Steven Page starts a new chapter with “Page One” (2010)

Page One

When Steven Page left Barenaked Ladies (BNL) in 2009, the public hatched numerous theories as to what could’ve led to such an unforeseen decision. Whether it was a burgeoning rift with bandmates or simply the byproduct of his 2008 drug arrest, critics appeared to speculate on everything other than the possibility that he might just be traveling in a different musical direction.

“Frankly, the band itself was a five-way democracy and one of the great things about it is that it’s been about the five-way collaboration, but it’s also one of the things that’s made me decide to be a solo artist,” said Page when discussing his exodus. “As soon as I’d left BNL, I told my agent to put me on as many folk festivals as possible, so no one could assume I’d slip into the clichéd role of the eccentric hermit. I’m much more the eccentric extrovert!”

His latest solo effort “Page One” is due out on Oct. 19 and proves to be a majestically composed trove of songs that rank among his best yet. The album explores themes of “love, loss and new beginnings” while Page exudes an aura of distilled optimism that fans might not be expecting right out of the gate.

“I’d like to think I’m still delivering that thing that has connected with audiences for so long. Some listeners might have expected a brooding, woe-is-me album from me but, while there is some reflection, this is not a collection of diary entries,” he added. “I’m excited by the album and to be performing it live, as well.”

In anticipation of his upcoming show at The Riviera Theatre on Nov. 6, I spoke in-depth with Page about the new record as well as how his life has changed since leaving the band he spent more than 20 years being a part of. I found his down-to-earth levity to be a refreshing alternative to the often guarded nature of celebrity and immediately bought into the enthusiasm with which he approached his newfound solo endeavor.

MNOD: You’ve been out of BNL for a while now. How have you grown as an artist since your departure?

Steven Page: I still have immense respect for those guys. They’re a great band and I wish them the best. For me, the best parts have been not having to rely on others and being able to make the big decisions myself. I have more confidence in my abilities as an artist and have played a lot of live shows to establish my comfort zone.

MNOD: How did your split from the band influence your approach to the new album?

SP: Well, I didn’t have to listen to others as much or follow anyone else’s lead. I’ve never been one to say ‘Play this’ and expect people to comply, so I essentially had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I’m still working and collaborating with others, which is great. Although I’ve performed outside of BNL in several guises, with this it has a different kind of resonance, because previously I might have been playing a part in someone else’s project. This time, I’m in charge.

MNOD: The song “A New Shore” has an uplifting tone to it. Do you view it as an announcement of your solo career?

SP: I think so. It’s about me moving on and landing in a place that I feel good about. Someone told me the other day that the song is my ‘Solsbury Hill,’ and, after listening to Peter Gabriel again, I’d say that’s a great comparison. It’s triumphant and hopeful.

MNOD: “Entourage” presents a sound unlike much of what you’ve done in the past. What was your inspiration for that?

SP: I thought that because I could do anything I wanted to, Stephen Duffy and I would create a Bossa Nova vibe reminiscent of Trevor Horn’s production work with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. We share a lot of the same sonic influences, so it was easy putting everything together.

MNOD: The track “Over Joy” begins with such a vibrant guitar sound yet deals with downbeat subject matter. How did that juxtaposition come about?

SP: I like combining a dark lyric with a sprightly melody, so I see it as a sequel to ‘Brian Wilson’ in that sense. I’ve dealt with depression my whole life and it kind of comes and goes. I don’t enjoy it, but I also don’t wallow in it either. I’ve always loved ploppy, toe-tapping music and this song illustrates that idea perfectly.

MNOD: What about the song “Queen of America?”

SP: I wanted to create an up-tempo Bowie song and this is how it took shape. It’s like my gay disco tune, because I’ve always been a fan of the Pet Shop Boys and decided to write about the co-opting of gay culture by straight culture.

MNOD: Who were some of your influences throughout the writing/recording process?

SP: I’m really into The Mountain Goats and their focus on detailed lyrics that cause you visualize the story. I also listened to a lot of Scott Walker.There are a lot of people I’d like to work with. It’s difficult, because you can’t just call someone up and say ‘Hey, we should collaborate on something’ for fear that they might not think your stuff is all that great. I would love to get the chance to work or even sing backup for Paul McCartney.

MNOD: What can fans expect in terms of BNL classics in concert?

SP: I’ll be playing a lot of the songs that I sang lead on like ‘Brian Wilson,’ ‘Jane,’ ‘The Old Apartment’ and ‘Call and Answer.’ We’ll even break out some deeper cuts that haven’t been played in a while.

MNOD: Do you still enjoy playing those songs?

SP: I do. My band and I have rearranged a lot of them to enhance their freshness, so it’s been fun revisiting some of my earlier work.

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