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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In Advance of His Upcoming Music Box Concert, Steven Page Talks About His Eclectic New Album

Posted By on Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 11:47 AM

click to enlarge DAVID  BERGMAN
  • David Bergman
In a sense, former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page is a man without a country. The Canadian moved to central New York in recent years, and thanks to the way laws are structured, he found that his vote doesn’t count. Literally.

“You know, I used to be very politically active when I lived in Canada. Here, I’ve got a green card, but I can’t vote. I’m not a citizen,” he says during a phone conversation. He performs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, at Music Box Supper Club. “And I can’t vote in Canada anymore, because they changed the laws, so if you’ve been away for over five years, you can’t vote there anymore. So for somebody who was so active and so involved, I’m kind of stifled except for in my music.”

But as Page quickly adds, don’t go looking for him to start cranking out albums with heavy political themes to fill the void. That’s not his style.

“I don’t want to write simplistic stuff with answers, because that stuff always makes my skin crawl,” he says. “But the fact that there aren’t necessarily clear cut answers to what we want to see in the world and who do we want to invite into our lives and so on, music is the best place for me to do that.”

Musically, Page has been on an interesting exploratory path that began with the 2016 release of Heal Thyself Pt. I: Instinct, an intriguing title that immediately suggested a sequel might follow. Two years later, that next chapter has indeed arrived in the form of Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II.

“Officially, it’s part two of Heal Thyself. I put the first one out two years ago. So this one, rather than being Heal Thyself, Pt. II: Discipline, it’s Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt II. I just flipped them around,” he explains. “That originally started as a record of about 30 songs that I thought, I could waste this all in one fell swoop and have nobody hear it, or I could release it in a bunch of different EPs. But I thought, I’ll just cut it into two records. What happens is that you spend two years in between, and you kind of outgrow some of the material, or you want to revise stuff or you start writing new stuff that you’re excited about. So about half of it is the other half of the record, the stuff that I was happy putting out and then the rest of it is new stuff.

We spoke with Page on the day after he had finished the album, and he was excited to talk about it.

“It’s as eclectic as any of my records have been, stylistically, all of the way back to Gordon, where you’ve got one song that’s a huge uptempo Latin number, followed by guitar power pop, followed by a big soul ballad. So it’s all over the map in that way,” he shares. “But thematically, you know, I think the last record. I’ve been trying to think about it now that I’m outside of it. What is this record? What’s it about? You know, the last one, a lot of it was about trying to reconcile what it is to be an artist and have an artist’s life and not feel guilty about it. Like, how does any artist feel like their vocation is making a contribution or isn’t just being a slacker? Because any of us who do it, know that it’s hard work and it’s heartbreaking and it’s intense. But we also love it. So that’s what the last record was. This record was kind of, well, what do I do with that now? It’s really like, where do I stand on things?”

The concept sounds deep, but longtime fans of Page’s music, both solo and with Barenaked Ladies, will find that it slots in quite comfortably with his past work. He’s always been keen to explore a variety of genres and moods with his songwriting, looking as far back as the previously mentioned Gordon, the major label debut from Barenaked Ladies, which was released in 1992. While it featured a good amount of lighthearted fare in the form of songs like"If I Had $1000000,” it also showcased a number of songs that were deeply introspective — quite impressive for a band so early in their career. It showed that there was depth and that the Canadian group was no quick flash in the pan — they were destined to write many more songs and albums after Gordon.

“We obviously hid behind the goofiness sometimes. But also, the goofiness was such a true part of how we related to each other and what we loved about making music, and we just wrote songs,” Page says. “I think our only concern at the time was that people weren’t seeing the whole picture. Not that we were trying to shut down people’s admiration or dislike for our funny stuff. It was like it’s just part of the whole picture. We think, ‘Well, God, the Beatles can have "Octopus’s Garden" and "Maxwell’s Silver Hammer" on the same record as "I Want You."' But we didn’t have as good of an album cover, for sure. I look back now at those songs and think, yeah, it’s amazing. A song like ‘What A Good Boy,’ where I was probably 19, maybe 20, when I wrote that in my parents’ basement? In 1992, the first time we went over to the U.K., we played at this club, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. It was just packed to the rafters.”

They performed “What A Good Boy” that night, and the response that came back to the stage was something that took the band by surprise.

“The whole audience sang with thick Scottish accents and the album had just come out,” he remembers. “There was this moment where we all realized, well, these aren’t our friends lined up outside the club, this is another country! We have no connection to these people except through the music we’ve made. I got to go back there last year and play that same club and I did two nights and it was the same experience. Like, I had high hopes for how that song was going to go over and it exceeded all of my expectations. Then when I realized what a young kid I was, to write something that still connects with people over 25 years later, it’s pretty heavy. You know, I tried to gloss over the things in the songs I don’t like, because I want to be proud of my achievements, just stuff that I would have changed if I was to write it now, but that’s maybe part of the charm of those songs.”

