Singer-guitarist Ed Robertson says Barenaked Ladies is still a Canadian band. "We all still live in Toronto and we have throughout this crazy rollercoaster ride, so I think our perspective has remained Canadian," Robertson says from New York City. "We're certainly more enlightened than we were 10 years ago, but I don't think specific idiosyncrasies of Canada or being Canadian appear different to us now. We're actually really looking forward to this tour and I'm looking forward to the fact that it's in the winter. It reminds me of the Gordon tour, when we went across the Prairies in late February and March."
You could forgive Robertson for not fully recalling what minus-30 with a wind-chill feels like. After all, his group consciously began to concentrate on the US market after successive albums in Canada failed to make quite the same impact in these parts that Gordon did.
Barenaked Ladies were gone but not forgotten by the time Stunt exploded Stateside in 1998. It was a convenient time for Canadian fans to jump back aboard the bandwagon, and it made a triumphant return to Canada at least somewhat bittersweet for the lads.
"Well, they weren't with us all the way and it was certainly a thorn in our side when we were starting to have real success south of the border." Robertson admits. "When things were really dead at home, it was kind of disheartening because I think no matter where you go, you want to be appreciated where you're from. But when people saw the success of Stunt, we also felt a great sense of pride from Canadian fans and from Canada in general. People re-embraced us."
Although it would be hard to top what the group accomplished with that quadruple-platinum-selling album and #1 single "One Week," Robertson, singer-guitarist Steven Page, bassist Jim Creeggan, keyboard player Kevin Hearn, and drummer Tyler Stewart regrouped for Maroon, which came out late last year. Featuring the singles "Pinch Me" and "Too Little Too Late," Maroon has been called the group's most consistent album. It has also been called a more serious effort for the band. Robertson only partially agrees.
"I don't think it's a more serious album," he says. "But I can't fault people's misconceptions of the group in the past, because that's largely been our own fault. We do an awful lot of buggin on TV, and our videos are often ridiculous. That's a big part of the band, but it's not the only part of the band. I think Maroon is the most realized Barenaked Ladies record, because it's the most natural mix of the live energy of the band and the lyricism that we want, based on the eclectic influences of the music.
"It all really comes together naturally and hangs together like a good book or a painting. It doesn't seem as obtusely eclectic as I think some of our things in the past have (been), and I think the flow really makes sense."
But it didn't come without a fight. The writing for Maroon was done at a time when the guys were still rallying around the keyboard player Hearn, who had undergone several months of treatments for leukemia. It was tough to perform that first headlining arena tour of the United States without him, and Robertson says that despite all the good things that were happening for the band, it was a physically and emotionally draining two years for the group.
Hearn has pulled through the ordeal, and in Robertson's words, has "kicked cancer's ass."
"What Kevin was going through was certainly the setting for the last couple of years of all our lives," Robertson says. "There was all kinds of things going on - the success of Stunt and the changes that that made necessary in all our lives. "And i think with the writing process (on Maroon) we decided to be a lot more personal on this record. We started to say, "This is me. Let's not say you or he or they. Let's say us or me or we about these songs. I think that conscious effort to be more personal and more open about some of that emotional ride makes this record a lot more intimate."
Intimacy on a concert stage, however, has never been a problem for Barenaked Ladies. Whether it be at Madison Square Gardens in New York City (the night after this interview took place), or at the Agridome in Regina, it's always the same. The group will bring that intimate vibe back here after an absence of nearly five years. The only difference this time is that Barenaked Ladies returns as bonafise international pop stars.
"it is a full-on arena rock show," Robertson explains. "But what I think will be refreshing for people, I hope, is that they'll get a Barenaked Ladies show like they remember, just with a lot of the new material.
Even in an arena, we're going to strive to make it feel like a small venue. I'm also looking forward to getting back there and, hopefully, seeing some of my Waltons buddies - still probably my favourite band. Man, it's going to be fun to get back there and see some friends that we haven't seen in a long time."