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Members include Andrew Creegan (left group, 1994), keyboards; Jim Creegan, bass; Kevin Hearn (joined group, 1996), keyboards; Steven Page (born on June 22, 1970, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada), vocals; Ed Robertson (born on October 25, 1970, Scarborough, Ontario), guitar, vocals; Tyler Stewart, drums. Addresses: Record company--Reprise, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-6979; 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694. Management--Nettwerk Productions, 1650 West 2nd Ave., Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6H 4R3. Website--Barenaked Ladies Official Website: http://www.bnlmusic.com.
Canada's Barenaked Ladies developed a rabid following in Canada for nearly a decade before achieving mainstream success in the United States. Though the all-male and usually fully dressed band established themselves on their debut album as a "wacky" pop act, they have found their reputation for rock comedy something of an impediment as they have matured. Yet their well-crafted, harmonious records and energetic live shows converted many skeptics. "Their folk-rock-based style encompasses everything from alternative rock to harmony-laced pop to jazzy swing," wrote John Roos in the Los Angeles Times, "and is built on solid musicianship, smart lyricism and the distinctively creamy, colorful vocals of Steven Page." Page, like guitarist and fellow co-founder Ed Robertson, told Billboard's Timothy White that the pop form suited his purposes perfectly. "I like to write pop to fool people with the hooks," he noted, "but inside, I hide all the sweetness, darkness, and musicianship found in the grandest themes of a great mythic rock song. For me, pop is a tight, strategic little package that's second to none."
Barenaked Ladies began as a duo in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ontario. The town was home to Page and Robertson, who met in high school and became an acoustic act in the late 1980s. Influenced by classic melodic pop and the New Wave style of rock that was the precursor to "alternative" music, Page and Robertson began developing their offbeat, folky sound. They came up with their name while bored at a concert by legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan; laughing themselves sore, they came up with increasingly outrageous band names. "Barenaked Ladies" was intended to convey "what we called [naked women] when we were eight or nine years old and we were frightened and excited and totally naive about the whole situation," Page told Throwrug. Soon Page and Robertson found themselves touring college campuses, where the experience of warming up for a comedy troupe sharpened their humorous between-song patter. "People came expecting to see a comedy show," Page told the Los Angeles Times, and as a result Barenaked Ladies "found a lot of adversity in the audience. We started [the funny patter] to make ourselves more comfortable on stage."
Skyrocketed to Fame in Canada
Joined by brothers Jim and Andrew Creegan on bass and keyboards, respectively, and drummer Tyler Stewart, Barenaked Ladies coalesced into a tight musical unit. Their comedic ad-libs and tuneful, quirky songs endeared them to the growing legion of alternative rock fans in the Toronto-area scene. As a result, the band's self-released debut EP became the first independent record to achieve gold sales certification in Canada. The EP featured the single "Be My Yoko Ono," a typically playful romantic plea to the wife of Beatle John Lennon. The success of this recording was not lost on the major labels; Sire/Reprise signed the band and in 1992 released their full-length debut, Gordon.
In addition to recapping "Yoko Ono," Gordon contains additional madcap pop songs stuffed with cultural references, including "Brian Wilson," about the troubled leader of pop icons the Beach Boys, and "Grade 9," a frantic ska number in which the band admits its fondness for 1980s synth-rockers Duran Duran while throwing in quotes from songs by Canadian progressive rockers Rush. A sensation in Canada, Gordon hit the platinum mark in that country in a little more than a week, dominated the album charts for two months, and remained a chart presence for most of 1992, ultimately scoring four hit singles. Barenaked Ladies were named Group of the Year at the Juno Awards, Canada's version of the Grammys, and collected a mountain of adoring press clips.
In America, Gordon failed to rise above cult status. Both the band and their label were unpleasantly surprised, but the band toured relentlessly and continued to charm audiences worldwide. Their professionalism was such that Robertson played a show in Vancouver shortly after hearing of his brother's death in a motorcycle accident. "We're a pretty great team," Page told Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times, adding that the Vancouver show "is one of those things that made us realize that." Despite his grief, Robertson "pulled it off like a total pro," Page added. "I don't think anyone in the audience noticed."
