Steven Page: deeper than your usual friendly, normal guy 

Page performs solo songs and Barenaked Ladies hits with Vancouver band Odds at Whistler Olympic Plaza

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Contemplative Mood Steven Page released a new album, Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct, prior to his Sept. 10 show in Whistler.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • Contemplative Mood Steven Page released a new album, Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct, prior to his Sept. 10 show in Whistler.

In August, Steven Page was in London on a family vacation and he decided he wanted to gig.

The former vocalist and songwriter with The Barenaked Ladies hadn't performed in Britain since leaving the band in 2009, so he took to Twitter to invite fans to turn out to a jam session in Regent's Park.

A hundred or so answered the call, some coming by train to London from far-flung parts of Britain.

"It was good. England was a huge place for BNL and I thought I should be doing something," Page says.

"People were enthusiastic. I wanted to be sure it wouldn't be shut down... it was really moving for me. I had fans playing guitar and percussion. We all played for an hour or so."

Page has been solo since leaving BNL following a very public, acrimonious split.

He currently lives in upstate New York with his family.

"I have a lot of work in Canada, which is great. For Barenaked Ladies, the United States became our biggest market," he says.

"After you're a success in the States or anywhere else in the world, it is kind of independent to the success you build in Canada.

"But you can't take Canada for granted. You have to work to sustain a presence there and a fan base to be relevant there, too."

His new album, Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct, was released in June. It is a collection of lyric-driven friendly pop; the sort of music Page has long been known to write.

And songs on it, like "Surprise Surprise," are delivered with a vocal rhythm not unlike Elvis Costello, one of his heroes.

"I created a lot of material and spent a lot of alone time working on it," he says of the latest album.

Then he goes a little further to explain his writing process:

"I like the structure that songwriting brings and the fact that there is a certain amount of pressure to convey what you are trying to say in an economical way, to make the language as plain and speech-like as possible. Some of the craft of rhythm and rhyme and word choices becomes invisible.

"That has become a double-edged sword for me because in the early part of my career people didn't want to dig that deep. (Fans) want to know whether they like it or don't like it and I don't blame them for that. It's my job to invest the hours, but sometimes people don't notice the nuance in a song so often it's for my own pleasure.

"If people get something out of how the rhythm, melody and words interact (with each other) then I've done my job."

At one point in his career it would bother Page if people misunderstood his intent, but he has gotten over it.

"When I was younger I would dwell too much on feeling I was misunderstood, or not given the credit I thought I deserved. That's the mindset of a younger man who was trying to find his place in the world," he says.

"I don't worry so much but I know it is something I thought about over time. I had to teach myself that I am in a pretty rarified spot — I can write music and people are going to respond to it."

With his solo career and profile, has Page found Canadians responding to the new album?

"In general, yes. I got some of the best reviews of my career, which was pleasant and surprising because you never know if you are going to be noticed. What it comes down to is largely appealing to core fans and hoping it spreads from there," he says.

"I'm lucky enough to have a pretty great legacy to draw upon. People who remember stuff I did 25 years ago will come to a show and be happy to hear something like 'Brian Wilson' from the (BNL's) first record in '91. Hopefully, they'll get turned on by the new music, too."

Ask Page about the concept of healing himself — he has spoken before now about the work he has done on his mental health — and he continues to be thoughtful.

His next album, Heal Thyself Pt. 2: Discipline, is out in 2017.

"The idea of 'heal thyself' is kind of ironic, as well as heartfelt at the same time. What I've done with lyrics is confuse irony with earnestness sometimes," he says.

"Take care of your own shit before you start criticizing others, but at the same time healing oneself doesn't happen on one's own. You need other people around you.

"Whether I am a solo artist or not, everything I do is a collaboration with musicians or an audience. In some ways, being isolated is the least healing thing you can do."

Being a musician is also a physical act and when Page gave a Ted X talk in Toronto several years ago, it was all about how singing is a manifestation of something very personal.

"I don't go out on stage as a means of therapy, I do it more because it's what it feels like what I am meant to do and I enjoy it. Thankfully, it's also what an audience enjoys," he says.

"The idea of 'heal thyself' goes back to also telling people that everything is fine and under control. A performance onstage has to be, in some ways, really together. But sometimes it is the vulnerability that connects you to the audience.

"Even back in Barenaked Ladies, it was a lot of what we did. The appearance of being 'normal guys,' that was our thing. Because we could pull that off, I never actually felt that we were normal guys. We were also travelling musicians, which is not a normal thing to do. But it connected us with the audience.

"If you are trying for something grand or broken or something else, you have to connect that to those same feelings inside an audience. That is what a good performance can do."

Page, backed by Vancouver band Odds, is performing at Whistler Olympic Plaza as the final free show of the Summer Outdoor Concert Series on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m.

"Odds have been one of my favourite bands forever," Page says.

"We'll be doing a range of stuff, all the way from my newest album back to the first Barenaked Ladies record. A few Odds songs, as well."



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