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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Stories - Music > Feature Interviews A to E > Barenaked Ladies

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One Week With ...

Barenaked Ladies

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 1999   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.

Every musician in the world first picks up an instrument as a child.  As a kid, that musician saw someone either in person or on TV or whatever who inspired them to take that first step.  A player who made them stop and say, "Wait, that's cool, the girls dig it, and I can do that!"   For Jim Creeggan, the bassist of the Barenaked Ladies, that inspiration was Fred Flintstone.  Creeggan saw all the women of Bedrock going crazy as Fred sang, and he knew his future. 

Somehow, that makes sense.  For the Barenaked Ladies, while the music does play the priority to the band, comedy is also a big part of the equation.  The band has some of the wittiest and weirdest lyrics out there.  Then you look at their live shows, which have become famous for the band's hilarious, rambling song intros that could work as well at the Improv as at a rock concert.  The fact that they can actually play well and write some wicked hooks has kept them out of Dr. Demento novelty hell.

The band is made up of five Canadian former class clowns, Steven Page (singer/guitarist), Ed Robertson (guitarist/singer), Creeggan (bassist), Tyler Stewart (drummer) and Kevin Hearn (keyboards).  They came together as a group in high school, with Creeggan's brother Andy as the original keyboardist.   The band released it's first album, the wacky Gordon, which became a cult fave and spawned a few almost hits, including "Be My Yoko Ono" (complete with a hilarious imitation Yoko screeching), "Brian Wilson," "If I Had $1,000,000" and the relatively serious love ballad "What A Good Boy."

Soon after Andy Creeggan jumped ship to start a side group with Jim, "called the Brothers Creeggan, go figure..." Creeggan explains.   Jim Creeggan decided to straddle the jobs, releasing two Brothers Creeggan albums in the time that the Ladies were building their following.

The Barenaked Ladies' audience continued growing on the strength of follow-ups Maybe You Should Drive (1994) and the Shoe Box EP (1996).  The next CD, Born On A Pirate Ship (1996) broke them out of their cult status and even housed their first U.S. hit single, the rocking look back at a smashed relationship called "The Old Apartment."  A 1997 live album called Rock Spectacle ended up going gold and had an even bigger hit with a concert version of "Brian Wilson."

Creeggan says the group was just a little surprised that "Brian Wilson" finally broke out.  "We've been playing it for eight years already before it became a hit.  But, in a way, it didn't surprise me, because on our first album, we were really new, really green, to playing in the U.S.   When it came out on the live CD, we'd already had some success and our live energy sort of transposed onto it.  Everybody was ready for it.  I've always thought the song was wicked."

The Ladies released their new album, Stunt, last summer, and it promptly became their biggest ever, debuting at #3 on the album charts and selling more than 2,000,000 copies in a couple of months.  The album is paced by their white-boy hip-hop smash "One Week," undoubtedly the only song ever to namecheck Harrison Ford, Leann Rimes, Bert Kaempfert, Aquaman and Akira Kurisawa.   The Ladies spent much of the summer on the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, stealing shows out from under co-headliners Blues Traveler and Paula Cole.  Then the Ladies headed out on their first headlining stadium tour, with fellow Canadian and fan Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 along for the ride to film a concert documentary.

While Creeggan acknowledges that the Barenaked Ladies' manic stage shows helped to build their audience, he strongly feels people wouldn't keep coming back if not for the music.  He's also candid on his place in the Barenaked Ladies' three-ring circus.

"I'm the mime onstage," Creeggan freely admits.  "I don't really think in words, and when I'm up on stage I'm thinking on sounds and energy more than anything.  There is a big banter thing, and there's already a lot of guys in the band that like to talk and mess around a lot.  The band likes to have a good time, but it wouldn't exist without the core of the music to skip around from.  We're always going back to a song.  We're not just going for laughs all night."

