By Ryan Pike
Steven Page has been through some big changes over the last couple years. He separated from his wife of 13 years in 2007, dealt with drug charges throughout 2008 and parted ways with the Barenaked Ladies in early 2009. The Gauntlet’s Ryan Pike sat down with Page in-between performances at the Calgary Folk Music Festival to discuss life, music and life away from the Barenaked Ladies.
Gauntlet: Hi, Steven. How are you doing?
Steven Page: Really good. Happy to be on my own and do my own thing.
G: What’s it like being on your own?
SP: A lot of it has to do with how you measure your time. One of the things about making a record, a commitment to a record, with four other guys is that you all have to get together and say “for two years we’re gonna make a record and we’re gonna be on the road and chase this,” and everything else has to fall by the wayside. What I was doing this year was making music for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and working on my own stuff and realizing life is short. I couldn’t keep putting things off and being at the mercy of other peoples’ schedules and that’s the biggest thing. Now, you still have to make choices about what you can fit into your timeline, but at least they’re my choices.
G: How did you get involved with the Folk Festival?
SP: As soon as I split from the band, I called my agent and said “I want to do folk festivals this summer. Can you let people [know] that I’m out there and want to do ’em?” because I have fond memories of playing festivals with Barenaked Ladies in the early ’90s. It’s a great way of connecting with an audience and show[ing] them my face again and start doing things again. I wanted to get out on the road and start working right away. I knew it was a great way to motivate me, and I like the spirit of these places.
G: Given your early experiences with folk festivals, would you say you’re getting back to your roots?
SP: I wouldn’t say I’m trying to go back to the roots because the roots were all about being a collaborative ensemble. This is more about staking my own claim now and showing people how the back catalogue and new material are all part of the same canon.
G: Your Saturday afternoon performance alongside Sarah Harmer, Justin Rutledge and the Good Lovelies was met with a massive turnout and audience reaction. How do you feel about how the audience responded to your work?
SP: It’s great, and as soon as I was introduced on stage the audience was incredibly enthusiastic. It’s a huge relief to me because I really, frankly, have no idea how people are going to react. But I also know that I have to work really hard to get peoples’ approval, I guess in a sense. I don’t take for granted that, whatever, I am [a] heritage musician . . . I have a history where some of the other, younger artists don’t, it’s pretty easy for people to go “well, that guy’s over.” There’s a certain hunger that you have to keep and it was really nice to see the positive reaction I got from people.
G: Do you find, given your recent history, that you have to combat peoples’ perceptions of you?
SP: I don’t feel like I’m trying to combat anything anymore. In the band, I spent a lot of my time afraid of what people were going to think and how to construct and uphold an image of the group. [It] gets to the point where, “Fuck it, I can’t continue to try to maintain an image.” The best thing I can do is write the best songs I can do, sing them as well as I can and be myself.
G: Has your writing process changed since leaving the Barenaked Ladies?
SP: I don’t know if the process of writing is any different, but I love the fact that when I’m constructing a song now, I don’t have to dance around mentally anybody else’s feelings. That’s part of being in the band is that mutual respect. I’d make a demo and think, “I don’t wanna play a bass part in this demo because I don’t want Jim [Creeggan, Barenaked Ladies bassist] to think I’m trying to tell him how to play,” and whatever else. You really want everybody’s contribution. Now that I don’t even need to think about that, I can kind of let my mind run wild, which is great.
G: Do you find yourself worrying about what audiences may think of you?
SP: I don’t know what people think of me anymore. I think that there was a time where people thought “This guy thinks he has all the answers,” but I think everybody knows I don’t. That’s fine, I don’t mind that. I don’t know what people think I was trying to do before and what they think I’m trying to do now. It’s hard for me to over-think that, really.
G: What approach are you taking for your first solo album? Do you feel like you have something to prove?
SP: There’s a temptation to make it a grand statement, but I think every album has to be a grand statement. You know, every record we made as Barenaked Ladies, we worked our asses off and were incredibly proud of at the time, but yet you go back over it and go, “Hmm.” I know what made the albums work and what made albums not work. I like the feeling of flying without a net. Maybe this is what I want people to know: I have no idea what the future’s gonna hold, but the biggest thing I’m trying to be is fearless. If I can go out there and make music that’s challenging to me, I hope it’s still palatable.
.. Ryan Pike