EXCLUSIVE | One-On-One With a Barenaked Lady

Dillon Collins chats with The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson on their return to the stage and breaking into the American market

 

Founding member of the hall of fame Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies, Ed Robertson is no stranger to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Returning with the band who has produced globe-topping hits One Week, If I Had $1000000, Pinch Me and It’s All Been Done, BNL returns to St. John’s at the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent on September 16th. And if you think 30-plus years of gigging and the grind of the road has trampled the spirits of Robertson and company, you don’t know BNL.

“It’s a huge part of why I still do this thing. I love to play live, and it is a hallmark of the band,” he shared in a one-on-one with The Newfoundland Herald.

“I love to write songs, I love to make records, but I do those things in order to facilitate playing live. That’s where all the joy is for me, is in entertaining a crowd. We’ve only done maybe four or five shows at this point. And what a joy to get back to a live audience once again. So it’s pretty fantastic.”

Fresh off their 16th studio album Detour de Force, and with over three decades worth of chart-topping albums and crossover hits in the notoriously tough-nut-to-crack U.S. market, Robertson admits there is no secret to the bands’ success, nor to their taming of American audiences. Just good music, good people and more than a pinch of good luck.

“Well, if there was a secret, I would tell it to everyone I know and one thing we tried to do is drag our friends down through America with us as an opening act and try to share any of that audience that we can. I think one thing that has befuddled a lot of our peers over the years is thinking that because of our proximity to the United States, that fame in Canada will immediately translate to fame in the US. And what I’ve told so many people over the years, we get America, like we watch all of their news, we watch all of their television shows. We consume everything they put out. The reverse is not true,” he shares.

“As far as the industry is concerned in America, Canada is Portugal or Germany. It’s just a foreign market. And to say to an American label oh this band is huge in Canada, it just carries no weight with them whatsoever. It’s like telling them, oh, this band is huge in Italy. They just think, oh well, what does that have to do with America? So fame in Canada just gets you no free passes in America, and that’s very discouraging for a band that’s extremely famous in Canada. They go south of the border and they can’t get arrested and they go, well, I’m not going back there. 

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I was lucky to see The Hip in a lot of small clubs in America when they were already, you know, deities in Canada and there was no particular reason it didn’t take off the way it did for us. Added to all the hard work and all the talent and all the great songs there has to be a fourth dice roll, which is just blind luck. All of these crazy coincidences have to line up all at the same time in order for you to transition from a bar band or a large club band to anything beyond that. And you know, as hard as we worked, we were also lucky as hell. And that’s as important as the hard work.”

With 2022 marking the 30th anniversary of BNL’s landmark debut album Gordon, there is no shortage of nostalgia to go around. Set-lists, much like that of the bands’ impending NL return, are proverbial greatest hits of fan favourites.

“For me, I’ve been feeling quite nostalgic lately because a lot of those anniversaries have been coming around and I’m getting asked about them a lot. The 25th anniversary of Gordon is behind us. I think of Maroon as like late into our career and it’s 20 years old now. So I’ve been quite nostalgic about all that stuff lately,” Robertson admits. 

One Week, it was the number one hit all over the world. And some bands would be like, oh, well, whatever. You know, I’m tired of that song. We just keep reinventing it. We played it as a bluegrass song for a couple of years. You have to find your joy in the things that made you successful. When we sit and write that set-list I go, OK well, here’s what we owe to the audience because they’re coming to see us. So this much of the set is for them, and then that carves out a little piece of the set, maybe 30, 40 percent of the set that I feel like, OK, that’s for us. So as long as we give them If I Had $1000000, One Week, Pinch Me and The Big Bang Theory and The Old Apartment, It’s All Been Done, we give them all of those, then we can do whatever the f**k we want.”

 


For tickets and more information on the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent visit the official event website. Pick up the upcoming September 12-18 issue of The Newfoundland Herald for the remainder of our one-on-one with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies!

Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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