Interview Series: Steven Page
When you read the name Steven Page, you may know exactly who he is. But at first glance, many may not. Well, for those who don’t—and those who think they do but are wrong—he’s the former ring leader of the quirky, pop-eccentric group the Barenaked Ladies. Yep, the group that brought us such hits as Jane, If I Had a Million Dollars, Call & Answer, One Week, and the theme song to CBS’s Big Bang Theory.
This is all fine and good, but just over 3 years ago Steven was busted for possession of cocaine while at a friend’s New York apartment. Things were looking bleak for Page, as he then soon separated from the Barenaked Ladies, the band he had been with for 20 years; however, Page turned things around after being cleared of the drug charges as he began writing and recording a new album, which he released in October of 2010, called Page One.
I was humbled to have the opportunity to sit down with Steven Page for an interview a few hours before he performed at ShoreFest this past long weekend. Here’s that interview:
MoreThanAFeeling Music Interview with Steven Page
Dylan: So, you’re now a solo artist—you did a solo album in 2005—then you were back with the Barenaked Ladies for a while, and now you’re a solo artist again. How does being a solo artist compare to doing the “band” thing?
Steven: The band became quite a well-oiled machine and because it was a large organization you had obligations to a full-time crew—you had to be working all the time. You know, we ended up doing a lot of gigs that were well-paying but they weren’t as “soul satisfying”, perhaps. You know, a lot of corporate stuff. It’s fun, and I’m not a snob about that, necessarily, but that was one thing, we always had to keep the organization on the road. But also musically, we [Barenaked Ladies] were very, very familiar with each other. We had been together for over 20 years, so a lot of it was in some ways, easy because we knew each other so well. But also when you’re a band, it’s all about negotiation and compromise. Everybody’s goal is a common goal. When you’re a bandleader, it’s a different thing. I call on the musicians I work with to bring whatever they are with them, I’m not just going to tell them what to do. But final say is mine and the vision is mine. That’s a whole different ball game, and I enjoy it! I enjoy both.
Dylan: Your new album, Page One, could you give a little bit of insight as to how the name of your album came about (aside from a play on your name)?
Steven: It’s also like the first page of the next chapter. With my other [solo] album, The Vanity Project, I kind of hid behind the fake band name, but this was a chance for me to do something that was truly my own and my own vision. I wanted to make a record that felt like “me” and wasn’t completely formed—sometimes people think that when you’re in a band, that you’re somehow hamstrung creatively, but I think the other guys would have allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do: if I was looking to become more avant-garde or heavy or whatever else. I think some of the people expected this record to be heavier or introspective, and of course it’s introspective in some ways—all our records always have been—but I also wanted a sense of fun. It was nice for me to make this record and realize, “Oh, this is the thing I brought to that band!” Just even to show myself what my contribution had been in the past and how I could take it forward. I also didn’t want to make a record that’s so mopey that I’d have to sing it for two years and get myself depressed every night I sang, I wanted to feel good on stage.
Dylan: I was looking through the liner notes of Page One and did notice that Craig Northey [The Odds] and Stephen Duffy of Duran Duran were co-writing a few songs on the album. I was curious as to how those relationships formed and why you chose to write an album with those guys.
Steven: Well, Craig I met in ’93 when we were here in [Vancouver]. I think we were playing the Orpheum or something like that, on an early recording tour and Steven Drake (the former co-frontman of the Odds) came to our gig and said, “You really need to come down the street and watch us play!” They were playing at the Roxy, so we met them and hung out and played some covers with them and had a great time. I became friends with them, especially Craig. They [the Odds] broke up after a bunch of years and when Barenaked Ladies started having our own fan cruises, we made them get back together and come be our house band. Craig’s been incredibly supportive through all the ups and downs. And then Stephen [Duffy] was a solo artist in the ‘80s and I was a huge fan at the age of 15. I used to write him fan letters and he actually wrote me back strangely enough, and when I started making music, I’d send it to him and he was really encouraging. We actually became friends and started writing together as early as ’93. He co-wrote some songs like Jane and Call and Answer.
Dylan: In terms of the fallout as to what’s happened in your personal life a couple years back, how has that impacted your songwriting? Has it changed your style or anything like that?
Steven: I don’t know if it’s changed my songwriting, I think it’s maybe changed my outlook as far as reminding myself what’s at stake and what’s important in life. I think it’s forced me to have a more positive outlook on things because I know what a negative outlook—what kind of spiral that can put you into. I don’t want any more self-fulfilling prophecies like that so I’d rather look on the brighter side if I can. Nothing’s taboo, as far as things to explore but it sure taught me more about myself and what I want.
Dylan: Last question. When I first started playing guitar, one of the first songs I learned to play was Call and Answer [by the Barenaked Ladies]. Do you remember the first song you ever learned on guitar?
Steven: I think it was Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles.
Dylan: That was just your favourite tune or..?
Steven: I think I was looking through a book and I thought, “Oh, I know those chords!”