Barenaked Ladies

They are not bare, they are not naked and they are not ladies!  But the Canadian band are back in the UK tomorrow when they kick off their seven date autumn tour which starts in Glasgow and ends in London, stopping off at Cambridge Corn Exchange along the way on Thursday September 8th. We had a chat with Tyler Stewart before he packed his bags and his drum kit and headed for the airport.

Barenaked Ladies have been going for 28 years and over that time have built a strong following, a distinctive sound and perform with a sense of fun.

My goodness gracious yes, this is actually my twenty sixth year in the band, I joined in 1990, two years after Steven and Ed were already rolling.  It is interesting you know, I’ve been in Barenaked Ladies longer than I haven’t been!  It is crazy – for over half my life!

Can you possibly imaging life out side of the band?

I can… I can imagine it, but it is not something that I actively long for.  I feel like I have been very lucky, very fortunate to have such a long career and I am just happy that people still come and show up and buy our songs and come to see our shows – I couldn’t be more tickled about that.

When you play in the UK you tend to play in smaller venues?

Yes, slightly smaller in some places but that doesn’t bother me either because what I find in the UK is even though the room may be a bit smaller, I feel like people listen more, listen harder, listen better.  I really believe that there is a real musical literacy that goes on with UK crowds.  You can feel that energy, feel that sophistication when you are playing on stage over there.  I really enjoy it.

So does make a UK show different from shows in any other part of the world?

I would say yes.  I would say that normally we play North America so the US and Canada but our biggest market is the US and one of the things I have noticed about shows there is that people are just ready to party.  So they come to the show early, they get a few drinks into them, in the summertime they like to… you know that tradition of tailgating at American Football games where you bring a barbecue and a big cooler and maybe even a full tent and set it up at the back of your pickup truck and get ready for the big game.  They have started to do that for concerts as well, so I find in the US the audience is always ready to rock – from the first downbeat, people are on their feet.

In Canada I find there is more of a reserve, we are kind of known for our reserve, our politeness so people don’t want to stand up just in case they block the view of the person behind them.  Which can be a little frustrating at times – we can be kinda like ‘C’mon – get up!’    But at the same time I guess it is a sort of appreciation thing.

Whereas in the UK I really think that people listen.   Maybe because in general your country has such a reputation for producing the finest pop music and that growing up over there you are subject to a lot of amazing music… crap too, I will say it!  There is definitely a fair share of crap but you get that everywhere!

Because we don’t get over there too much, maybe once every two or three years, that when we do people are ready to listen for the first little while to see, you know, are these guys still at the top of their game or what have they got new to offer.  Then if you deliver you get this really incredible response.  I always appreciate that.

Last Summer on Earth tour, that’s over and done with, you’ve just had a month off, do you guys hang out together when you are not touring or recording?

We don’t really, because after twenty six years we know each other well enough that it is nice to go away and spend time with your family and other friends to get refreshed.  When you come back together you are kink of a little bit excited.  I think, particularly this summer, all of us have been far flung all over the place.  Ed went to the Olympics in Rio, I spent a bunch of time in northern Ontario at various cottages and camps, Jim Creeggan went up to the east coast to Prince Edward Island where his son was doing a hockey camp and Kevin was playing a couple of artists, playing music with the Rheostatics and some other folks so he has been keeping busy that way.  So we have all been far flung and I think that will make for us being excited to see each other for the UK tour.

Band members are noted for their projects outside of Barenaked Ladies – does that help to keep it all fresh?

Yes, absolutely.   When you get a chance to go and explore other avenues, whether they be musical or personal or culinary or whatever, you go out there and do some different stuff, when you come back together it feels fresh again.

Let us assume that alongside your army of UK fans that there is somebody in the audience who is new to Barenaked Ladies, how would you describe your music or your show?

