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Interview:
Ladies are keeping busy, and Barenaked
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

The bare facts about Barenaked Ladies these days indicate the band is in a good place again -- after a period of acknowledged uncertainty.

After the departure of co-frontman Steven Page in 2009, singer-guitarist and Page's songwriting partner Ed Roberston says the remaining four members were "quite insecure and anxious about how people would receive what we're doing." That was understandable, since Page was the group's dominant voice after he and Robertson formed BNL during 1988 in Toronto.

Fortunately, Robertson says, 2010's "All In Good Time" -- BNL's first album without Page -- "literally got the best reviews of our career. And the shows were amazing. I think it gave us a level of confidence to sit back and say, 'OK, we don't have to prove ourselves all over again. We ARE a really good band. We've been doing this a long, and we're good at it.'

"So as much work as it was and as much hand-wringing as we did about it, kind of necessarily so, it's gotten us back to the comfort zone that we were once in and, in more important ways, pushed us to a better place."

Robertson and his bandmates -- multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn, bassist Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart -- are certainly in a busy place these days, working on new BNL music as well as a variety of other projects that include a Broadway musical that's turning a few heads.

BNL -- which has sold more than 15 albums worldwide and notched hits such as "Brian Wilson," "If I Had $1000000," "One Week" and "Pinch Me" -- was tapped by producers of a stage adaptation of "Animal House," the hit 1978 film loaded with iconic moments of food fights, strange initiation rights and toga parties. A first act for the musical, which is being directed by Casey Nicholaw for Universal Pictures Stage Productions, has already been turned in, which will be refined concurrently with work on the second half of the production.

"The producers told us, 'We want to take this film and bring it to Broadway in a way that nobody's expecting,' " says Robertson, 41. "As much good will nostalgia as people have for the movie, it's pretty thin. It's a bunch of physical comedy by John Belushi and some good sketch comedy.

"I think what's really fun with this is we're going to go way beyond that set-up. It's going to be the characters from 'Animal House' and the sentiment of 'Animal House,' but it's going to go places you never expected...really sort of pushing all the kinds of cliches of musical theater and tapping into the sort of recklessness of 'Animal House' and trying to marry the two together."

A June 2013 opening in Boston was initially proposed for "Animal House," but Robertson says nobody wants to bring it to the stage prematurely.

"It's a very long process, like writing two records' worth of music that's constantly being tweaked and changed and revised," he explains. "We're not used to it at all. You get, 'We love this song, we love this melody -- but can it be from a different character's point of view and about a different thing?' 'I suppose so. Lemme get back to you in a couple of days...'

"It's very different from the way we usually work."

BNL -- which released a rarities compilation called "Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before!" in May -- is doing some "regular" work as well. The group is planning a run of symphony shows in Canada, with arrangements by original keyboardist Andy Creeggan (Jim's brother) and continues to work on a box set, while it's headlining a Last Summer On Earth Tour with onetime H.O.R.D.E. tour partners Blues Traveler as well as Big Head Todd & the Monsters and Cracker.

BNL has also been recording new music in Toronto with producer Gordon Brown; so far one song, "Boomerang," is finished, and Robertson says the group may well release it as a stand-alone track in the near future.

"I think we've really kind of pulled back from even the notion of having to record (an album) anymore," he says. "It's been a nice release from that pressure valve, to think that, 'Well, we don't need to get 12 to 14 songs plus bonus tracks done right now, 'cause I don't now how much that model exists anymore -- unless you're Justin Bieber or somebody who can sell 375,000 albums in the first week.

"For a band like us that has a great audience and a great live following, maybe it makes sense to record a song or two and put them out and then do another song or two and put them out. We'll see how it goes, but that sounds very appealing to me."

Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd & the Monsters and Cracker perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $35.50-$75.50 pavilion, $25.50 lawn with an $82 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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