hmv.com talks to... - July 15, 2021

“We were very close to going with ‘Heard Immunity’, but we shied away from that because two of this band are cowards…” - Barenaked Ladies talk taking the long way round on new album Detour De Force
by Tom
Tom
by Tom hmv London, Bio hmv.com Editor. Peanut butter, punk rock and pillows.

“We were very close to going with ‘Heard Immunity’, but we shied away from that because two of this band are cowards…” - Barenaked Ladies talk taking the long way round on new album Detour De Force

As most bands get older, the relentless productivity that they promised they’d always keep up tends to fall away. Two-year gaps between albums become three, four and then five years. People get older, responsibilities change and the pace slows. 

That’s not every band though. And, in the case of good time pop-rockers Barenaked Ladies, the pace of their output has always been prolific. The longest gap they’d had was between 2000’s Maroon and 2003’s Everything To Everyone and they followed that up by delivering an LP every year for the next five. 

Even when co-frontman Steven Page, who’d provided lead vocals on the band’s megahits ‘One Week’ and ‘It’s All Been Done’ left the band in 2009, an album arrived promptly the following year with Ed Robertson assuming lead vocals. 

With that in mind, the four-year gap between 2017’s Fake Nudes and their new offering Detour De Force seems like an eternity. 

Part of that, as Robertson explains to us, was pandemic enforced. He also opened up about the band’s scientific approach to their live sets and their commitment to democracy when it comes to putting albums together...

 

You’ve made a fair few records in your career. Are you always collecting songs in the knowledge that, at some point, there will be an album, or do you have a focused period where you start the process?

“I’ve usually gone project to project. I didn’t like to write all the time. I would wait until we’d toured a record and taken a break before I start writing for the next one. That has always given me a good deal of stress because it does deliver the day when you’ve suddenly got to write an entire album. This time, as soon as we finished the last record, I made myself try to start writing. That gave me a much better headspace, and, when we came to make the album, I had five finished songs and 10 in various stages of completion. I’m not going to say it was stress-free, but there was a lot less stress.”

 

Is that a good template for the next one?

“I hope so. I still feel like I’m improving with my writing and how I approach my writing. I think I get better all the time and I enjoy it more now than I ever have. It’s a lot less intimidating.”

 

 

When do the rest of the band get involved? 

“On the last record, I had Kev (Hearn, guitars) help me finish a couple of songs, on this one, I mostly presented finished demos to the guys. A few were full production, others were voice notes, some I just played for them on acoustic guitar. The guys know me and my writing so well that I can give them any stage of a song and they can hear what I’m going for.”

 

You write with other writers sometimes, how do those sessions come about?

“I started working with Kevin Griffin over 10 years ago. We met through gigging together, he opened for us a bunch of times and we get along so well. I go back to him all the time. I tried a couple of new writers on this album, a friend of mine called Donovan Woods. I was just a fan of his. He’s a new artist and writer and his music continually captivated me. I reached out to him and it turned out he was a fan growing up. Writing with him was a real pleasure.”

 

Always nice to hear…

“It was. I also wrote a song with Danny Michel, a longtime friend, then a handful just on my own. At this point in my career, I’m pretty comfortable with what I’m writing. If I have an idea and I can see where it’s going I rarely have any problem getting there. Sometimes I bring in another voice because I want a different set of paintbrushes. I want a different point of view. It’s always fun to do that.”

 

When you’re putting the record together, how many songs do you have to get down to the final tracklisting? Is it 14 from 20, or 14 from 30, or 14 from 50?

“Kevin is an extremely prolific songwriter and all of his songs are good. When we go into a record we probably have 30 songs to choose from. 15 of them are Kev’s, at least. He’s always writing and he’s a very driven creator. I write in periods and I’m record-focused. Not only that, but all my writing is for Barenaked Ladies. Kevin always has multiple solo projects on the go. He brings an awful lot to the table."

"Unlike some bands who have 50 songs, we choose what the record is going to be and focus on 15. We develop those, we don’t keep developing all 50. Songs have to resonate. Maybe we’re dinosaurs, but we still believe in records and there’s a lot to be said for a collection of songs that represents a time in the band’s life. There’s a balance to it, there’s a logic to it, that’s important to us.”

 

 

How easy is it to decide what songs make it? Is it an all-day argument?

“It’s insanely democratic. We get out a grid paper and everybody picks 15 songs from the list we’ve got. Then we go down the list and find out which songs got four votes. That forms the core of the record. Then we’ll go another round and try to get up to 10 songs. Then we do another round and include our producer. Then we start the process of looking at the songs that only got two votes but somebody feels strongly about."

"At that point, people start moving votes around and it takes a while to sort out. But it’s very democratic and it means everybody goes into the record feeling like they’ve been listened to.”

 

Is that a process you’ve arrived at via lots of painful arguments?

“We’ve always been good communicators. This method has been around for 10 years and this is the fifth record like this. I like it. It shows you where everyone’s head is at and how everyone is feeling. It keeps me on my toes with my writing and makes me work harder.”

 

It’ll be a four-year gap by the time this record drops, which is the longest in your career by far. Is that pandemic related?

“A year of it is due to the pandemic, but even at a three-year gap, it’s our longest between records. When we were going into pre-production we got offered the Hootie and the Blowfish tour in North America and that pushed us right back. That took the Fake News tour to another summer and it extended things.”

 

 

What was it like being a support band again? 