I would say, think of the best music you have ever heard… and then think of us!  (laughs)   No, no… I would say think of us as a really high energy, engaging performance.   Where we are happy to be on stage and performing, we are not shoe gazers, we don’t think that we are God’s gift to anything but we love to entertain. Our songs, if you peel back a few layers, you might realise that there is a lot more complexity musically and lyrically than you first thought.   Be prepared to be surprised, entertained and to be movin’ your feet.

One song that you are probably fed up talking about is the theme song to the Big Bang Theory, how did that whole thing come about that you were asked to do a theme song for sitcom?

The producers and creators of the show, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady were Barenaked Ladies fans and we play Los Angles frequently.  They came to see us in a show at the legendary Greek Theatre.  Ed happened to go into a spontaneous improvisation between songs – we do that a lot!  (That’s something I’d tell the neophyte fans, be prepare to hear some songs that are made up on the spot – sometimes they are fully, sometimes they are terrible, but we do it!)

So Ed made up a song and started improvising about fractals, and about chaos theory because he had been reading a book called The Big Bang by a guy names Simon Singh – who I believe is a British author – the guys were in the audience, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, and they just looked at each other and said we just have to get these guys to do our theme song.  The show was in development at that point and they waited a few months and then they said – hey we have a pilot and we need a theme song, we essentially need you to talk about the creation of the universe and you have thirty seconds…

So it just happened to be at the top of his head, he’d just finished reading the book and was already improvising stuff about it so he wrote the song so quickly, he wrote it in the shower essentially.  We recorded it in the summer and they loved it and what do you know, lo and behold we are almost ten years later and the show is a huge international hit.

Do you ever secretly yearn for a bit part on The Big Bang Theory?

Well I think it is about time, don’t you?  Let’s get The Barenaked Ladies on The Big Bang Theory!!   Seriously, it doesn’t really matter – that show has been so great to us and for us and also it is just a pleasure to be associated with such a hugely popular and honestly quite funny show. 

How do the band go about writing songs, when you are not improvising or writing in the shower?

We do take song writing very seriously as well.   Usually songs are written by individual members and they are brought to the group and we flush them out – you know: arrangements, harmonies etc.   Ed is a very task oriented writer, he will sit down and take a week or two and sequester himself and write.  Usually the results are a multitude of songs.   Kevin on the other hand is always writing songs, he is a musical production machine.  Not only does he play every instrument, he is constantly writing and recording music.   With Jim, music plays a big role in his family, both his kids play and he started the ukulele choir in his kids school – he is always surrounded by music as well.   Those three guys are always writing.  Myself, I’m not so much a songwriter as I am a collaborator – so I feel like my job is to support each of those guys with their vision and obviously the whole vision of the band.  I am quite happy in that role.

On tour with you in the UK you have Boothby Graffoe – that wonderfully named Lincolnshire town!  How did he and you get together?

Boothby is our spiritual guide in the UK.  We have known him for years, he has opened every tour we have done there since about 1999 or 2000, except for the last one when Colin Hay opened for us.  But Boothby is so great he fits in with our sensibility from his sense of humour point of view but also he is a really under rated songwriter.  He writes some beautiful songs – whether they have witty lyrics or not he is  a real talent and his performance too is second to none.  Our fans love Boothby and as a matter of fact the last tour where we had Colin – who is an incredible singer songwriter himself and a lovely Scottish man – our fans we like ‘where’s Boothby?’ 

I am guessing that you guys don’t take yourself too seriously?

Well, I think we take ourselves seriously as professionals and as a band.   We have been doing this for a long time – our commitment is always to putting on a good show, so that is very serious.   Are we the second coming of Thom Yorke… eh no!   Is this the most important music that has ever been written?  No.  And I don’t think we would ever cast ourselves that way.  I think we are definitely down to earth people, and that is part of the whole ethos of the band.  But we take what we do quite seriously.

Barenaked Ladies play Cambridge Corn Exchange on Thursday 8th Septemberfor tickets click here

Barenaked LadiesCambridgeCambridge Corn ExchangeLast Summer on EarthUK Tour