Tyler Stewart says Barenaked Ladies are “looking forward to seeing the ass end of 2008” — and with good reason. The last half of the year has been challenging, to say the least, for the Canadian band and particularly for its two lead singers. Steve Page was arrested for cocaine possession during July in Fayetteville, N.Y., which effectively scuttled promotion for the BNL children’s album, “Snacktime!,” which had been released two months before.
Despite concerns that a conviction would hurt BNL’s ability to tour, Page received six months’ probation and wrote on his blog that he’s “doing great,” with “a renewed sense of peace, the best health of my adult life, some amazing creative and artistic opportunities ... .”
Ed Robertson, meanwhile, survived a float plane crash in August and also lost his mother, Wilma, on Dec. 13 to cancer.
Page referred to 2008 as “a terrible year for the band,” but drummer Stewart is confident about the band’s resilience.
“There’s the old adage ‘Don’t worry about the things you can’t control’ — but we started to worry about those things,” Stewart, 41, says with a laugh. “It started to get, like, ‘OK, what’s next?’
“Adversity, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you strong, I guess. We’ve rallied through adversity
before. In some ways I’m looking forward to getting together and making some great music based on all these intense and emotional experiences.”
Stewart acknowledges BNL is conscious that its travails, and particularly Page’s, were surprising because they were “out of the ordinary” for the generally cleancut, if irreverent, group that’s delivered clever, good-humored hits such as “If I Had $1,000,000,” “One Week” and “Pinch Me.”
“We’re not really known for our transgressions,” Stewart notes. “We’re known more for our community involvement and making people laugh and things like that. I think on a grand scale it was shocking in one respect, but on a personal level maybe something had to give, y’know?
“It doesn’t matter who you are — you’re gonna make mistakes and you’re gonna either learn from them or you’re gonna just keep making them and slide down in the abyss. I’d like to think we can be phoenix-like and rise from it.”
BNL has already started taking steps in that direction.
The group recently mounted a successful Canadian tour in which it played children’s oriented matinees and regular pop concerts at night. BNL also recorded a new version of the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme for The Sports Network broadcasts.
And in Feburary the band will host its third Ships and Dip Carribean cruise, which Stewart calls “a floating festival” that allows BNL “to get the hell out of Toronto in February, which is nice.”
New music, and a new package of old music, also loom for 2009, which will mark the 20th anniversary of BNL’s first released recording, an independently distributed lo-fi tape called “Buck Naked.”
The group has been working on a box set retrospective for release in the fall, mining its vaults and, according to Stewart, unearthing “all kinds of crazy materials ... tons and tons of songs and videos and snippets and live stuff.” Among the rarities are demos and unreleased songs, including a markedly different take of “The Old Apartment” and some “really complex stuff ” written by former keyboardist Andy Creeggan.
“It’s a bit of a pat on the back,” the drummer notes, “like, ‘Hey, you’ve done a lot.’ But it’s also, ‘OK, now what else can we do? How can we move forward from here?’ Because we feel like we’re not done yet by any means.”
Nor do his bandmates. BNL, according to Stewart is making “gradual” progress on a new album. “The guys have been working individually on stuff, and together,” he reports.
Stewart predicts a return to the studio in early summer, following a 20th anniversary tour in May, but he adds that “maybe we’ll get some inspiration and jump in before that.”
“I think the last year has shown us that we really need to do what we do,” Stewart says. “We need to strive. We need to continue and sort of keep on building the legacy and do things that satisfy us so we’re not off galavanting around doing things we’re not supposed to do.
“When we feel the most energetic is when we’re doing new material and we’re bringing it to the world and working on it together and thriving. That’s when we feel the most alive.”
Barenaked Ladies and Steel Train perform at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $125, $75 and $55. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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