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Barenaked Ladies Debut, on Their Own Label

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Barenaked Ladies Debut, on Their Own Label

Barenaked Ladies Debut, on Their Own Label

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Barenaked Ladies is a Canadian rock band composed of five men. Well what should they call themselves? Five fully clothed Canadian guys? Who'd come to see that? They have a new CD out. It's their first release on the band's own label Desperation Records. The CD is called "Barenaked Ladies Are Me," and here's a taste.

(Soundbite of song "Easy")

BARENAKED LADIES (Music Group): (Singing) What's a boy to do? When you tell your tale and it never fails, I just stand there feeling bad for you. With your hangdog eyes, you can bring me down. Now I'm wrapped around your whole hand, stop looking so surprised.

SIMON: That's "Easy" from the new Barenaked Ladies CD. Three of the Ladies are in Chicago bureau now. Ed Robertson, who sings and plays guitar. You hear him singing here on "Easy." Mr. Robertson, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. ED ROBERTSON (Barenaked Ladies): Well, thanks for having me.

SIMON: And Steven Page, singer and guitar player. Welcome, Mr. Page.

Mr. STEVEN PAGE (Barenaked Ladies): Hello.

SIMON: And Kevin Hearn does the keyboards, guitars, and also sings. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. KEVIN HEARN (Barenaked Ladies): Pleasure.

SIMON: Now, we should explain we couldn't fit all five of the Barenaked Ladies - there's a thought - into our Chicago studio, so we have to make do with the three of you, but since you're all Canadian males in your 30s, I can't tell who's speaking. So are there any distinguishing vocal characteristics that will help us tell you apart?

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yes. Steve is the one who says the astute, accurate thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERTSON: I'm the one who talks trash, that's Ed speaking.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROBERTSON: And Kev makes insightful musical comments.

Mr. HEARN: And then occasionally a good zinger in the voice of Kermit the Frog.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All right. I think we ought to be able to keep that straight. This is your debut release on your own label. And this seems to be something that a lot of musical performers are doing. What does this give you that working under contract to one of the major record companies doesn't, and what are some of the disadvantages?

Mr. PAGE: Well, one thing it gives us is constant priority with the label. You know, we had some big hits in the '90s, and we didn't have to worry about being a top priority. But then, as we kind of joined the middle of the pack, again we are clamoring for their attention and might and dollars. And this way, you know, we really don't pull the plug until we say we pull the plug on this record.

Mr. HEARN: Also, creatively, just making the record on our own time schedule and producing it ourselves was quite liberating and, you know, enriching artistically.

SIMON: Hmm. Are there drawbacks though, for example, in the relative lack of publicity machinery, which might be why you're on our show?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: We are honored to be on your show, but there certainly is a smaller infrastructure.

Mr. ROBERTSON: I miss the Christmas gifts.

SIMON: Is there a song you can point to on this CD that maybe wouldn't have made it onto a CD if you were still with a major record label?

Mr. ROBERTSON: Well, probably this CD. You know, we've been a band for 18 years now and when we write a song, we know whether we like it or not. And if I just record it on acoustic guitar with a vocal and give it to the guys, and everybody can kind of hear their parts and imagine where it's going to go; where if you give that simple demo to someone at a label, most likely they're going to say, uh, it sounds really folky.

Mr. HEARN: There are certain songs that just don't make it to records because they're just not ready yet. There's a song on this ready called "Everything Had Changed" that didn't make it to our last Reprise album because it was a completely different arrangement. At that time, we had - it was very beat driven and it just didn't seem to work. And then here we do it incredibly stripped down, as accordion, banjo, and cello, and vocal, and it works. But we've allowed ourselves the time to let songs gestate and change and mutate a bit.

SIMON: Hmm. Let's listen to a little of it, if we could.

(Soundbite of song "Everything Had Changed")

BARENAKED LADIES (Band): (Singing) On the path of life, I wish you well. Divergent journeys, but we will meet again in hell. I kept my head down and moved on till every friend I'd known was gone. And then, one day, I was not alone. Everything had changed. Everything was strange. Everything had changed. Everything was strange.

SIMON: I know, it sounds a little folky to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah, but you interrupted just before Dr. Dre chimes in.

SIMON: Should we - I was (unintelligible) to bring it up, but we'll make people buy the CD for that. Tell me about this. You made this album available in USB drive.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yes.

Mr. PAGE: So they're little, little, you know, a flash drive, flash memory drive. So it's about the size of, you know, my index finger. If you can see my index finger through the radio...