“We hadn’t done it for 30 years and it was f**king great. Hootie were really good to us and it’s really nice to play in packed arenas and it not to be on you. There was so little pressure. I don’t mean to brag, we have a pretty good live show, and when an audience is coming to see Hootie and the Blowfish, you’re getting in front of lots of people who wouldn’t pay to see you. Lots of them came early and we played a one-hour set packed full of hits. It’s nice to not have to carry the tour. We just powerhoused our way and we had a blast. I’ll open up again.”

 

When was this record made?

“We started in February 2020 and then the pandemic put an enforced break on things. We went back after lockdown and it extended the sessions. Normally we’re done in six weeks, this one was very drawn out, we were still recording things in June and July of that year and it wasn’t mastered until November. We didn’t have to sit on it for long.”

 

Did that disjoined process make it frustrating?

“I had to keep reminding myself that the record was going to be new to people whenever it came out. Waiting to put it out there was frustrating for all of us. We really wanted to put the record out to coincide with the tour, but things kept getting postponed and in the end, we just decided that we had to put the record out there. I felt very confident in the record, I wasn’t worried about the delay. Touring can wait, we all knew the world had bigger concerns than the next Barenaked Ladies record.”

 

There are a couple of different producers on the album, was that in separate sessions or did they work together?

“Separate. We had originally intended to do the bulk of the record with Mark Howard and do the more intensive bits of production with Eric Ratz, which was tacked on to the end of the process. But the lockdown gave us time to re-approach things and we ended up doing a lot with Eric. We ended up building a lot of songs from the ground up, we’ve never had that time before."

"It’s funny, I heard Daniel Lanois talking about U2 records and he said that U2 records are never finished, they just come out. This is the first time I’ve related to that. Normally we set a release schedule and we go and record it. We’ve never had the luxury that time gives you to examine tracks and break them down. I really enjoyed doing it.”

 

 

When did you settle on Detour De Force for the title?

“We always enjoy that process. It’s very frustrating for our management because 90% of the titles we suggest are just to make each other laugh and it drags on for weeks and weeks. Generally, we’ll get down to a handful of titles, Tyler (Stewart, drummer) suggested Detour De Force. I love it. I feel like we have a real Tour De Force record on our hands, but the title suits what happens and how this record took a detour to end up where we wanted it to go. We were very close to going with ‘Heard Immunity’, but we shied away from that because two of this band are cowards.”

 

Now you can tour and you’ve got dates booked, are you back practising?

“We did a live streaming concert in the spring and we rehearsed for that, but we’ve been doing it for a long time, so it’s more about learning the new songs. We’ve got such a catalogue that it won’t take us long to get into fighting shape. We’ve got a few one-off shows this summer and then we’ll get ready to head to the UK. We take the live show very seriously, every shows up to the first day of rehearsal with notes and charts and the f**king around stops. At this age, you don’t want to waste anybody’s time.”

 

How’s the set coming together? You’ve got a lot of hits to factor in and a lot of back catalogue…

“The show is for the audience and I’ve always figured that you need to have at least 70% of the show, purely with that in mind. There’s an alarmingly long list of songs that need to be played every night. We’ve got to do ‘One Week', we have to do ‘Pinch Me’, we have to do ‘Big Bang Theory’, those are there every night. But I feel like if 70% of the show is where the only thing we consider is what the audience expects, I’ll give that to them. I might have to rearrange those songs and keep them interesting, but they’re there. That then gives me and the band 30% to explore a deep cut or throw in a cover or do something unexpected. The crowd gets 70% and it’s okay for me to take 30%.”

 

 

When did you arrive at that metric? Has it gone up and down?

“We’ve been approaching shows like that for a long time, well over 20 years. It’s always evolving, you drop in new songs and they become staples of the set. Ultimately, we’re not a band who will go out and play the new record front to back and then play five deep cuts from the record nobody bought. Our audience trusts us to deliver an entertaining show and we love the improv and spontaneity you get by playing live.”

 

Is every song in your catalogue up for grabs? The band’s line-up has changed over the years…

“Everything’s up for grabs. We’ve almost played everything in our catalogue since Steve left the band. A lot of the songs Steve sang I sing and I don’t feel like it’s weird. Most of them are co-writes. There’s nothing we feel like we can’t do. I love those records and I wrote those songs.”

 

New arrangements can keep things sharp…

“There was a period where we were getting sick of ‘One Week’, but it was the Number One song. So, for a year and a bit, we huddled around one microphone and played it as a down from the mountain bluegrass song. Then we went back to the big rock sound. ‘Brian Wilson’, we just cut to the first chorus, sometimes you’ve got to put in a different arrangement and breathe new life into it. You never want to go through the motions.”

 

Do you have to rein things in a bit when it comes to scheduling?

“I like big tours, but I don't like more than four shows in a row, my voice can’t do that. We do an hour sound check every day and we throw new songs in every night. We don’t do a set for a tour. We’ll plan 15 or 16 songs for a 22-song set every night and then we’ll choose six different ones each day, which means we have six new ones to learn every day. It’s an hour rehearsal and two hours on stage. Six shows a week is still pretty good for these old guys…”

 

So the plan is to tour for the next year or so?

“We’ve got a lot of touring and a lot of making up to do. And I’m going to start writing.”

 

Barenaked Ladies’ new album Detour De Force is out now in hmv stores. It is available to purchase here in hmv’s online store along with the band’s back catalogue. 

Detour De Force
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