Interview: Ed Robertson

Ed Robertson

(Oct 2017) Ed Robertson and Steven Page met in grade school and after attending the same Peter Gabriel concert, they bumped into each other again at local Harvey’s and the rest is history. They’ve won Junos, Grammy Nominations, Billboard nods…The Barenaked Ladies are another one of those Canadian iconic bands that helped carve a path for so many Indie artists. Hit after hit… “One Week” “If I Had A Million Dollars” “Pinch Me” the list goes on and on. The band has gone through some good times (enormous hits, TV themes, massive tours) and bad times (Steven’s exit from the band, Kevin’s health) but with the drama behind them, Ed is excited, more than ever, to have us hear what they’re up to.

I chatted with Ed for sometime… but forgot to ask about the Kraft Dinner…


Mb: Hey Ed. How’s your day?
Ed: Pretty f*cking great, I got to say!
Mb: Where are you?
Ed: Hometown, Toronto. We’ve been rehearsing for the last week, getting ready for the tour. We’re about to move into full production rehearsals, full stage setup rehearsals tomorrow and things are feeling really good.
Mb: Nice to be home? I was wondering, now that you have a million dollars did you buy that “house” in Scarborough?
Ed: You know, I actually did! But I stuck to the true to the song. I bought a modest place and then I bought a place, kinda equidistance with Peterborough, as the centre-line. I drive right up through Peterborough to Hastings Highlands and spend all my recreational time up there.
Mb: The last time the band was on the cover of The Wire was 1993. A lot has happened since then. We interviewed Jim, who at the time described the band as “acoustic hiphop.” What do you call the band now?
Ed: Just “Amazing!” It’s the only word that really encapsulates the band. (laughs)
Mb: You’ve had so many sounds, I guess it’s hard to pick just one…
Ed: The end of this month makes 29 years of Barenaked Ladies, which is amazing. Ya, we’ve got songs that go from straight ahead Country to full on Rock to Experimental Bossa Nova… we have always been very adventurous musically and sonically and I think that’s one of the hallmarks of the band. People know it’s us but everything sounds different. It’s always been a very liberating thing for the band. When we go into the studio, or I’m writing songs, I don’t feel pinned down to a certain view point or a certain sound. It’s always been really free. As much as that’s been confusing for some people, I think it’s been a really strong point for the band. It’s allowed us to be un-restrictively creative in how we work.
Mb: Do you think it made things tougher, especially in the US, a place they’d like you to write the same hit again and… “Can you write another ‘One Week?’ ”
Ed: Ya… and it’s called “Two Weeks!” (laughs) I mean, we played the Major label game in America for many, many years, and we had a great relationship with them. We were one of the few bands that had built a following on our own, and we’re selling lots of records before the labels had taken notice. So when they came on board and really started to work with the band… it basically took everyone in the record label seeing the band live, over the course of many years, to finally go “Wow! These guys are really good and they work hard and they love what they do…” But what was cool for us.. the record company, when they came onboard they were like “These guys clearly know what they’re doing. We’re late to the party so were going to support them and have them keep doing what they do because it seems to be working out for them!”
Mb: Let’s not fail to mention, your first indie cassette went Gold in Canada! I remember it. The first time Indie product, sold 50,000+ units! It gave every Indie artist in the country a boost. Everyone could see it was now possible to sell tons of product without a label deal.
Ed: Ya. It also kinda transformed the landscape a bit, in Canada, in terms of what you could actually get at a major record store. Before us, you could only buy independent music from the musician off the stage or mail order. There was just so much demand for our demo tape that it started getting carried nationally at Sam’s and A&A’s. That caused people to go in and ask “Do you have the Lowest of the Low record? Do you have the Rheostatics?…” All these bands that I listened to that I never thought I could find at a record store at the time, all of a sudden this Indie music scene really blossomed nationally.
Mb: And became cool…
Ed: It was already cool…
Mb: I mean with the general public. They were accepting of Indie, because now it was in the stores…
Ed: Ya that’s right.
Mb: Switching it up… I once asked Gene Simmons what it felt like walking out on to stage for the first time without makeup. When Steven left the band, how’d it feel fronting on your own for the first time? Gene said he it was daunting.
Ed: I actually felt a lot like Gene Simmons for those first couple of shows. Honestly, the first show was the scariest, and we really worked hard to get ready for it, in a way we’d never worked before. Our whole thing was always like, flying by the seat of our pants. Write a set list moments before we go on stage and just go up and have fun. Tons of improv and… our first show was in front of 14,000 people in Orlando Florida. I was pretty freaked out. I think we all were. We rehearsed really, really, really hard. We over-thought every nuance of that show. We thought “OK. We have to open with two hits that I sing and do “One Week” and “Pinch Me. We’re going to come out strong with songs that people know I sing, then maybe three or four songs in, that’s when they’re going to hear the first song that they were used to hearing Steven sing… and now I’ll be singing it.” We laboured over the whole set list. We laboured over the presentation. I was thinking “How’s it going to come across? Do I have the range to pull it off?” I was doing crazy vocal warm ups all the time trying to increase my range… we really laboured over it. And then we walked out on stage in front of 14,000 people, and I realized very quickly that, we were the only people who really gave a shit! (laughs) There was a huge crowd out there and most of them didn’t know what we looked like, they wanted to hear the songs. They were ready to have a good time, and it was extremely liberating to learn that all of our drama is unimportant to the average audience goer. I know we have hardcore fans that pay attention to all of that and it’s important to them, but at the end of the day it was extremely liberating to realize, as long as we do a good show and people go home happy none of our drama and insecurities matter.
Mb: You have a new CD, Fake Nudes. How did you approach the writing and recording of this one?
Ed: I think I constantly become more confidant. I become more adept. I wrote more for this record, than I ever have. I had thirty-two songs when we went into make the record, and Kev (Kevin Hearn) brought another fourteen and Jim (Creeggan) brought another two. We had enough material to make four records! The good problem we had was, deciding which songs to actually record, because we had tons of good ones. I said to the guys before we played a note on this record, “The most important thing, our number one job is to enjoy this. That’s priority one. What possible accolade or praise or accomplishment could we be shooting for that we haven’t already received? So let’s not worry about that. We are now men in our late 40’s, we’ve been doing this for 29 years, we have nothing to prove to anybody. Let’s make a record that we love that is entertaining and challenging for us and that’s it!” That’s the only thing that mattered. So I made this record with the expectation that nobody’s going to hear it except me. All that mattered to me was that I loved it and that was a great place to be creative in. Plus, with the reality of the modern music business it’s likely no one WILL hear it! (laughs)
Mb: Oh I’m sure there will be a few fans download it… and you’re out touring it in November after you finish this “Canada 1 Five 0” tour, which is the show coming to Peterborough. So, what can we expect?
Ed: Well, we’ve been rehearsing all week and we’re excited to be playing the new stuff, but we revisited a lot of old BNL stuff that we haven’t played in a long time. Some songs we’ve never done as a 4-piece. Songs that I’d never sung before, and they’re a blast. We’ve picked up some songs from Gordon and “Maybe You Should Drive” that we hadn’t played in two decades, so that’s really fun! Not sure about Peterborough… maybe, but on a bunch of the shows, we’re opening for ourselves. We start the show with a full half hour acoustic set and then we take a little break and then come out and rock. It’s giving us a chance to really stretch out and play a bunch of stuff, cause the whole night is us!

Barenaked Ladies perform at Showplace Tuesday October 24, 2017