Mr. ROBERTSON: Hold it up to the mic.

Mr. PAGE: It's, you know, it's a little on the...

SIMON: Steady there.

Mr. PAGE: ...sausage size.

SIMON: Okay, we got it. Yeah, okay.

Mr. PAGE: Anyway, it holds not only the whole record, but we recorded a double-album with this. We did 29 songs and we split into two chunks. One chunk, "Barenaked Ladies are Me," is in the stores now. And the second chunk is coming out in February. But online, or on this USB stick, you can actually get the whole thing.

I think part of the revolutionary part of this stick is that there is no (unintelligible) protections. Our industry is so fixated on protecting and controlling their intellectual properties and making sure that people only listen to them or use them in the way that the industry sees fit, and we trust our fans to listen to it, spread the word and, you know, come to the shows, and...

Mr. ROBERTSON: And because that's what we want. If we buy a collection of songs from an artist that we admire, I want to be able to put it on my iPod, put in a mix tape, put it in my car, make a mixed tape for a friend, pass it on to them, hoping that it'll turn them on to go buy that music that I like.

SIMON: But there's no cover.

Mr. ROBERTSON: No.

SIMON: I mean there's no cover art. There's no...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: Part of that was an oversight on our part. When you live on the bleeding edge, you make some mistakes. I got the thing after it had been finished, plugged into my computer and thought, you know what, the album cover art and the liner notes would have been a spectacular addition to this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah.

Mr. HEARN: There is video footage of us and there's photos.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah, there's all kinds of extra things.

Mr. PAGE: Except the cover.

Mr. HEARN: Well, what we're doing now is you can go to our Web site and actually just download that directly from the Web site.

SIMON: Steve.

Mr. PAGE: Mm-Hmm.

SIMON: If I may call you Steve.

Mr. PAGE: You may.

SIMON: Steven Page, singer and guitar player. You sing "Bull in the China Shop," and let's listen to that.

(Soundbite of song "Bull in the China Shop")

BARENAKED LADIES (Band): (Singing) I'm a public embarrassment. I'm a bottle of diet poison. I'm a walking advertisement for everything I never meant and everything I never meant to be. I can't hear a thing 'cause I've stopped listening. I'm the reason I don't go out...

Mr. ROBERTSON: One of my favorite lines of the whole record is on that song. The line, If you lived here you'd be home by now. If you still lived here you'd be home now with me.

Mr. PAGE: See, and Ed, he likes that line and I wrote it. Now, my favorite line in the record, Ed wrote, and it's in the same song, where he says, I'm the product this song's about and I'm the product this song's about to be.

Mr. ROBERTSON: You know who Steve and I like? Each other.

Mr. PAGE: Each other.

(Soundbite of song "Bull the China Shop")

BARENAKED LADIES (Band): (Singing) All the fun that the law allows. All the fun but with half the meaning. Come on over, I'll show you how. If you lived here you'd be home by now. If you still lived here you'd be home now with me. I can't hear a thing 'cause I've stopped listening...

SIMON: When you perform live, do people still throw macaroni and cheese boxes up on stage?

Mr. HEARN: Not so much. We sort of discouraged it over the years because it started getting so feverish. We were getting hit with boxes. And people were opening cheese packets and they were getting in the instruments.

SIMON: Maybe we should explain that there's a reason for this.

Mr. PAGE: We have a song called "If I Had a Million Dollars," and at one point we talk - we say we wouldn't have to eat Kraft dinner, which is what we in Canada call Kraft macaroni and cheese. Which I guess is kind of the quintessential student food.

Mr. HEARN: Starving musician.

Mr. PAGE: Yeah, starving food. And people just latched on to that and started throwing these boxes as a kind of an offering. But as the shows got bigger and the audience got more enthusiastic, people started whipping them onstage. And then as the crowds got bigger and bigger and we started playing arenas, people would be up in the second or third balconies throwing these boxes. And of course they're not getting anywhere near the stage and...

SIMON: Like it would be like a Doug Flutie pass from up there.

Mr. PAGE: Exactly.

Mr. ROBERTSON: And there were, literally, you know, four to 600 boxes flying through the air.

Mr. PAGE: And literally Doug Flutie.

SIMON: Who's not much taller than a lot of Kraft...

Mr. HEARN: No, he's a little guy.

SIMON: ...but a great quarterback and won the Gray Cup(ph) many times in Canada.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah. He was included in one surprised package of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: That's how they do the draft in the Canadian Football League.

