Barenaked Ladies

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about the artist

After more than three decades as the lead singer and guitarist for Barenaked Ladies, Ed Robertson has a routine when it comes time to start writing songs for a new album. "I tend to get ideas while I'm driving up to my lake house," he says. "I record voice memos along the way, and then I listen back and try to make sense of them and mix and match the various ideas I've come up with. On a typical drive, I'm happy if I get six or seven — eight ideas would be a good drive.

"For this album," heMore

After more than three decades as the lead singer and guitarist for Barenaked Ladies, Ed Robertson has a routine when it comes time to start writing songs for a new album. "I tend to get ideas while I'm driving up to my lake house," he says. "I record voice memos along the way, and then I listen back and try to make sense of them and mix and match the various ideas I've come up with. On a typical drive, I'm happy if I get six or seven — eight ideas would be a good drive.

"For this album," he continues, "on my first writing trip I had 21 different song ideas. I thought, 'Wow, this is really cool.' Then I sat down to write, and I thought if I could finish one of them — get the verses, get the bridge, get the chorus in one day — then I'll know this whole writing period is going to be good. And I finished eight songs. I sat down at 10 in the morning, and I looked up at 9:30 and I hadn't eaten, I hadn't moved from the writing table. It was exciting. I've never felt that before."

The results mark a new chapter for a band that's sold more than 15 million albums, earned Grammy nominations and won multiple Juno Awards, and in 2018, were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In Flight, BNL's eighteenth studio album, retains the dry wit and keen observation we expect from Robertson, bassist Jim Creeggan, keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn and drummer Tyler Stewart, but adds a strong sense of maturing and lessons learned.

"I think as I age, I get less self-conscious," says Robertson. "I had a goal to write simpler songs on this record, to not out-clever myself and be a little more direct, more emotionally present and honest. And when I listened to what I wrote, I heard what I've been talking about for the last couple of years — ruminations on gratitude, getting older, cancel culture. It was everything I've been thinking about, distilled into songs."

While BNL's last album, 2021's Detour de Force, looked closely at the perils of contemporary, alternate reality media, In Flight offers a sense of joy and appreciation, exemplified in the first single, "Lovin' Life," in which they unironically sing "We're lovin' life/We love it so much that we wanna live it twice/We're lovin' life/We take it high, we take it low/We ride that rollercoaster anywhere it goes." (Robertson wrote the song with Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin and Steve Aiello of Thirty Second to Mars; elsewhere on the album, he co-wrote "I Am Asking You" with Donovan Woods).

"It's very easy to get overwhelmed by the firehose of bad news that we're all pretty tuned into, and it is real," says Robertson. "But I think it's really important to remember to still be grateful. I guess I'm just trying to take in the negativity that surrounds us and learn about it and grow from it. 'Lovin' Life' is about experiencing the positivity, because that's there, too."

He points to the recording of the song "Too Old" ("You don't scare me a bit/I'm too old for this shit") as a pivot point for In Flight. "The demo had this arpeggiated acoustic guitar and it was almost melancholy," he says. "It was pretty, but It made it a little more distant from the message. When we started jamming it in pre-production, it turned into this Tom Petty-ish, guitar driven thing, it had a little bite. That was the moment where we were just letting shit happen organically and it felt great."

Even at this point in a legendary career, Barenaked Ladies were open to altering their work habits and finding ways to better serve the new songs. "Typically in the past, we've done all the guitar overdubs, then we go in and do percussion, then do all the keyboard parts," says Robertson. "With this record, we put up a song and said, 'What does it need?,' then put up the next song and finished song by song. So it demanded everyone's attention all the time, as opposed to just concentrating on their parts or the week where they're focusing on their instrument. That kept everybody invested and involved all the way through."

Of course, a band known for hits like "One Week" and "If I Had $1,000,000" isn't going to put out an album without humor — or Canadian Content. Kevin Hearn presented the group with "See the Tower," a song telling the story of the structure that highlights the Toronto skyline. "It's got a kind of sentimental approach, in all the right ways," says Robertson. "It reminds me of a song on Sesame Street or a kid's book about the CN Tower."

Hearn contributed three more songs to In Flight, including one about local Toronto legend "The Peace Lady" and a biting fantasy about a real place in New York City, "The Dream Hotel." Jim Creeggan co-wrote two of the tracks, adding the sweet devotion of "Just Wait" and "Wake Up" (on which he collaborated with Max Kerman of the Arkells).

Robertson is confident that the album's more thoughtful songs, like "Waning Moon" and "Fifty for a While," will play just as well on stage as the comical material. "On the last tour, the songs that I thought we wouldn't even try live ended up being real highlights of the show," he says. "We ended up doing 'Man Made Lake' every night, and it was a real anchor point. 'Live Well' was another one — the most vulnerable, personal, raw, emotional songs. And it's always been like that, we've always had 'One Week,' but the flip side is the reflective nature of 'Pinch Me,' and our audience accepts that from us."

With the song "One Night," Robertson even addresses this unique relationship BNL has with its fans. "We were trying to write something sexy that wasn't just about a steamy night between two consenting adults," he says, "but rather the magical connection that happens between a whole audience and a band. When it goes right — which it almost always does — for that 'One Night' it's a very intense connection."

Barenaked Ladies have become an institution, with a passionately dedicated audience (enough for them to headline their own cruises and have an ice cream flavor named after them) and a constant flow of new fans (plenty of whom discover the band through their theme song to the endlessly popular The Big Bang Theory). Maybe it's just the passage of time, maybe the joy of getting back on the road after the COVID lockdown, but Ed Robertson has noticed a change in his own attitude which adjusted his tone on In Flight.

"I was talking to my daughter the other day," he says, "and I told her that there would have been a me in the past that was standing on stage going, 'Okay, seven more songs and then I get on the bus and go to the next city, and then it's only six more shows before the end of the tour, when I get to go home and be with my family.' Now I find myself looking out and going 'We sold out Red Rocks — again!' I feel very connected to how lucky we are that we still get to do this.

"I think this band is the underdog success story of the century," Robertson continues. "Show me another band with a 35-year career, 15 million records sold, number one hits worldwide, and has never been on the cover of any major music publication. We're a band that has committed to being who we are and what we are, and being as good as we can be — doing the best shows we can do, writing the best songs we can write — and we've done it for 35 years. I'm super proud of that."

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