are seeing themselves the way they thought they looked, again. We were able to see ourselves in that mirror and go, ‘Yeah, that’s us.’ As he’s continued to not follow through, I wish Gord (Downie) would come back from the grave and thump him, when it comes to indigenous people. This is the chance for the people who got him there, to hold his feet to the fire. He’s not the be-all and the end-all. We are. The people are. And they’ve gotta go, ‘You’re fucking us up.’ They can’t just turn their backs.”

Deep thoughts from a deep thinker, and an artist with no compunction for showing us all of his sides. Melodic. Entertaining. Challenging. Honest.



Tour Dates

For ticket information see here.

DATE CITY VENUE
Sep 20 Washington, DC City Winery
Sep 21 Richmond, VA Tin Pan
Sep 22 Annapolis, MD Rams Head On Stage
Sep 24 Philadelphia, PA World Café Live
Sep 25 New York, NY Highline Ballroom
Sep 27 Bay Shore, NY Boulton Center
Sep 29 Pawling, NY Daryl’s House
Sep 30 Old Saybrook, CT Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
Oct 02 Portland, ME Port City Music Hall
Oct 03 Boston, MA City Winery
Oct 05 Fall River, MA Narrows Center
Oct 06 Albany, NY Swyer Theater @ The Egg
Oct 07 Ithaca, NY Hangar Theatre
Oct 11 Cleveland, OH Music Box Supper Club
Oct 12 Newark, OH Thirty One West
Oct 14 Newport, KY Southgate House
Oct 17 St Louis, MO Delmar Hall
Oct 18 Chicago, IL City Winery
Oct 19 Milwaukee, WI Shank Hall
Oct 21 Minneapolis, MN Dakota
Nov 15 Seattle, WA Triple Door
Nov 16 Portland, OR Mission Theatre
Nov 19 Sacramento Harlow’s Restaurant and Nightclub
Nov 20 Santa Cruz, CA Kuumbwa Center
Nov 21 Berkeley, CA Freight & Salvage
Nov 24 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour
Nov 25 San Diego, CA Belly Up
Nov 26 Phoenix, AZ Crescent Ballroom
Nov 27 Tucson, AZ 191 Toole
Nov 29 Denver, CO Soiled Dove
Nov 30 Salt Lake City, UT State Room


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