Barenaked Ladies Exposed

The Barenaked Ladies were hardly a band of naked ambition. But 12 years after they formed, the Canadians have lasted longer than anyone could have predicted. Ed Robertson and Steven Page met up in elementary school in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto they refer to not so affectionately as "Scarberia." Now 29 and 33 respectively, the two started singing together as teens, and formed the 'Ladies with drummer Tyler Stewart, bassist Jim Creegan and keyboard player Andy Creegan in 1988. Their first recording? An appearance on the fan-response "Speaker's Corner" segment on Canadian music video station MuchMusic. The band quickly gained a reputation for humorous songs ("If I had a Million Dollars," "Be My Yoko Ono"), but seemed poised to be a short-lived novelty act. Six albums later, they're the subject of a new Jason Priestly-directed (another Canadian, eh?) documentary, "Barenaked in America," timed to the release of their latest CD, "Maroon." NEWSWEEK's Thomas Hayden checked in with singer and guitarist Ed Robertson about success, staying fit on the road and the value of a joke.

Ed Robertson: Flashing for us happens every four or five shows. It's not like a Kid Rock show where every third or fourth girl is flashing. We see naked guys as often as we see naked girls.

I consider that to be a poor ratio. I would say 1 to 10 would be a better ratio, but we're running about even Steven.

I think people flash us ironically. I've been at Kid Rock and Metallica shows and the flashing is very like, "I'm a stripper, and these are my t--- and I know you want to see them." I find at our shows that we get flashed by like, shy girls who are surprised that they did it. And I think that's much more exciting.

We have been on stage naked, but usually just to bug bands that are opening for us. Most of the bands we've played with have been taunted with our nudity. It's not particularly appealing nudity. We are no 'N Sync or 98 Degrees.

We have been hitting the gym though. By the end of this tour we're going to be a band of six packs. We figured we've got all these trucks, we're touring with all this gear, why don't we do a little something for ourselves and get in shape? So we brought an elliptical workout thing, a StairMaster ... I'm going to have buns of steel by the end of the tour.

Hey, it's a reality that every musician needs to deal with. I'm so glad that got caught on tape.

I know. It's a dirty secret. There's actually a "Behind the Music" coming out on us in the next week or two.

The movie is really a document of the first two weeks of the Stunt tour, but there's a whole history of the band before then that a lot of people don't know about. We've ridden the rock roller coaster a bit. Luckily we haven't done the descent into drug abuse and alcoholism that is typical of the "Behind the Music" story, but I think there is a lot of story to this band.

[Laughing] Maybe. I mean we've seen ourselves as a band and our goal has been music for a long time. We were out of the mainstream to such a degree that it allowed us to focus on that. A lot of bands have a huge hit before they even know if they like each other, or how to get along. Or that touring is really frigging hard. We did that for ten years before we had any real success, so we were already a tightly functioning unit and we had a lot of our goals accomplished and in place. And when success came it was like a bonus. It wasn't like, "Oh my god, where did that come from and how do we deal with it?"

He just started coming out to shows, I guess. For the first couple it was like [incredulous] "was that Jason Priestly in the front?" After about four shows someone from the record company said, "Jason Priestly is here and he wants to meet you guys." So he was just a big fan and we became good friends.

Sure, totally, and that's exactly what I thought. "Oh my god, Brandon from 90210 likes our band."

[Laughing] I had no concept of him as a person, obviously, I just knew him as the guy from TV. But he's very disarming and he's very modest and he's very funny, and he has a very good sense of himself and how people see him, so he disarms that very quickly when you meet him. You realize hey, he's this actor from Vancouver and he's done really well in this TV show, but that's not all there is to him. And he was just cool to hang out with.

Yeah, we had to drag him in front of the camera. He was trying really hard not to seem like, "Okay, I want to make a movie about Barenaked Ladies, but it's really about me." And he did a good job of avoiding that.

I wish there was more spontaneity in the movie, but it's hard to capture that. I think the band is best when there's no one around. For me the fun stuff about being in the band occurs when it's just us in a van, and that dynamic changes when there's other people around.

Absolutely. At the end of the day we enjoy each other and we enjoy performing together. We never would have ridden the kinds of ups and downs that we have had if that weren't the case. We get on stage and we love those two hours of performing together.

No, I think that anybody who's heard what we do knows that we do it because we dig it, we like it. We're not going, "Oh look at this stupid rap stuff, look how easy it is" or whatever. I just love hip hop, I've been into it for 15 years.

If there's one real danger, because you do humorous songs, you must run the risk of being seen as a novelty act.

Absolutely.

You just gotta do what you do. We're not Weird Al Yankovic, although I was so flattered when he covered our song. We enjoy having a sense of humor and it's part of how we relate to each other, but I think what we have is a wry smile and a sense of irony. We're not looking for a guffaw or a cheap laugh. I think there's intent and there's meaning in our music. We strive to be more "Fargo"... and less "Kingpin."

Barenaked Ladies Exposed | News