BWW Interviews: Bare No More Former BNL Front Man Turns Over a New Page
Even after close to three decades of performing, sales of over 15 million records, twice being named as group of the year at the Juno awards, and a selection into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Steven Page still feels he has to win his audience over at every show.
Page, who shared the lead vocals with Ed Robertson for the Barenaked Ladies, returns to Newark for an Oct. 19 show at Thirty-one West (31 West Church Street).
"We learned in the early days how to earn an audience. From my tenure in the Barenaked Ladies, we never felt like we were owed anything from an audience. That's something I have carried with me," said Page, who will be performing with Craig Northey and Kevin Fox. "Whether I'm playing someone's birthday party, or a festival, or one of my own gigs, I have to enjoy every gig and make them worthy with the same amount of energy and passion."
The Oct. 19 show is the second time Page has played at Thirty-one West in the past two years. Last fall, Page and Wesley Spence (the artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding) thrilled a solid crowd. His song set, which featured Page on acoustic guitar, Northey on guitar and Fox on cello, offered an eclectic set of the more somber songs like "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel," "The War on Drugs," and "I Live with it Every Day" with mixed in with wry wit.
"That was a great show," Page said. "I had never played there before, but the venue had a great sound and a lot of nice people. It was a nice surprise but it had a lot of stairs to climb."
Page admits his current tour is a far cry from the times when the Barenaked Ladies were on the top of their careers.
"It's pretty grass roots. At the height of our success, we were traveling with six buses and I don't know how many trucks," Page said. "With the big arena tours, you have so much support with all your crew guys. By that time, the machine is so well oiled. It almost runs by itself.
"Now we have a van going all over Canada and just three guys who know each other really well. At one point, it felt like I was going back to the early days ... except I now have twenty odd years of experience. The big difference now is how relaxed touring is. We all look forward to doing this. Musically I think we get better every show."
That relaxed, breezy style has been with Page from the very beginning. Page and Robertson started out as a duo, playing the opening slot for an improv comedy group. The background with improvisation has served Page well, with the singer coming up with stories and songs on the fly about the city he is performing in and even tossing out a few zingers when he was interrupted by the crowd.
Last year in Newark, an over-zealous fan shouted out, "You're so much better than Ed." Without missing a beat, Page shouted back in the voice of a whiny teenager, "It's not a competition, Mom."
"Going back to the Barenaked Ladies, so much of what that show was about was based on improv," Page said. "I used to never repeat myself onstage. I'd feel I was ripping someone off if I told the same story twice, even if it was just our soundman. After doing a cabaret show at the Café Carlyle in New York, I spent a lot of time developing stories."
While Page is known for his off-the cuff, unfiltered comedy on stage, it often clouded over deep-set problems on the final days of his tenure with BNL. Even after a reunion with the band for their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Page can't foresee a reunion tour with his former band mates.
"Getting together for the Canadian Hall of Fame was fun. It's been 10 years now and I don't think there's any bitterness now," Page said. "I went through a divorce the year before. (Leaving the band) was kind of like that.
"Like a divorce, you have people who know each other so intimately and you have so much entangled between the two of you. You set out to make it as amicable as possible. But such things can't help to be fraught with negativity too. That follows for quite some time. I don't know how they feel; I don't talk with them. The hall of fame thing didn't change our relationship. I'm OK with that. I'm happy for them that they are still going playing the music and touring."
Between 2007 and 2008, Page admits he "totally blew up everything." He separated from his wife of 14 years, Carolyn Ricketts, in 2007. After the band released the kid-friendly, "Snacktime" CD, Page was arrested in Syracuse for cocaine possession and then shortly thereafter left the band to pursue a solo career.
"I look back on it now and (the arrest) seems like a relatively small event," Page said. "The thing was, especially in Canada, we had a very solid image. The arrest blew up everything."
While Page says he received a lot of support from the musical community, the band's fans were much more judgmental. One fan posted on the BNL website she was going to get rid of all of her BNL records because of Page's arrest. (One can only imagine what her record collection must look like if she got rid of every CD where the artist used drugs. Perhaps she would be left with only Kidz Bop and Donnie and Marie Osmond records.)
While it was painful to go through, Page appears to have come through that time frame with a much stronger state of mind. He was able to pursue passions he hadn't had the time to do before.
A long-time foodie, Page hosted "The Illegal Eater" on Canada's Travel + Escape network where the singer tasted foods from food carts, pop-up restaurants and underground eateries across North America. He also scored music for Shakespearean works at the Stafford Festival in Ontario.
"The theatrical stuff has been a huge shift with the way I work," Page said. "There's a big difference from doing from regular songs, where you're the singer and the spotlight is on your words. Here I am writing songs with Shakespeare's words, which is pretty easy when you are working with Shakespeare. Everything rhymes and everything is in perfect meter. It all makes sense and it is all clever."
In the BNL song, "The Wrong Man Was Convicted," Page wrote, "Who likes to look at pictures and cries, but way too late? Who doesn't want to change a thing, accepting it was fate."
The song was written in 1994, but those lyrics seem to describe where Page is these days as he embarks on this new adventure.
"It was rough to go through but it helps me make the right choices now," Page said. "My relationship with my kids from my first marriage is incredible and they've grown into some incredible young adults. I have remarried and I'm very happy. The relationships I have with my family and my bandmates are more open and honest than they ever were."