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Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page aim to ‘remember the past without getting mired in it’ at Junos

It’s been nine years since Steven Page abruptly left the Barenaked Ladies. He hasn’t been in the same room with the remaining band members since. They haven’t spoken until recently and, even then, primarily by text. Yet on Sunday, they’ll reunite for a one-time performance at the Juno Awards.

So what’s going to happen?

“Fist fight,” suggests Tyler Stewart, the drummer known for his quick wit. “I’ve mostly been sexting with Steve, which really takes a lot of the pressure off the real stuff.”

Jokes aside, there is the potential for awkwardness as the original group is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, 30 years after Page and Ed Robertson formed the BNL while playing in their parents’ basements.

Steven Page reunites with Barenaked Ladies reunite for Junos

Steven Page, right, seen here at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto with CBC’s David Common, will join his former bandmates onstage when the Barenaked Ladies perform at the Juno awards in Vancouver. The group is being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

You know, we worked together for 20 years and that relationship got difficult,” Robertson says, “and so it had to come to an end … we’re lucky to be on the other side of it and 10 years down the road.”

The current members of the band — Robertson, Stewart, Jim Creeggan and Kevin Hearn — sat down together with CBC News to talk about the reunion, but not with Page. He was interviewed separately.

Page says this was partly because the band is based in Toronto, while he now lives in upstate New York. But he adds, “also, they didn’t ask me to be interviewed with them. I think they want to keep their identity as Barenaked Ladies and mine as Steven Page, and I’m fine with that. That’s, you know, that’s cool.”

Steven Page’s post-BNL identity struggle1:04

The breakup

While the Ladies enjoyed success in both Canada and the U.S., a low point certainly came in 2008. Page was arrested in upstate New York for cocaine possession.

Seven months later, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the Ladies and Page separated. And so began a decade of acrimony and minimal communication.

“You think of [a band] like a group of brothers or buddies, but it’s almost more like a marriage — and sometimes a marriage breaks down,” Page explains.

“Every day there’s somebody [on social media] who says just suck it up and get back together. As if, like, someone is ever going to say to anybody ‘Just suck it up and go back to your ex-wife, even though you’ve moved on you’re remarried and you’ve got kids.'”

Steven Page on why broken bands are hard to patch up1:10

Moving on

And the two sides have moved on. Steven Page, now living in the U.S., has a solo career and is also touring as part of a trio with Craig Northey on guitar and Kevin Fox on cello.

Meanwhile, the four remaining members of the Barenaked Ladies are on a much larger tour promoting their latest album, Fake Nudes.

“Steve’s been really open and frankly really respectful of the fact that the band is still here,” Robertson says.

But Page hasn’t always felt respected by them. He acknowledges he was hurt that the band continued to use the same name after his departure.

“I felt negated by that in a certain way, like it eliminated my contribution. I don’t feel that way now, but that’s how I felt about it then.”

The original frontman also sued Robertson three years ago, seeking a share of the royalties from the group’s theme song for The Big Bang Theory TV show.

Barenaked Ladies weigh in on fan fascination with their split0:41

A special duet

Another point of difference involves arguably their biggest hit ever, If I Had a Million Dollars.  

“It’s one of the first songs that Ed and I ever wrote together when we were 18,” says Page.

After the split, the BNL continued to perform it. “We’ve played that song every night of our careers for 30 years. And every concert features that song,” says Stewart.

Page, though, never sings it.

“I think for me it’s special, it’s a duet between me and Ed,” he says. “And I always thought it would feel weird, and sound weird to the audience too, if I was either on my own or with somebody else. So I think, for me, it’s really about that interaction between the two of us.”

Barenaked Ladies

From left, Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart, Steven Page and Jim Creeggan in December 1990. (Mike Slaugher/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Power of time

There may well be a moment of interaction like that at the Juno Awards.

The temporarily reunited band will perform two of their original songs together and speak as the original ensemble when accepting their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

“I’m not looking at it like this is a time to, like, rehash everything, I’m just going for the celebration,” Robertson says. “We worked with Steve for 20 years. It’s going to be really fun to get up on stage and do four-and-a-half minutes of older songs.”

Though there has been animosity in the decade since they were last together, Page alludes to the healing power of time and his comfort level with seeing the group again. 

“If you’d asked me a year ago even, I wouldn’t have known how to answer,” he says, referring to what it will be like seeing his old band mates again. “I think we’ve both forged our own paths now that we’re very secure in. So it’s a little easier to remember the past without getting mired in it too.”

Barenaked Ladies reunite for Junos

The four remaining members of the Barenaked Ladies, seen here at Toronto’s Massey Hall, are in the middle of a tour promoting their latest album, Fake Nudes. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Irreconcilable differences?

The music may well be the easiest part for a band that spent its early years packed in a van, driving across Canada, riffing on stage and making every show a bit different.

“We did it for 20-plus years, and also there is a certain chemistry that was always there,” Stewart says.

So is there any chance of this one-off performance becoming permanent?

“Never say never,” says Robertson.

“I have learned to not predict, and I think it all depends on how it goes,” Page says when asked the same question in his separate interview.

“I don’t think they have any desire to have me back in the band. I know I don’t have a desire to be back in the band. But if there are opportunities to collaborate like this and we enjoy it, like, there’s no rule saying we can’t.”



More from CBC

Watch David Common’s feature on the Barenaked Ladies and Steven Page reunion from CBC’s The National:

The Barenaked Ladies to reunite for one night5:34

CBC | Arts News