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Interviews

Interview: Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson Talks “Fake Nudes”, 30th Anniversary, and What He’s Listening To

By: Curtis Sindrey –

L-R: Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, and Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies. (Photo: Matt Barnes)

L-R: Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, and Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies. (Photo: Matt Barnes)

With over 14 million albums sold, multiple JUNO Awards and Grammy nominations, world-renowned rockers, Barenaked Ladies  are back with their fifteenth studio album, Fake Nudes, which is set for release on November 17th via Warner Music Canada.

The new album features fourteen freshly minted tracks including catchy lead single ”Bringing it Home”, and finds the long-standing partnership of Ed Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jim Creeggan (bass, vocals), Kevin Hearn (keyboard, guitar, vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums, vocals) in top form, capturing the rock icons’ incredible camaraderie and musicianship that stand as a testament to the band’s remarkable longevity.

In our new interview, frontman Ed Robertson discusses the making of Fake Nudes, 30 years of Barenaked Ladies, what he’s listening to, and more!

The new album title, Fake Nudes, is a great play on words. How did you come up with it?

We were just watching CNN with our jaws on the floor, just like everybody else, while we were recording this record, and the title just popped into my head, fake nudes instead of fake news, and I said I think that’s what we have to name the record.

It’s actually the first time where we directly poked fun at the name of our band.

What kind of lyrical themes did you focus on this time around?

You know, I don’t really focus on lyrical themes. I just write, and sometimes it takes me months of living with a record and playing it live to really realize what the overarching themes of the record are.

I’ve had a bit of time with this material now and I think there’s songs about fallibility, songs about reconciliation, and I think it’s a very wonderfully introspective record. I think there’s a really nice mixture of soul-searching and confidence on this record. I’m really proud of the material.

So usually when you’re writing you don’t really have a blueprint?

No, I never do. That’s always a bit of a nerve-wracking time when I know I need to write a record but I don’t know what I’m going to write about. But after 29 years, something always comes. Something wicked this way comes.

On the new album, songs like “Invisible Fence”, which deals with racism, do you think in the this current political climate, that artists should be more politically aware?

Everybody needs to become more politically aware, not just artists. I think people need to become more politically literate, aware, and active. Otherwise we end up in the current situation the US is in.

Have you ever directly lyrically touched on politics before?

Yeah, absolutely. Many times throughout the band’s career and we were very tightly aligned with Jack Layton’s run and endorsing the NDP and there have always been very overt political references in our lyrics.

2018 marks the 30th anniversary of you forming the band with Steven Page. Are there any plans to celebrate that milestone?

I think we’re celebrating that already. I think the greatest way for us to celebrate 30 years is by forging ahead because I don’t have a lot of interest in retrospectives. Certainly this extensive Canadian tour has me thinking back about the nostalgia of the Gordon Tour, and 30 years is a long time, and it has me reflecting on that time, but the most exciting way to celebrate it for me is by moving forward. I love this new record and we’re playing a bunch of songs live but we’ve always played our whole catalogue so every night I go out there we’re playing songs from Gordon and Maybe You Should Drive and everything in between, so as a band we’re always celebrating our back catalogue while we move forward, but to me the best way to celebrate 30 years is with new material.

You guys are known as a band that can laugh yourselves. Is that the key to your longevity?

It’s certainly one of the keys to the longevity of the band. We take music and writing very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously. We take entertaining a crowd very seriously but we have a lot of fun while doing it, so I think that’s been a huge part of not only why we’re still doing it, but why we’re enjoying it more than ever.

I think we’re getting along as a band better than we ever have, and we’re enjoying the shows and just feel grateful to get to do this thing that we love to do.

Barenaked Ladies will release their fifteenth album, Fake Nudes, on November 17th.

Barenaked Ladies will release their fifteenth album, Fake Nudes, on November 17th.

After so much time being with the same guys and writing so many records, how do you keep things fresh?

You learn from everything you do, and as a writer, artist and performer, I’m always growing, learning and soaking in influences. In terms of us playing live, we’ve never done the same show twice. We’ll never just put out a set list and play through the songs because there is always spontaneity and improv and moments of daring in our shows that I don’t think you see with a lot of bands. I know the songs from the records are going to be good and they’re going to go great, the singing is going to be great because we all work hard and we care about that shit, but there are going to be moments in the show that happen nightly that will never happen again, and that are fun and adventurous. That’s what keeps me coming back for more in terms of I never know what’s going to happen nightly and the audience doesn’t either.

With this record everyone contributed songs. Kevin [Hearn] wrote six of the fourteen songs, for instance. What was it like having so many songs coming into the studio, and how difficult was it to choose the songs that ended up on the record?

It was surprisingly easy, actually. We had a ton of songs, over 30 songs written for the record, and the four of us, well five including our producer Gavin [Brown], all picked 10 songs that we think should be on the record, and I think the five of us had eight tracks in common out of those 10, so that was obviously what should be the heart of the record because it was songs that all of us gravitated to and were excited about. And then we just looked at songs that had four votes or three votes and we decided that those were the 14 songs that we were going to record because those were the songs that we responded to. So it was actually a very easy process and it was exciting to go into the record with so much good material.

It sounds like it was very much a democratic kind of process. 

Yeah that’s how we make all those decisions where everybody in the band weighs in and we talk it through and then we go ahead with it.

In terms of the new video for “”Lookin’ Up”, directed by Rooster Teeth’s Matt Hullum, how did the concept come about?

Those guys are long time collaborators of ours, and they’re super talented people. I would love to continue making videos with them just because it’s so fun and easy.

Matt submitted several ideas for the video, and that was the one we thought would be really fun, and I thought it would be great to look like the Oak Ridge Boys for one video.

What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to this guy named John Moreland a lot. My daughter turned me on to him, this singer songwriter dude. He has a record out called In The Throes that I think is pretty brilliant.

I’m still pretty crazy about Foy Vance, an Irish singer-songwriter dude that I just saw live in Toronto and the show was incredible.

I like the new Queens of the Stone Age record a lot. That’s given me my riff rock fix right now.

I’ve also actually been really digging Vulfpeck, so it’s kind of all over the map with everything from 70s-influenced funk to crazy riff rock to singer-songwriter.

What are some key lessons that you’ve learned 30 years on?

Oh god, that answer could be a novel. What I’ve learned in 30 years of making music is that I’m really fortunate to have been making music for 30 years.

It’s an incredible thing, I’ve felt it nightly on this tour, to get up in Nanaimo, BC to a sold out theatre, and we haven’t played in Nanaimo for 20+ years, and to walk out to a sold out crowd and have a great night, and feel the appreciation from the community, it’s amazing.

I’ve learned so much about writing, and recording, and performing, but if I had to distill it down to what have I’ve learned from 30 years of performing, it’s to trust myself, and to make music for its own sake, and trust that my instincts are good and that I’m forging ahead, that I have a voice, that there’s a reason that I do what I do.

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