Spontaneity And Surprise
By Jennie Punter
There may not have been bawdy sea shanties, kegs of rum or a captain with an eye patch, but the Barenaked Ladies (or should that be laddies?) did have a few adventures making their latest album, Born On A Pirate Ship. Lost at sea was keyboardist Andy Creeggan, who had contemplated leaving as far bask as the rehearsals for BNL’s last album, Maybe You Should Drive. “We convinced him to stick around for the record and tour, “explains singer Steven Page. “After that he’d had enough.”
In February ‘95 the quartet went into the Gas Station with Gordon producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda, and the groovy warehouse studio gave them room to stretch as well as get back to basics. “It was a case of all of us kind of stepping up and filling that gap,” explains guitartist Ed Robertson. “It wasn’t so much because Andy left, it was working in Toronto, working with Michael again, being at home. We made this last recording process the best ever.
“For the first time in five years Ed and I did most of the writing together,” Page adds. “On the second records we mostly worked separately. This time, Ed would come over to my house and we’d play off each other. I’d come up with a verse and chourus, Ed would give me a bridge or help me finish the lyrics.
”When word got out that BNL were recording at the Gas Station, many assumed it was a knee-jerk reaction to the to the lushly produced (by k.d. lang producer Ben Mink) Maybe You Should Drive, often referred to as the "serious" album. "At the start, Michael said "I just want to make it clear that we're not going to make a punk rock album just to get back at Ben Mink," Robertson recalls.
But the two recording experiences were definitely worlds apart. "We did most of the last record in Burnaby, a cold and industrial wasteland, with a huge budget we really didn't need," Page says. "All o a huge budget does is put you further in debt. Imagine if they raised your VISA limit to $5,000 and then you had to give your card to a professional shopper-let's call him a producer in the case-and he said, 'OK, let's spend the whole thing.'"
Page, Robertson, bassist Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart went in with skeletal versions of the 14 songs, hashing out arrangements in the hallway as Page finished lyrics in another room The atmosphere of spontaneity no doubt accounts for the loose-but polished feel of Born On A Pirate Ship, which is loaded with musical surprises, particularly on the spooky "spider In My Room." "That was a Jim Creegan crazy vision song," Robertson say. "I play bass, Jim plays guitar, Ty plays his thrown together bizarre kit of things that he's whacking and slapping. The only one who knew what he wanted out of it the whole time was Jim. Then, all of a sudden, he was on a plane to Saskatoon. He took off with a the A-DAT, recorded with the Stoney Park Pow Wow Singers, came back and played the tape, and it just exploded to life. It was amazing. He knew what he wanted all along."
The first single "Shoe Box," showed up on the Friends soundtrack months before Born On A Pirate Ship was releases. "We went down to L.A. to shoot the video that was supposed to have the Friends people in it," Page recalls. "We were very excited about it." But the so-called Friends never materialized. "If we knew that was going to happen we would have chosen a different script," Robertson adds. "Ands we probably would have shot it in Toronto with a Canadian director."
But BNL have made plenty of new friends in the past year. Keyboardist Kevin Hearn is a full time touring member, and the band is now managed by Vancouver's' Nettwerk Productions. "It was a hard transitional period," Robertson explains. "it became necessary for us to part ways with our management in a hurry. I was essentially managing the band when we were on tour. We were playing a different city in the U.S. every night, and I was liaising with the record company in L.A. and New York. It was nuts.
"But we met with [Nettwerk's] Terry McBride when we were on the road and finalized everything as soon as we finished touring. Terry blew us away. He has this fascist work ethic that I think we needed. And it's great not to get calls until noon."
Now the band is concentrating o making strides south of the border. "It's something new to focus on," Robertson says, "a goal to set. If we were to set a goal in Canada, we'd be trying to remake something, trying to do something again."
"In some places we're getting Top 40 radio play, which is the young crowd," Page says.
"That spread in Hustler did a lot for us too."