Barenaked Ladies returned with 1994's Maybe You Should Drive, a slightly more serious album. Produced by Ben Mink--best known as k.d. lang's producer-collaborator--Drive showcased the band's increasing sophistication and depth, both musically and thematically. Due to the new "Adult Album Alternative" radio format, which helped such artists as Hootie and the Blowfish, Counting Crows, and The Cranberries achieve mainstream status, the album's offbeat, romantic singles "Jane" and "Alternative Girlfriend" earned some rotation. Despite some success, the strain of constant touring led Andy Creegan to leave the band. Initially, Page told Los Angeles Times writer Roos, "we thought, 'What are we gonna do now--we're only four-fifths of a band?' But once we realized we could actually be four-fourths of a band, then everyone had a better chance of stretching out. I think we've become more focused, and now that we're a quartet, there's more space to be heard and it's easier for everyone to have some input." The band took further solace in the fact that they appeared as characters in the DC comic book "Anima."
Fired up by realizations of their growing popularity, Barenaked Ladies headed into the studio and emerged with the ambitious Born on a Pirate Ship. In addition to documenting the group's continued maturation--especially their increasingly focused songwriting and intricate, close harmonies--the 1996 disc was released in an "enhanced" format for CD-ROM, and contained audio and video samples and a bevy of interactive features. Another enhanced CD, Shoe Box, was released the same year. Page told Roos that this format was pushed by the band's management. "Personally, I'm into the whole cyber thing," he added. Entertainment Weekly praised the group's "delightful harmonies" as well as the creative design of Shoe Box, which it dubbed "a spirited and kooky romp."
Notoriously Comedic Stage Shows
Barenaked Ladies live shows have turned into comedic rituals. Longtime fans, for example, hurl Kraft macaroni at the stage during the song "If I Had $1,000,000," in which the Ladies express their admiration for the dinner of champions. Other audience-participation incidents have become legendary. "We did a show in Ontario, a big arena show, thousands and thousands of people there," Robertson recalled in Art & Performance. "Late in the set, a sock landed on the stage. I said something like, great, [alternative superstars] Pearl Jam get ladies' underwear and we get a sports sock. So Tyler was playing and he says, 'I want to see all your socks, give me all your socks.' Before I could say anything--Boom," the band was inundated with socks, "and it just f***ing reeked."
Barenaked Ladies received an unexpected break in the United States when they met actor Jason Priestly. Robertson explained the meeting to Entertainment Weekly, "We just started seeing [Priestly] at our shows ... our record-company person came back and said 'Jason Priestly wants to come back and say hi.' We said, 'Of course.'" Priestly got them a guest spot on Beverly Hills, 90210, and the Ladies saw a huge spike in record sales in the weeks following their appearance. They received some radio play with the single "This Old Apartment," especially in border cities like Detroit and Buffalo, where radio stations cater to both American and Canadian listeners. Priestly went on to direct the video for "This Old Apartment" and a documentary entitled Barenaked in America, released in 1999.
Tragedy struck the group in early 1997 when keyboardist Kevin Hearn was diagnosed with leukemia. Hearn took six months off for treatment, but he was back with the Barenaked Ladies by autumn of that year, following a successful bone marrow transplant from his brother. Manager Terry McBride was hired in 1997, and the Barenaked Ladies began touring relentlessly, at McBride's suggestion, to build their fan base in the United States. McBride's strategy of constant touring and belief in word-of-mouth exposure helped propel fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan to fame. Maclean's revealed McBride's plan, which "involves building an audience in each city piece by piece." As he told the magazine, "Every time you come back, you're bigger than the last time. You've got more believers. It's incredibly hard work, but I won't take on an act unless they're willing to do this." And the Barenaked Ladies were. They devoted at least eight months out of the year to touring, including a stint with the H.O.R.D.E. festival, and built a considerable fan base that year.