Musically, Stunt continues the band's evolution.   The Barenakeds have come full circle from the acoustic novelty songs of Gordon to a rock band with attitude to burn.  They deftly pull off the Byrdsy jangle rock of "I'll Be That Girl" and the power chord pop of "It's All Been Done" and the ironically politically incorrect love song to "Alcohol."  They also still are able to change up with surprisingly effective ballads like "When You Dream" and "Call And Answer."

"(The band's sound) is much more muscular," Creeggan agrees.  "That could be derived from the fact we all have personal trainers and we're pumping iron constantly, so that translates to the music automatically.   The sound has sort of beefed up because different members of the band, like Ed and Steve, are sort of getting interested in electric guitars.  That's how it moved into our sound.  And that does translate to radio, so it's going to be a little more complimentary to the radio.  As long as we can put out a nice pumping groove, something like 'Eye Of The Tiger' or Journey and have something the people grab onto."

Still, Creeggan admits it is great that the band has been able to stay together for almost ten years with a mostly unchanged lineup.   Creeggan feels that it's because the Barenaked Ladies play live nearly constantly and get a lot of positive reinforcement from doing that. It does reinforce to the group the reason to be together.  Then, on top of that, Creeggan says everybody works their butts off trying to keep clear with each other. 

The Barenaked Ladies have been watching bemusedly as they've become more and more popular over the years.  "Definitely we're getting popular and it's spreading pretty quickly," Creeggan says.  "The popularity thing is pretty interesting on it's own and it's pretty exciting.  But, the plan for world domination just is people want to hear us, let's play and maybe they'll ask us back.   It's like riding a huge wave.  I'm just taking it step by step."

Creeggan has to admit that he thinks it is really cool that after all these years the band has a following and is even getting pretty significant airplay.  He remembers when they couldn't get a thing on radio, but looking back he realizes it's a necessary stage for most bands.  "That happens to a lot of bands that try different sounds," he says.  "You often hear, like we did when we were younger and starting out, they didn't know where to put us.  It takes a little bit longer to win over the trust of the radio world.  But, you can win that trust, either by sticking to it or by some freak chance that somebody takes a chance on you.   Like Alanis, for instance.  They took a chance with her, because of her lyrical quality or whatever, and now she's the mainstream.  Before she would be really chancy, but people took a chance on her and it just took off like crazy."

Of course fame isn't without its pitfalls, though.   For example, Creeggan admits that he has run across a lot of people who have a pretty skin-deep view of the band.  "This is not really a beef with me I've just always felt a little left out on it.  Often, you hear, 'Oh, yeah, the five fat guys from Canada.'  I mean, I'm 6' 2 3/4" and 147 pounds so I can't really say that I'm fat.  Actually, I wish I was a little more chubby.  Steve and Tyler are more on the heavy side, but they're working on it, you know?  So what they're saying is way off the mark, you know.  They're not looking at the whole picture.   They're pigeonholing us."

Then there is the whole Kraft Dinner thing.   This comes from the early single "If I Had $1,000,000."  As many of their songs, it's a funny stream of consciousness song with a guy musing that if he were rich, how he could buy a woman's love.  At one point, he says if he had $1,000,000 he could buy more of Kraft Dinner.  Early on in a Toronto show, as they got to that line, someone threw a box onstage.  Then they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on.  It was funny to the band at first, but now everytime the Barenaked Ladies hit that line they are inundated with cardboard boxes of fake pasta.   "I guess there were some assholes go figure just one or two guys that really don't understand that throwing a box of Kraft Dinner really fast can hurt somebody," Creeggan laughs.  "It started sucking.  It was all in jest at first, but once you open that door of 'hey, lets throw stuff at the band...'"   It's only funny until someone puts an eye out.

Still the dangers of being the skinniest fat guy in the world and being emasculated by foodstuff is a small price to pay for the roller coaster ride they're going on.  And for the most part it's all good.  Fred Flintstone couldn't do better.

"How would I like for people to see the band?" Creeggan muses.  "I'd like to have them see us as small people, but also, very tall people.  Like little big men.  Sometimes small, sometimes tall."

Copyright 1999   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.

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