Steven Page previews his upcoming show at Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem PA November 6 2019 by Ryan O’Malley
When someone parts ways with their long-term band, one of two things can happen: the person can drop out of the music scene and start a new career path, or that person can take some time to adapt to their new setting and return to the music scene as a solo artist who is free to write and play whatever they choose.
Luckily, Steven Page has not only chosen the latter, but he remains a very busy songwriter who has released three albums of original material since 2010. Prior to his first solo release, ‘Page One,’ he was the main songwriter, co-guitarist and lead vocalist in beloved Canadian outfit Barenaked Ladies, which he co-founded in 1988. It was a 21 year career that saw Page write or co-write 97 songs, with many of them helping to not only identify Page as a brilliant writer with a strong voice, but also pushed Barenaked Ladies into the national scene with songs like “Brian Wilson,” “The Old Apartment,” and the smash hit “One Week.”
Since those days, Page has maintained his status as a prominent writer, and lately has been very active in touring. Although he has hit the road in various incarnations, his latest venture – The Steven Page Trio – finds the musician touring with Kevin Fox on cello, and longtime friend Craig Northey of Odds on lead guitar. Towards the end of their early Fall outing, the trio will be stopping by the Musikfest Café in Bethlehem, Pa. on Wednesday, November 6. It’s a setting that Page enjoys for their approach to not only Barenaked Ladies songs, but cuts from his solo albums, including his latest release “Discipline: Heal
Thyself Part II.”
Recently, we had the chance to talk to Page about everything from his solo career and live shows, to his storied song book and even his former bands love-to-hate snack, Kraft Mac and Cheese.
Live Music News and Review: How has the tour been going for the last couple weeks?
Steven Page: “The shows have been fantastic so far. We’ve had really nice audiences. This is our fourth jaunt around the U.S., so most of the venues are places we haven’t got to on the other tours – people that have been waiting patiently for the most part for us to come to their area. It seems to be all the true believers, which is really nice. We get the people that are really happy to be there, and it seems like a really fun, pleasant experience for everybody including ourselves.”
LMNR: You just recently played a few shows with Odds, and Craig is a part of your trio band. How were the shows with The Odds?
SP: “They were amazing. We got to do a couple shows in Portland and Seattle, and also the Toronto and Vancouver shows. They’re really just one of my favorite bands of all time, and one of my favorite groups of people in general. I’ve known them since the early 90’s and always fantasized about getting to play with them, and now I actually do get to play with them. And I get to play with Craig every night, so it’s fantastic. It’s a dream come true.”
LMNR: Do you have anything lined up for more Odds shows in the future, or are you going to do the trio thing until something else comes along?
SP: “We would all love to do more shows together, so if time and budgets permit, it will definitely happen. We all really enjoy playing together.”
LMNR: This tour, as last year’s was, is in support of your latest album, ‘Discipline: Heal Thyself Part II.’ The album has been playing a pretty prominent part in your set list. How has the crowd reaction been to your new material?
SP: “It’s been great. I’m certainly well aware of the fact that when audiences come and the artist plays stuff from their most recent record, that quite often they’re not super familiar with it. I think, really, that it’s about making sure it fits the other material – you blend it with old Barenaked Ladies stuff and my other solo material, and the audience is seeing how it all jigsaw puzzles together. They’ve been really receptive which is a really awesome feeling; which is why we keep learning and adding newer songs to the set – because it’s that rewarding for us.”
LMNR: One of the songs on the new album that seems to be getting a lot of attention is the song ‘White Noise.’ That’s a very political angle from you, which is different from your norm especially with the Barenaked Ladies. That song normally wouldn’t fit into the BNL catalogue for obvious reasons. Was that something you wanted to do when you left the band – to branch out to darker areas?
SP: “I think that’s one of the things about the Barenaked Ladies – at least the era that I was with them – is the music was kind of all over the map. Although sometimes it was deceptively upbeat, there were darker things tackled in the lyrics. I think the difference with a song like ‘White Noise’ is the lyrics are so direct and so on the surface, as opposed to being couched in a lot of metaphor. It hasn’t traditionally been my style, but it was written as a response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. a couple years ago. When I saw that and the violence that lead to the normalization of white supremacy, it was so upsetting that the song came out very quickly for me. I don’t know if the other guys in the band would be cool with that or not. I suspect they would have, because I think, politically, we’re all on the same page. I know that one of the things about being a solo artist is that you really don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.”
LMNR: I’ve also read that you talk about being an immigrant from Canada into the U.S. and how it’s much different than being on the southern border right now. That was part of the songwriting, right?
SP: “For sure. I know that my immigrant experience comes from one of great privilege. Coming into the United States as someone who’s had some success as an artist and being a middle-aged white man from Canada is a very different experience. It certainly has helped me empathize even more with people who are coming from a much more difficult background and having to cross being that much more difficult.”
