Steven Page The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Steven Page The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Photo: David Bergman
In March of this year, Steven Page appeared with Barenaked Ladies for the first time since leaving his old band in 2009. Page and BNL made headlines when they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and performed at the Juno Awards. For fans, this reconciliation was hoped to be the first of many, but Page says there is nothing further planned.
"[The Juno performance was] honestly the only thing we'd talked about," Page admits. "I don't think anybody wants there to be any kind of permanent reunion, but I feel like we've gotten so much stuff in common it would be fun to do."
For the time being, Page is too busy for anyway. He just released his sixth solo effort, Discipline: Heal Thyself Pt. II, a sequel to his 2016 album Heal Thyself Pt I: Instinct. "Initially I thought [Heal Thyself] would be one record with 30 songs, but then I thought, 'How arrogant is that of me to think my audience would want to digest all of that music all at once?' Then of course, over those two years between the albums, I finally found some time to go in and finish it off, only to discover that some songs didn't fit any more, and then I found myself writing a bunch of new songs. So it quickly became a very different record."
What are you up to?
I have a new album, a U.S. tour from the end of September all the way into December, and then a Canadian tour in 2019.
What are your current fixations?
I just saw Sorry to Bother You and had my mind blown. I thought it was amazing, and I'm telling everyone I know to go see it. I will probably be proven wrong or everyone will tell me they hated it, but for me it was the perfect movie, because it's absurd, politically conscious, fun, scary and it also second-guesses itself all at once. I also went to see The Band's Visit on Broadway recently, and that was something pretty special as well.
Why do you live where you do?
I moved for love. My wife is from here and this is where her kids are, and it ended up working out best for everybody that way. But it also means I do a lot of travelling back and forth between Syracuse and Toronto. I don't mind it though.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
This is gonna sound ridiculous because it's so simple, but I have some kind of insanely deep connection with "Hey Jude." The song is so simple, but there is something in the performance and how the acoustic guitar, piano and cymbals all mush together that it transports me every time. If I am feeling disoriented or out of sorts, that is the easiest way to get me back.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
There were so many memorable gigs that we played — from Madison Square Garden to Royal Albert Hall to Glastonbury. We did a gig in Chicago around 2000 at a racetrack in this huge stadium. The daytime acts were all of these alternative or modern rock bands. The Tragically Hip were on early in the day. I remember it was Third Eye Blind, then us, and after us it began to morph into harder rock bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Kid Rock and then Metallica. We were the last of the non-hard rock bands, and during our set, the hard rock fans were getting closer and closer to the stage, and the nerdy alternative fans were getting pushed farther back. This was when we were dressed in our matching pastel blue and yellow outfits; our thing was to dress like a boy band as a joke. I remember people in the front giving us the finger and screaming at us. We could see our fans in the back enjoying our show, but then this big fight broke out right in front of us. We stopped what we were doing and I walked up to the guys in this pit and then we started playing "Say You, Say Me" by Lionel Richie, and the fight stopped. It worked! The magic of Lionel Richie.
What have been your career highs and lows?
I think career high was when we had the #1 single in the U.S. with "One Week" in '98. But it was also a low, because at that point Kevin Hearn was fighting leukaemia, and he was with us to revel in that. We were really afraid we were gonna lose him. So even at the highest points, darkness was with us as well. Since then, just being able to survive for 30 years as a musician and have this as my only job is kind of a consistent high.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I don't know if this counts, but I will always remember the NME's review of the "Brian Wilson" single in 1992. It said, "Fat, beardo, painfully provincial. Obviously all of the litter-spiking jobs were taken where this lot are from."
What should everyone shut up about?