Earned Major Success in U.S. with Stunt
The Ladies released Stunt in 1998, which was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as "a seamless collection of well-crafted folk pop that showcases their witty lyrics and gentle humor." The lead track off the album, "One Week," became a smash hit in the United States and Canada, and the Ladies became staples both on the radio and on MTV. Stunt went four-times platinum within a year, and this popularity led to increased interest in the Ladies' older catalogue. "This Old Apartment" hit number one on the Billboard charts, and two songs off 1992's Gordon, "Brian Wilson" and "If I Had $1,000,000," became radio favorites. They received three Juno Awards in 1999 for Best Group, Best Pop Album for Stunt, and Best Single for "One Week," and a Grammy Award nomination. "One Week" was featured in a Mitsubishi Lancer commercial a year later, bringing the Ladies even more fans, including some overseas and in Australia.
The success of the Barenaked Ladies shows no signs of waning. Their sixth studio album, Maroon, went platinum in the United States and won two Juno Awards, and they continue to sell out amphitheaters in both Canada and the United States. A greatest hits CD, Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits, was released in 2001 and was certified gold in the following months. Despite all of their fame and fortune, the Ladies are down-to-earth men with families and children who enjoy their music as much as the rest of the world. Maclean's provided a backstage glimpse into the Ladies lifestyle: "A blue bedspread is laid out on a patch of grass so that Robertson's wife ... and their two young children can hang out with Page's spouse ... and their two little sons." Stewart commented on their atypical-for-superstars ways, "We're all pretty good boys when it comes right down to it. We were all raised properly."
by Simon Glickman
Barenaked Ladies's Career
Group formed in Toronto, Canada, c. 1988; released debut EP Barenaked Ladies on own Page Publications label, 1991; signed with Sire/Reprise, released Gordon, 1992; contributed to Coneheads film soundtrack, 1993; contributed to Friends television show soundtrack, 1995; released "enhanced" CDs Born on a Pirate Ship and Shoe Box, 1996; released multiplatinum Stunt, 1998; released Maroon, 2000, and Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits, 2001.
Barenaked Ladies's Awards
Juno Awards (Canada), Band of the Year, 1991; Best Group, 1999, 2001; Best Single for "One Week" and Best Pop Album for Stunt, 1999; Best Album and Best Pop Album for Maroon, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Barenaked Ladies , Page Publications, 1991.
- Gordon , Sire/Reprise, 1992.
- (Contributor) Coneheads (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1993.
- Maybe You Should Drive , Sire/Reprise, 1994.
- (Contributor) Friends (soundtrack), Reprise, 1995.
- Born on a Pirate Ship (album/enhanced CD), Reprise, 1996.
- Shoe Box (enhanced CD), Reprise Records/Warner Interactive, 1996.
- Rock Spectacle , Nettwerk/Reprise, 1996.
- Stunt , Reprise, 1998.
- Maroon , Reprise, 2000.
- Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits , Reprise, 2001.
October 21, 2003: Barenaked Ladies' album, Everything to Everybody, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_7/rock.jsp, October 23, 2003.
October 5, 2004: Barenaked Ladies' album, Barenaked for the Holidays, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, October 11, 2004.
June 2005: Steven Page, lead singer for the band, composed the music for the Stratford Festival's production of As You Like It in Stratford, Ontario. Source: Toronto Star, May 22, 2005.
- Art & Performance, February 17, 1995.
- Billboard, December 7, 1995; August 31, 1996; February 21, 1998; June 20, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 8, 1996; August 7, 1998.
- Los Angeles Times, September 8, 1994; March 29, 1996.
- Maclean's, March 8, 1993; July 20, 1998; December 18, 2000.
- Newsday, January 27, 1995.
- People, September 7, 1998.
- Throwrug, June 1995.
- Variety, October 16, 2000.
- "Barenaked Ladies," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (September 20, 2002).
- "Barenaked Ladies," Rock on the Net, http://www.rockonthenet.com/artists-b/barenakedladies_main.htm (September 20, 2002).
- "Barenaked Ladies One Week Mitsubishi Ad Hits Australia," Undercover Music News, http://www.undercover.au/20020730_barenakedladies.html (September 20, 2002).
- Additional information was provided by Reprise publicity materials, 1996.
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