With the group celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, it was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame by legendary Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, a moment which sparked a one night reunion for Page, who departed from the band nearly a decade ago, with his former bandmates.

“It’s amazing. I mean, I didn’t grow up as a Rush fan, which is a sacrilege in Canada. I’m not a hockey guy; I’m not a Rush guy. It’s like, maybe that’s why I’m a man without a country right now. But I do have, I remember this one summer being at my friend’s cottage for a big chunk of the summer, and we just listened to [the Rush album] Moving Pictures every day all of the time,” he says. “Then Signals came out, and we listened to that all of the time. By that point, I discovered punk rock. So I kind of moved on. But you know, they are absolutely iconic. I’ve had the opportunity to meet all of those guys several times. I got to actually play on a Rheostatics record with [Rush drummer] Neil Peart at one point when we were really young, like before we made Gordon. [Rush guitarist] Alex [Lifeson] and Geddy [Lee] — I’ve done a bunch of different events with them and so on. But now that they’re not really doing Rush anymore, it’s kind of hard to nail those guys down. I know for [BNL's] Ed [Robertson] especially since Ed was such a Rush fanatic. That’s how I knew him when we were in elementary school together. He was the grade below me, so I wasn’t friendly with him.”

Robertson, as Page recalls, was “the guy who played guitar and had the Rush T-shirt,” even going as far as to perform [the Rush song] “Fly By Night” in the school play. They immortalized those early school days in the song “Grade 9” on the Gordon album, and humorously, they later heard from the members of Rush as they were on their own path of musical success as a band.

“I remember when we played Massey Hall in Toronto the first time. Rush used to play three night stands at Massey Hall, that’s when they did the All the World’s a Stage live album from there. We did four sold-out nights there, so they sent us some flowers with a card that just said, ‘I thought it was supposed to be three nights,'” he laughs. “So when they gave us the award, I so badly wanted to be able to say, ‘Thank you, Geddy, for presenting us with the award’ and then he could say, ‘Ten bucks is ten bucks!,’ which is his line from the Bob and Doug McKenzie album. He didn’t do it, but it was still great.”

Fans coming out to see Page perform at the Music Box Supper Club can expect an evening of music that will mix past Barenaked Ladies favorites with songs from his solo work, including material from the newest album. But there are two songs that you’ll have to pull up on YouTube from the Hall of Fame reunion performance if you want to hear them.

“Those two songs that we did, ‘One Week’ and ‘If I Had $1000000,’ are the two songs that I don’t do," Page explains. "I do lots of the BNL songs — ‘The Old Apartment,’ ‘Brian Wilson,’ ‘What A Good Boy,’ ‘It’s All Been Done’ — but I don’t do [those two songs]. Not out of bitterness, but I just think because those songs are duets between me and Ed, they’re special to me. I feel like I did them without him, it would feel like a cover band. With me singing ‘What A Good Boy,’ it’s me singing just like I did before. But if I’ve got some other guys singing it or I’m singing the whole thing, it seems weird to me. I thought, those songs are kind of sacred. They mean a lot to people, and I don’t want to make them cheap for the audience. You know, maybe I overthink that, because maybe the audiences just don’t care. But it serves me best to find the specialness. So that just made it that much more special, for me to feel like, ‘Okay, now I’m going to do these songs, because this is how they’re to be done.’ That was a great and very satisfying feeling.

When asked how much the Hall of Fame reunion helped to repair some elements of the relationship with the band, both collectively and individually, he admits that he’s not entirely sure.

“Occasionally, I’ll send a text or something like that now, which we never would have done before," he says. "You know, otherwise, all I would ever get was maybe a birthday greeting from [BNL's] Kevin [Hearn] and stuff like that and that was kind of it. Now, I’ve seen the guys a couple of times at events. Of course, we did the Junos and then there was a plaque unveiling at the Hall of Fame in Calgary. I realize we have years of great jokes and memories and tears and everything else together growing up that it’s fun to reminisce about. But I think, you know, I can feel the guardedness from them, and that’s fine. I know I have to remind myself not to run in and go, ‘Let’s be best buddies again!’ Because I know that’s just going to end up in tears! [Laughs] But to have some shared respect and gratitude for what we did together is a huge step forward from where it was before.”

Steven Page Trio, Wesley Stace, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main St., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $25 ADV, $30 DOS,

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