It’s safe to say that Barenaked Ladies have done pretty well for themselves. They’ve sold out Madison Square Garden, recorded the theme song for The Big Bang Theory, and shared the stage with Tom Jones, and they’re still going after nearly thirty years of being together. We caught up with drummer Tyler Stewart to chat about their UK tour, recording a live album, and wanting to be in Thin Lizzy…

You’ve just finished a UK tour! How was it?

‘Yeah, it was great. I find that, when we come to the UK audiences are really tuned in and very responsive. It’s nice to play to people you don’t always get to play to – we’re usually here every two or three years – and I think that people are really ready to listen when we do play to them.

‘That’s not always the case, you know. In the USA, in particular, people are always ready to party by the time we come on. They’ve been out tailgating, drinking beers (and various cocktails), and maybe barbequing something behind their pickup trucks in the parking lot, so it can be a little tricky at times.

‘I think that, in the UK, there’s a more evolved listener. They seem to have good taste, and they know what they like – if you’re shite, they’ll let you know, which is good. If you’re on your game, and you’re playing well, and you’re entertaining, charming, and funny? Yeah, it’ll go down really well. That was the case on the UK tour, for sure. We had some really great gigs.

 

 

If people haven’t been able to see you here for a while, at least they’ve had a nice new live album to listen to…

‘Yeah! We recorded that album at Red Rocks, which is an iconic music venue in Colorado. You might remember it – if you’re old enough – from a U2 live video, and all kinds of musicians have played there over the years. It’s this beautiful amphitheatre in the middle of these rock formations, so the place itself is inspirational to play in.

‘I think the thing with a live album is that you get a good idea of the performance, but you’ll never be able to duplicate what it’s like to be there. It’s like taking a photograph of a beautiful place; you can only do it justice to a certain extent. You’re never going to get the same experience as being there.

‘We tried to do our best to capture it with our live record, and to capture some of the banter that goes on during the show. We’re kind of famous for our spontaneous improvisation, so we wanted to keep as much of that on there as we could.

On a scale of 1-10, how close does the live album come to capturing what it’s like to be at a Barenaked Ladies show?

‘Wow, you’re asking me to quantify this! I’m gonna go with 7 out of 10.

 

 

Did you feel more pressure during the recorded show than you do during a normal show?

‘If I were to have stopped to think about it, then yeah, I think I would’ve. You’re certainly more aware of your errors when the show’s being recorded. In general, I don’t think so. We’ve been doing this for so long – this is our twenty-eighth year as a band – that we rarely get nervous any more. Sure, we make mistakes, or we false-start songs, but I actually think the audience appreciate that when it happens. It breaks down the fourth wall.

‘Sometimes we’ll go backstage after a show that we thought was terrible, and we’ll see a load of tweets that say ‘Oh my god, that was amazing!’.

‘It just goes to show that we know fuck-all about how we come across. We’ve been doing this for so long, that we just can’t be sure of anything any more; we just go out there and do our thing, and the rest is up to the music gods.

What’s your favourite song on the live album?

I really like the song Light Up My Room. It’s a song that was on our Stunt album, which came out in 1998, and I was glad to get a version of it on the record. I enjoy how that one came out. Hearing some of the new songs live for the first time was pretty good, too. It was good to hear that they actually work live; they haven’t been as well-seasoned as some of our earlier material, so it was good to hear that those songs come across well.

 

 

You’re obviously a band who like to have fun, and who like to have a laugh on stage – have you ever worried about overstepping the line and being considered a novelty band?

‘I think that people are afraid of humour in music. In our early days, we were certainly pretty goofy, but we had a lot of success with that. I think that as we’ve gotten older, there’s certainly been less goofiness, and that’s just a part of growing older. Humour is still a big part of the lyrics and the live shows. We’ve always combined serious topics and real emotional depth with some more jokey stuff, but I think that if you’re a fan of the band then you’ll see that.

‘I never felt any danger of sliding off into Weird Al Yankovic territory…

‘We’re not really conscious of that. I think our motto has always been ‘be yourself at all costs’. Sometimes that meant being a dude jumping around in shorts singing a song about Yoko Ono, and sometimes that meant standing there in a suit and singing a song about suicide. We’ve always had both sides.

You guys have been together for nearly thirty years – what’s your secret?

‘I think mostly we just try to respect each other as much as possible. We give each other space, and listen to each other. I think we’ve really learned over the years that having a healthy workplace is the most important factor of all.

‘Ever since 2009 – when we parted ways with Steve Page – we’ve really worked hard to maintain a healthy workspace.

‘That means mutual respect. I think we’re better at it now because we’re all older men, and we’re all fathers, so it certainly helps. Being a parent certainly reduces you right to the core elements, and you’ve gotta learn to have patience and to deal with people. I think that’s kinda translated into the band as well. We’re just grown-ups now. It’s a lot easier.

 

 

Out of every song ever recorded, which one do you wish you’d written?

‘There are some great songs out there, but I’ll have to go for Policy Of Truth by Depeche Mode. It’s a song about deciding to be truthful, and always telling the truth, but about how it gets you into trouble. If you’d just lied this one time, life would be a lot simpler, and it’s about how deciding to tell the truth all the time may not actually be the best policy for you.

‘I just think it’s such a brilliant angle to come at it from. It takes guts to write like that. You open yourself up to judgements from people who think ‘you approve of liars!?’, when you’re just trying to explore the concept.

 

 

 What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?

‘Well, I’m gonna say that it was certainly very strange to make millions of dollars from playing music. That’s my general answer. Other than that, things like singing a song with Tom Jones… Having him come in to the studio in his mesh singlet and saying ‘boys, my voice is fucked, I can’t sing very well today’ and then just blowing us all away, that was just crazy.

Playing on the same stage as Neil Young was pretty amazing. Selling out Madison Square Garden, too. Although they’re not all crazy strange things, I think in terms of a group of guys from the suburbs of Toronto starting a band, writing some songs and laughing a lot, it sure was strange to reach those lofty heights.

 

 

Does what you do ever feel like a job?

‘Some days, yeah. When I’m in the UK in the world’s smallest dressing room with the oldest beer-stained carpet, and it’s raining outside and you can’t go anywhere… Sometimes, that feels like a job. I spent today strolling around the city, with people playing music on the streets and lots of delicious coffee. That’s not a job. To me, it’s like ‘wow, this is a pleasure’.

‘It never feels like a job when we’re on stage. I’d do that for free.

‘Really, you pay me to travel on shitty buses, or wait in airport security, or eat road food… That’s what I get paid for. To go on stage, and entertain people, and make them smile? I’d do that for free.

Describe yourself in three words?

‘Bald, brown, and round. Done!

 

 

Barenaked Ladies’ new album Barenaked Ladies Red Rocks is out now. Get it here.

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