SIMON: I want to listen to another song, Ed Robertson, that you sing on this album. This one, "Bank Job."

Mr. ROBERTSON: Hmm.

(Soundbite of song "Bank Job")

BARENAKED LADIES (Band): (Singing) It was an upset in two minutes flat. We were back on the freeway, foot to the mat. I can't understand it; we had it down pat. It's very upsetting, could we leave it at that? We all had positions; we each had a role. We'd over-rehearsed it; we had full control. They can't teach you acting; it's there in your soul. It's the same with a bank job and each thing we stole. So I don't need attitude, 'cause you knew just what to do. We all did our best now. We all need to rest now. Leave me alone. Wait by the phone. I was the driver; you ran the show...

SIMON: So what's the beginning of this song?

Mr. ROBERTSON: What is it? The beginning is...

(Singing) It was an upset...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEARN: In G-major chord.

Mr. PAGE: It was a synthesizer before that.

SIMON: I mean, the artistic beginning. I don't...

Mr. ROBERTSON: Oh, well, I'm not sure.

Mr. PAGE: I thought it was an interesting metaphor for our band and how we work together. And sometimes, you know, you can't help but blame everybody else for your failures when you think you, you know, you hold up - you've done your part of the job.

Mr. ROBERTSON: I'll leave the metaphors and similes and ironies to Mr. Literary over here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERTSON: I was just writing a song about a bank robbery I once took part in.

Mr. PAGE: See, for me every song on the album is about the failure of John Kerry to become president.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: I can show you a way to get there in every song I write.

(Soundbite of song "Bank Job")

BARENAKED LADIES (Band): (Singing) We all did our best now. We all need to rest now. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

SIMON: I don't know how I let this question fall to the ground. How did you get your name? Or how did you name yourselves, I'm assuming.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Well, Steve and I were actually - we had just started hanging out together and it was kind of right at the end of high school for me. Steve was in early university. We went to see a Bob Dylan concert. So we started pretending we were old rock critics. And we were saying, oh, you know, this band is okay, but what about that band, Here Comes Colonel Ernie? You know, and then the other guy would just continue the story.

Mr. PAGE: That's right. Well, I remember, you know, Dylan, before he was with The Band in Woodstock, New York, he had that place in Ithaca, New York, where he had Shemp Worley and the Red Pants.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah. So we were just talking trash and trying to make each other laugh. One of the bands we made up was Barenaked Ladies. Oh, yeah. They were amazing. They used to wear like hip waiters and fezzes, and...

Mr. PAGE: And just sang about tomato soup.

Mr. ROBERTSON: And so I had actually agreed to play - I was in a high school band, like just a cover band, and I had agreed to play a fundraiser for a local food bank in Toronto. And in the intervening six months, before the fundraiser actually came around, the band broke up. And the organizer called me and said, so you're still on for the fundraiser, right? We're really counting on you. And I said, yes, of course. But the name of the band has changed to - and I just kind of rifled through my head of some of the band names Steve and I made up, and I said Barenaked Ladies. And she said, okay, we'll see you next week.

SIMON: Oh, gosh.

Mr. ROBERTSON: And then I called Steve and said do you want to be in Barenaked Ladies? So that was it.

SIMON: I'd like to go out on one of the songs that's on the deluxe portion of the CD. And it's "Angry People." Anything you want us to know about this song?

SPELLINGS: We worked last year on a Shakespeare production of "As You Like It" for the Stratford Festival up in Canada, which is the premiere Shakespeare festival. In doing so met a fantastic choreographer name Donna Feore. So she has choreographed a Fosse-influenced dance routine/fight routine for our stage show for this song, which has...

Mr. ROBERTSON: It's become a real standout in the live show.

Mr. PAGE: Yeah.

SIMON: Gentlemen, it's been a delight to talk to you. Thanks very much.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Thank you. Our pleasure.

Mr. HEARN: Thank you.

Mr. PAGE: Thanks for having us on.

SIMON: Ed Robertson, Steven Page, and Kevin Hearn; three of the five members of Barenaked Ladies. Their new release is "Barenaked Ladies Are Me," and you can hear full-length versions of some of the songs on our Website, npr.org.

(Soundbite of song "Angry People")

BARENAKED LADIES: (Singing) We just drag them down.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song "Angry People")

BARENAKED LADIES: (Singing) We just drag them down. We just drag them down until they're just like us. Angry people get so sanctimonious, telling us what to do, hoping no one outs them all as phonies just 'cause...

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