Subscriber login

Music
What you need to know for 08/18/2017

Determination pays off for Barenaked Ladies

Determination pays off for Barenaked Ladies

This year the band known for such quirky hits as “One Week,” “If I Had $1,000,000” and “Pinch Me” is
Determination pays off for Barenaked Ladies
Barenaked Ladies, touring in their 25th anniversary year, are scheduled for a stop at Tanglewood on Tuesday

Ed Robertson was initially worried when he was suddenly thrust into the role of Barenaked Ladies’ primary lead vocalist just more than four years ago.

Original vocalist Steven Page, who co-founded the Canadian group with guitarist Robertson in 1988, left the band in February of 2009, shortly after its 20th anniversary. Since then, the band has had to reinvent itself as a four-piece, with Robertson, keyboardist Kevin Hearn, drummer Tyler Stewart and bassist Jim Creeggan all stepping in to fill the vocal void.

“It really took a lot of getting used to. I was going from singing about 30 percent of the show to 90 percent of the show,” Robertson said recently from a tour stop in Philadelphia. “I just had to get better. I had to concentrate more on my technique to make sure I wasn’t injuring myself — my technique just had to improve; I had to work on it. And now here we are, halfway through the tour, and I’m feeling stronger than ever.”

Barenaked Ladies

WITH: Ben Folds Five, Guster, Boothby Graffoe

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass.

HOW MUCH: $79.50-$27.50

MORE INFO: 888-266-1200, www.bso.org

25th anniversary

This year the band, known for such quirky hits as “One Week,” “If I Had $1,000,000” and “Pinch Me,” is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new album, “Grinning Streak,” the band’s second without Page. After hundreds of shows as a four-piece following the 2010 album “All in Good Time,” Robertson is confident that the band is in the best shape it’s ever been in.

“This is a band that walks offstage every night laughing and slapping each other on the back, joking around about the show we just did,” Robertson said. “We’re very fortunate to have had the longevity we’ve had, and I’m enjoying it more than I ever have in our whole career. I love the new record, I love this tour and I think the band is really at the top of its game, and that’s amazing.”

Since late June, the band has been on the road for the second edition of its Last Summer on Earth tour, which this year features Ben Folds Five, Guster and Boothby Graffoe. The tour, named for last year’s end-of-the-world rumors based on the ancient Mayan calendar, heads to Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed on Tuesday night.

“We’re gonna keep doing the Last Summer on Earth tour until the world actually ends, and then we’ll say, ‘Ha! We told you so,’ ” Robertson said.

“It’s really a dream tour for us,” he continued. “It’s all acts that we really enjoy and admire, and there’s been some great cross-pollination — Ben has been playing with us; Ryan [Miller, of Guster] has been playing with us; I’ve been singing with Guster. ... Me and Kevin play with Boothby, who opens the shows. We’ve really had a cool sort of festival atmosphere, actually.”

This is also the first major touring behind “Grinning Streak,” and the band has even been opening its sets with a block of the new songs.

“I think it’s a combination of, the material is translating really well live, but also we’re just really into it,” Robertson said. “I think our energy is translating, but it’s been really fun to play. We’re actually opening our set with a couple of the new songs, which is a big risk — at the start of the tour, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is a good idea,’ but it’s going over huge.”

“Grinning Streak,” Barenaked Ladies’ 11th studio album, continues in the more mature pop direction of “All in Good Time.” The album hit No. 10 on the Billboard 200 upon its release in June, the band’s highest chart debut since 2003’s “Everything to Everyone.”

It’s also the first album to be released on Vanguard Records, after a string of albums self-released by the band.

Renewed confidence

For Robertson, the record reflects a new confidence in the band’s strengths following Page’s jarring departure.

“ ‘All in Good Time’ was really just about showing we could stand back up, dust ourselves off and move forward,” Robertson said. “Going into this record, we had a couple hundred shows under our belt and a renewed confidence in what the band was and is capable of. We hit the studio really confident, really ready to rock it, and it really comes across, I think, in the recording.”

It took a while for Robertson to find this confidence, songwriting-wise. Previously, Page and Robertson collaborated on the majority of the band’s songs; now Robertson, along with the other band members, have had to step up in this department as well.

Robertson still wrote the majority of “Grinning Streak’s” 12 songs, which was narrowed down from roughly 20. At first, Robertson was unable to finish any songs and ended up spending time in Nashville with songwriters Kevin Griffin and Zac Maloy.

“I eventually went down to Nashville to try writing with some other folks,” Robertson said. “That happened so easily and effortlessly, and it helped me get my confidence back for solo songwriting. Then, the songs just came out fast and furious. So I spent 18 months tinkering around with somewhere around 20 songs, and then in a matter of weeks I finished them all.”

Hearn is the only other member of the band to contribute to the songs this time, and he sings lead vocals on his one song, “Daydreamin’.” However, both Hearn and Creeggan composed songs for the album that weren’t used and may be revisited for a future recording.

“Kev’s an extremely prolific writer, and Jim’s a writer as well, so ultimately we just kind of put all the songs on the table,” Robertson said. “With this particular collection of songs, the lion’s share of the songs were written by me, but that’s not a rule or a trend; it’s just the way it worked out this time.”

Special project

The band has been pushing the songwriting envelope in less conventional ways as well. In February, the group collaborated with International Space Station commander and fellow Canadian Chris Hadfield on the original song “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing),” commisioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and The Coalition for Music Education with the Canadian Space Agency.

The song was performed live on Parliament Hill for Canada Day, with Canadian student choir Wexford Gleeks on site and Hadfield joining in via satellite.

“When he asked me to write a song with him, I thought I was doing him a huge favor — I had no idea it would become such a huge story, a huge thing,” Robertson said. “I had such a blast writing with him. . . . He’s just a great guy — the guy’s an incredibly high-functioning individual. He’s the commander of the space station, and he’s a folk singer.”

View Comments
Hide Comments
0 premium 1 premium 2 premium 3 premium 4 premium 5 premium 6 premium 7 premium article articles remaining SUBSCRIBE TODAY

You have reached your monthly premium content limit.

Continue to enjoy Daily Gazette premium content by becoming a subscriber.
Already a subscriber? Log In