In the decade since leaving Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page has released very creative recordings, including his new album Discipline: Heal Thyself, Part II. We discuss it, a 45, influences of Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and Tom Lehrer, and his tour.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE:Before we get into the new album, which I enjoy so much, let’s look back at a late ‘90s single, released between “One Week” and “Pinch Me,” the song “It’s All Been Done.” Near the end of the song, you ask “Will I see you on ‘The Price is Right’?” This is not only a favorite of mine but also of my friend Debi, who I did see on “The Price is Right.” The flip side, “Call and Answer,” is beautiful, with the opening couplet, “I think it’s getting to the point where I can be myself again. I think it’s getting to the point where we have made amends.” Then there is a warning at the end.
STEVEN PAGE: I heard our song “Brian Wilson” on the radio in a hotel room and I thought it sounded so wordy. I thought of some of my favorite rock and roll songs and my favorite Canadian band, Odds, and asked myself, “What would they do?” Then it came quickly, writing a song with less words, about finding your soulmate. Now, guys from Odds are on the new album and Craig Northey from the band is on tour with us. The warning at the end of “Call and Answer” of “don’t ever do those crazy, messed up things that you do,” deals with a couple who has broken up, seem ready to get back together, but need to do so with caution. I thought of it as a duet initially, but ended up singing the duet with myself.
Flip side: Call and Answer
A side: It’s All Been Done
Top 100 debut: December 26, 1998
Peak position: 44
Flip side Top 100 debut: July 24, 1999
Peak position: 121
GM:Speaking of duets, there’s one that you did with Sarah McLachlan, but let’s save that for last, and get on with the new album, which opens with the multiple part song “Nothing Special,” reminding me a of Paul McCartney structure and, as always, you throw in some humor.
SP: Paul McCartney is my biggest hero, growing up with those No. 1 ’70s hits “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “Band on the Run,” which are super exciting suites. You go to another world with each one. The beginning of my song starts with a sound from simpler time, like The Turtles in a pre-protest movement era, then fast forwards to the Live Aid era with the tongue in cheek MTV reference.
GM:The sound of a trumpet is prominent on “Feelgood Summer” as you sing about being carefree, “I can’t remember when I felt this good.”
SP: I tried to capture the late ‘60s and early ‘70s sound, like Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers, with a romantic and grandiose production.
GM:In ¾ time, with a reference that Goldmine readers will appreciate about a 45 RPM, your composition is on par with the creativity of Elvis Costello.
SP: Elvis Costello is another favorite of mine. This is a case of me asking myself, “What do you do as an artist and how do you express a story and appear authentic?”
GM:“What I Got from You” is another fun number, showing frustration, and stating, “Time to find my real dad.”
SP: Another tongue in cheek line. I am a dad and have a wonderful relationship with my three sons. My eldest is a graduate student, majoring in orchestral conducting. The next one is a junior in college, studying musical theater and my third son is a senior in high school, with a focus to be determined.
GM:On “Gravity,” to a bossa nova beat, you sing, “Pythagoras and Copernicus, mortal men like the rest of us. We let them get the best of us. So, we failed God’s test of us.” This sounds like it could have been on a Tom Lehrer ‘60s comedy album.
SP: I am also a Tom Lehrer fan. Arts and sciences have been diminished in recent years and now even the laws of science are getting disputed. So, as an exaggeration, what if gravity was banned?
GM:You certainly take on the recent state of affairs on “White Noise” including immigration.
SP: I grew up at a time when we knew Nazi escapees. As an immigrant, I am aware of my privilege status, coming from the northern border versus what immigrants are experiencing on the southern border.
GM:Musically, “Shooting Star” reminds me of Jeff Lynne’s production of Roy Orbison’s final album.
SP: I imagined that I was all the Traveling Wilburys together, Jeff, Roy, Bob, Tom and George. I love them. In the late ‘80s, when Barenaked Ladies were beginning, I heard the Wilburys sound and could tell it was all about having fun. Rock music was getting so serious and this was refreshing.
GM:The cello on “Done” is beautiful, reminding me of an accent on a Harry Chapin record.
SP: That is Kevin Fox and he is on tour with us too. I was fortunate to see Harry Chapin live in concert when I was eleven years old, watching Harry sing and play guitar with Tim Scott on cello. I love that sound. The couple in “Done” has one last moment of romance, like in Camelot, before their inevitable separation.
Courtesy of StevenPage.com
GM:“A Failure” could appeal to the adult contemporary market with its wonderful arrangement.
SP: I am fortunate to have access to great musicians. There is a great horn arrangement on this song, with a bit of ska thrown in the middle.
GM:On “Whistling Through the Dark,” you touch on things that I face in financial transactions when you sing about 401K and 1099.
SP: I am still new to the U.S., living in New York, and trying to navigate through the tax system.
GM:What a great finale “Looking for the Light” is, when you reach your high vocal notes and hear the powerful trumpet sounds again.
SP: I love all great soul, R&B and Motown songs of the ‘60s, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, songs rooted in a gospel tradition. For this one, my direction was to create something that felt spiritual.
GM:Speaking of spiritual, let’s get back to Sarah McLachlan and your version of “We Three Kings.”
SP: When I was in school I loved the Christmas songs we would sing in the gym, but I got kicked out for inserting parody words in the carols. With Sarah, we were doing a Christmas festival, and our combined version of “We Three Kings” was recorded back stage with her and Barenaked Ladies.
GM:Speaking of a real “barenaked lady,” in the prior decade I was in Alberta and saw a concert poster photo of the band, with your head on Alanis Morissette’s shoulder, everyone naked and strategically placed.
SP: We called that our Au Naturel Tour – Barenaked Ladies & Alanis Morissette.
GM:You have been associated with different Canadian acts with recordings that I have purchased at Sam the Record Man. One act that I think of from the ‘80s, preceding your band, is Doug & The Slugs, with their quirky sense of humor.
SP: In the ’80s I worked at Sam the Record Man in Hillcrest Mall, north of Toronto, in Richmond Hill. The Doug Bennett compositions that I know best are the Canadian hits “Too Bad” and “Making it Work.” We shared a certain element with the Slugs, taking humor to the next level with the music.
GM:My favorite recording from Doug Bennett is his 1986 solo album Animato. It has a great variety.
SP: Being a solo artist has given me that advantage too. A band is a democracy. I learned that you don’t get a chance to try every idea. With the solo work, I don’t have anyone else to rely on, so it pushes me to do my best. On stage though, you will see me surrounded by Craig and Kevin, bringing a nice live blend and balance to the songs.
Courtesy of StevenPage.com
See Steven, Craig and Kevin on the U.S. west coast next, with more dates to come:
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.