It's why they should shut up. The fact that there is so much negativity and superiority, like judging each other for how sensitive they are to contemporary issues isn't productive. We have a lot more work to overcome the deep hate that lies beneath so much of our civilization right now.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like that I'm dedicated to the people around me, whether it's a musical level or a personal, family level. I'm grateful for the things they do so it keeps me focused. I don't like that I worry about everything. If there is something to worry about, I will worry about it.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I have no sense of days because I'm a musician and I travel all the time. But I guess a perfect Sunday is sleeping in, but not too late, where you feel like you've wasted the day. Eating bagels and smoked salmon and maybe catching up on TV shows.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I wish more people had given us the right advice. Like not that album cover for Gordon. That would have been nice. Either version. With the first one featuring us on it, we were like, "That's not what it was supposed to look like." But it was too late to change. And then when they re-released it in 1996, we got the same people to do the artwork [laughs]. I don't know what we were thinking. But as far as interpersonal stuff, we were always surrounded by insightful people. We did learn things out for ourselves too.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I'm not the kind of person to kick anyone out of anything. I'm pretty tolerant. I've spent a lot of time on a tour bus, which is like nine beds altogether. Just think of all the stuff that goes on in there: cooking, eating, feet, farting. It's the worst. And I've had children. I've had babies shitting in my bed. And I still love them. So I'm not that protective of a space. Oh, but my policy for a band is you must be a high drummer and low bass player. The drummer has to sit high on a drum throne like Ringo or Pete Thomas, because too low and you're like a race car driver playing some kind of fusion. And you've got to wear your bass down low. If you wear your bass up high like you're gonna slap it, you're not in my band.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Right now I think of how difficult things are. The kitsch that Barenaked Ladies spent in the early '90s celebrating in an ironic way seems to be less fun when you start to realize that it's only one type of Canadian identity. It's only really white Canadian kitsch, and it doesn't include all of the voices of the other Canadians out there. We're having to look back at how we view our country. We spend a lot of time feeling superior to our Southern neighbours, and I think that's dangerous, because there are similar things happening at home. So I think we need to have some humility and listen to each other. That's the new Canada.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
The first 45 or seven-inch single I bought was "Staying Alive" by the Bee Gees. And the first album I bought with my own money was Get the Knack by the Knack. Still two of my favourites.
What was your most memorable day job?
I've been lucky enough not to have too many day jobs. For a year I worked for What Magazine, which was a Toronto-based lit mag in the '80s. That was fun and informative, but not quite as memorable as when I worked at the Kingswood Music Theatre [at Canada's Wonderland]. All the shows I saw as a teenager were basically there. And I worked there from like 16 to 18 or 19. I started out by doing day maintenance, which was cleaning up after the previous night's concert. That was everything from picking cigarette butts to cleaning up nacho cheese sauce from the lawn to picking up pieces of lawn if Kim Mitchell had played the night before. Or cleaning up vomit. If you cleaned up vomit, then you got free tickets to the next concert. That was one of those jobs that you didn't want, but you did want if the next concert was a good one. So I got free Depeche Mode tickets because I did that. And then I got to play there a bunch of times in the early '90s, so that was kind of sweet revenge.
How do you spoil yourself?
Usually it's buying a new piece of recording equipment or a new guitar. Those are fun things to spoil yourself with. Those are the things you have to sneak them into the house sometimes. You know what? I did buy myself a nice, new pair of shoes a few weeks ago. I'm going on tour and I needed some new show shoes!
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
Crying. I've been doing it for so long, I don't know what I would be doing instead. If you had asked me this when I was 18, I would have said a writer or a poet or a novelist, and my day job would be teaching at a university. But that could have been a pipe dream too.
What do you fear most?
Animals. Mice, probably more than anything, but I'm terrified of them. They're so cute. If I see them scurrying across the floor in my studio at like 2 a.m., I just shriek.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
I don't if I want anybody to have to picture me taking it off and getting it on at this age or any age, but especially now. That just sounds like, "Dad, put that away!"
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
When the movie Rushmore was premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, the band were all big fans of Wes Anderson's first movie, Bottle Rocket. We had a movie we were involved with in the festival the year before, so we were trying to get into the screening of Rushmore. We did somehow finagle our way in, probably thanks to Ed Robertson. So we saw the movie and loved it, and then met Wes Anderson and Owen and Luke Wilson after the showing. We talked to them for a minute and they invited us to their party at Bistro 990. But their party consisted of a tiny, little roped-off section of the balcony upstairs, which was the size of a hotel room. So it was Wes, Owen, Luke, their friend/lawyer, and the Barenaked Ladies. That was it. We started talking and Owen says, "Barenaked Ladies! I love you guys!" And that was cool, so we kept talking. Later he said, "What do you guys sound like?" And I was like, "What do you mean? I thought you loved us?" And he said, "Yeah, I see your video all the time when I work out at the gym, but the sound is always off, so I just see you guys running and I just love anything with people running." That was a pretty weird celebrity encounter.
Two years later, I was in a hotel bar in Los Angeles and we had the album coming out, so we were playing a gig that week. Luke Wilson was standing by the door of the bar, and so I walked up to him, thinking he wouldn't remember me, and said, "I just wanted to tell you that Bottle Rocket is one of my favourite movies." And he just looked at me and said, "We know each other, man! You have a new album coming out this week." And so I guess he knew who I was. He looked so hurt [laughs], but I never assumed he would know who I was.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I'd have to say Harry Nilsson. I feel like he would be the most fun to hang out with.  I would have to serve him Brandy Alexanders, and then go heckle the Smothers Brothers and get thrown out.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
My mother loves what I do, but for the longest time I think she wished I was a cantor.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"Popcorn" by Hot Butter, hands down. I've already decided that and it's in my will. I think that if someone's coming to my funeral, I want to make them feel the way "Popcorn" makes them feel. Remember the good times.