LMNR: I do want to touch on some of your Barenaked Ladies songs. Most people, unfortunately in my eyes, know the band through the songs “One Week,” and “Pinch Me,” which are obviously blown-up chart hits. I always felt that especially your songwriting was great on songs like “Alternative Girlfriend,” “Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel,” and “What A Good Boy.” These shows with the trio seem to get you into the deeper cuts of Barenaked Ladies. Have the crowds been responding well to the
SP: “Very much so. Those three that you just mentioned are showing up in our set lists quite a lot lately. You do a song like ‘Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At Wheel,’ and when you start to play it, you can see the audience get that sense of recognition and people are surprised and excited to hear the songs that they like that they don’t expect to hear all of the time. That’s a delightful thing for us on stage as well.”
LMNR: I should mention that you do indeed play the songs that people are familiar with as well, like “The Old Apartment,” “Brian Wilson,” and “It’s All Been Done.”
SP: “I’ve seen enough artists who have been around a long time and try to ignore their big hits or whatever, and others embrace them. I always feel like there’s a balance for both. I think you should respect what brought people to the show to begin with – and the memories those songs may hold for the audience. Myself included. Those songs have been with me for a long time and they’re important to me.”
LMNR: From the videos I’ve watched, your trio seems to have a really fun time trying to rework some of these songs with the cello and everything; which sort of adds new life to the songs. “Brian Wilson” has been done on the original ‘Yellow Tape’ recording, then the ‘Gordon’ release, and even “Brian Wilson 2000.” But, even in 2019 you’re still reworking that song.
SP: “Every song kind of develops a life of its own in whatever setting you put it in. In the trio, we’ve been playing it for a few years and it’s definitely evolved over the course of that. The core of the song is still there, but you do what you can to keep it fresh and exciting. It’s both familiar and surprising at the same time for the audience.”
LMNR: I did want to touch on last year with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and yourself and the band getting inducted. Has there been any talks between you and the other guys? I know it always seems like there might be something in the future, or there might not. Has there been anything new?
SP: “No. Honestly, there’s been no talk about it at all. Who knows? Like I’ve said, I would never shut the door on the possibility of it being something in the future, but it certainly hasn’t been anything we discussed.”
LMNR: If you can tell your fans in the area what’s in store when they come see your show, how would you describe it?
SP: “Well, it’s the Steven Page Trio, which is myself on acoustic guitar and piano, and we’ve got Craig Northey of The Odds on guitar, and Kevin Fox on cello. We do everything from the earliest Barenaked Ladies records all the way through to my most recent solo record. The nice thing, for me, is that it feels very cohesive; it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be ‘ok, now we’re gonna do the old stuff. Now we’re gonna do the new stuff.’ It all feels like it flows. The sense I get from the audience, especially talking to people after the shows, is that for them it feels like an opportunity to catch up with an old friend. And that’s the best thing I can hope for.”
LMNR: That’s what I’m looking forward to as well. I don’t know if this will throw you off course at all, but the very first time I saw you with the band was, I believe, 1996 in Boston at a radio show they had outside and there were people in the trees watching you. (edit: it was October of 1997 at the Mix 98.5 Mixfest)
SP: “That was actually the day that ‘Stunt’ came out. It was 1998, I think. We didn’t realize it would be nearly as big as it was. We brought our like little record store in-store setups with all our acoustic stuff, and it ends up being tens of thousands of people at this event. It was just mind-blowing.”
LMNR: It was definitely crazy. I’m sure, in a way, that in 2019 you’re happy that you are no longer being hit with Kraft Mac and Cheese.
SP: “That’s true (laughing). Even though by then we were probably sick of it. At that point, what we started to do is have big bins at the entrance where people could donate their Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to the food bank, and that seemed to work pretty well for us as well.”
LMNR: Do you have any future plans beyond the touring? Any thoughts on a new album coming out soon?
SP: “Yeah, with the spare time I have, I’m definitely working on new material. I’m hoping to have something out next year. The first thing I have to jump back into, though, is I wrote a musical that will be at the Stratford Festival in Canada – a musical called ‘Here’s What It Takes.’ That opens in June of next year, so I’m rehearsing that for most of the first half of next year. My hope is after that I’ll have a new record out and can get back on the road again.”
LMNR: Do you have any fun road stories as of late?
SP: “As we get older, we get more boring and responsible which just makes life very easy. Everybody’s kind of in the van working on their own stuff all night on the long ride. There’s always some good stuff though. I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I’m going to anyways. Our tour manager was advancing a show with a promoter, and as he hung up the phone, he said ‘love you too’ by mistake. So that’s the kind of entertainment I get on the road.”
LMNR: Do you have U.S citizenship yet? I know you’ve been having an issue with voting over the last couple of years.
SP: “I don’t have U.S. citizenship yet; I have a green card right now. A citizenship might be my next project.”
* Dean Friedman supporting
+ ‘An Evening With’ (no support)
Niagara Falls, NY
Rapids Theater *
Mount Tabor, NJ
At The Tabernacle *
City Winery *
City WinerY *
Musicfest Cafe *
Emelin Theatre +
My Father’s Place +
New York City
City Vineyard [sold out!]