Barenaked Ladies shed old identities 

Animal Hosers

click to enlarge Barenaked Ladies, 2012

David Bergman

Barenaked Ladies, 2012

From Bob and Doug McKenzie to John Candy, Kids in the Hall, and Mike Myers, Americans have long had a soft spot for offbeat Canadian humorists, and clearly the Barenaked Ladies have struck a similar chord. Such hits as "One Week," "If I Had A $1,000,000," "Be My Yoko Ono," and "It's All Been Done" are characterized by their lighthearted élan, enough so to prompt singer/guitarist Ed Robertson to remark, "We often lead with our goofiness."

It's a critique that's also been leveled against one of their inspirations, They Might Be Giants. "Those are really clever guys and we really look up to them," BNL bassist Jim Creeggan says, gently plucking and strumming his instrument in the background throughout the interview. "They're pretty diverse as well. Once you have a long career, you have time to explore different avenues and emotional content. You can't pen them up [stylistically], either."

The Barenaked Ladies released Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before this spring. It's an odds-and-sods collection of live recordings, demos, and unreleased tracks that closes the final chapter on singer/guitarist Stephen Page's efforts with the band. Page left in 2009 under a cloud of scandal and dysfunction, just after the release of their children's album Snacktime! It was a break that had been building for years.

"It started with five guys in a van, and the idea of, 'Let's take over the world,' and then, all of a sudden, it didn't quite work out," Creeggan says. "We were each other's mirror, and a lot of us were struggling for our own identities and pushing each other around."

The Barenaked Ladies toured like crazy from 1994 to '98, when "One Week" made them household names in America. "I think when there's shake-ups in the lineup like that it really forces everyone to re-evaluate how they feel about the band," Creeggan says. "If anything, it made us realize that even though we've taken a hit, we want to really go for it and try and be more respectful to each other, even though it's harder than when you're 25."

The band's 2010 disc All in Good Time, the first album after Page's departure, featured a more egalitarian approach incorporating five of Creeggan and keyboardist Mike Hearn's compositions.

"Facing an album can be daunting. You have to put your heads to the grindstone," Creeggan says. "The hardest time for bands is when they're redefining who they are."

While the Barenaked Ladies are dealing with an identity adjustment on one hand, they're still keen on signing up for quirky projects. They were recently hired to write songs for Animal House, The Musical, and they're working on it with director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Spamalot, Book of Mormon). Like many of their projects, it comes out of their willingness to try anything.

"Saying yes a lot leads us into interesting situations and great opportunities," Creeggan says. "When we made that ice cream, it was one of the hardest collaborations we've ever done. It's easier to make music together than cook together. Laugh, but some of our biggest fights have been when we've tried to put some dance steps together."

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