Ed Robertson’s the kind of guy you’d like to hang out with. Maybe you had a friend like him in school, you know the one—great sense of humour, a little geeky, and obsessed over Alex Lifeson’s latest guitar solo. It’s safe to say that your friend (great musician though he was), probably didn’t realize his childhood dream of being in a rock band, selling millions of records, and starring in his own TV show. That’s where Ed Robertson, guitarist and vocalist of the Barenaked Ladies, famous Canadian celebrity and everyday guy stands on his own.
With seven Juno awards, platinum records and a Billboard #1 single, the Barenaked Ladies, best known for their hit songs “One Week” and “If I Had a Million Dollars,” have just released their tenth studio album, Barenaked Ladies Are Me. Deciding not to re-sign with Reprise Records, they instead chose to release the CD under their own label, Desperation Records. It’s an album that Ed calls their most honest to date, with critics labeling it as “mature.”
In the midst of their world tour, they stop in Calgary to play the Saddledome, February 8. We chat with Ed about going independent, his new reality TV show “Ed’s Up,” on the Outdoor Life Network and his memories of Calgary.
LP: I don’t know if you’re familiar with our magazine—
ER: I’ve stayed in the odd hotel (both laugh). I have picked up many a Where magazine to find out where to go.
LP: That’s great—so then what kind of a connection do the Barenaked Ladies have to Calgary?
ER: I have a niece who lives there. But also, Calgary was an early stronghold for BNL in the early ’90s. We played the university there, and from ’88 to ’91 we stopped through a whole bunch of times.
LP: Tell me about the first time you guys played here…
ER: One of the first times was a place called Sparky’s—we did a week there opening for a comedy troupe called Corky and the Juice Pigs. This would have been 1989 probably. Next time we came back, I remember this really cool guy came up to us at the show, said he was from town, really liked the band, and would like to take us tubing on the Bow the next day. So he took the whole band in his truck, and we went out tubing and it was fantastic. We had an early love for Calgary.
LP: Can you expand on that?
ER: It was pretty freakin’ cool that you could ride an inner tube right into the downtown—there are very few cities that are accessible by inner tube. (laughs)
LP: How would you say Calgary fans are different than other cities’ fans?
ER: Well, they’re much wealthier with much more valuable real estate holdings. They have a much more “saddle”-shaped arena than any of our other Canadian fans. Also, when the doors open at the show, they tend to really “stampede” in. (laughs) Our audiences in Canada are largely similar.
LP: What do you like best about Calgary?
ER: I love cities with a downtown foot-friendly shopping area, ’cause every time I roll into a city, I don’t have a car, I’m on a tour bus, or flying in. It’s so nice to have a downtown that has people in it, walking around and shopping, it’s actually a rarity these days. It’s very important to keep downtowns vibrant and alive, and Calgary’s got that. Plus, it’s got a great new barbeque restaurant.
LP: So you like Palomino Smokehouse?
ER: I love Palomino’s. It’s a real saloon inside. I went there like, three times in the span of two days.
LP: What did you order?
ER: Oh, their huge platter that has everything on it. Plus the wait stuff was really cool, and they have bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, which, you know, anything wrapped in bacon gets so much better.
LP: Have you been to the Stampede?
ER: Never been to a Stampede, as many times as I’ve been to Calgary. I saw Van Halen at the Saddledome in ’91. That was pretty exciting. I remember the last time I was in Calgary though they were giving out cowboy hats on Stephen Ave, I guess Stampede time was just starting. It was kind of funny because we rolled into the downtown, and we were like, “they’re not kidding, everybody is wearing a cowboy hat!” Then we walked around the corner and they were giving them out.
LP: What are you looking forward to most when you play the Saddledome in February?
ER: Just getting back to Calgary. Seeing my niece, walking the streets of Calgary, even in February. I’m a tough guy, I can do it.
LP: What can fans expect from this show?
ER: As with every Barenaked Ladies show, expect the unexpected. You’re gonna hear a lot of old material, a lot of new material, we play for about two hours. The set list changes wildly each night. And expect some very, very fine choreographed dancing as well. We actually worked with a choreographer before this tour.
ER: Oh yeah. We got a little Broadway number in there.
LP: The improv you guys do, is it really just spur of the moment?
LP: Even the rapping?
ER: Yeah! That makes the shows exciting and fresh for us—we never know what we’re gonna do. If you listen to a lot of live shows, you’ll find proof that they’re not pre-rehearsed because (laughs) many of them are quite crappy. But those moments are the excitement of a live show for me.
LP: Are you ever nervous?
ER: No, I feel pretty comfortable on stage. Always have.
LP: What do you like best about touring?
ER: It’s playing to different crowds every night, totally the best part.
LP: The flipside?
ER: I heard one rock and roller say, and I can’t remember who the quote’s attributed to, but I feel the same way: “I’d play shows for free, and get paid to sleep on the tour bus.” That’s the crappy part, the actual travel. You rarely get to see anything in the places that you’re going. And I don’t really like sleeping on a moving bus.
LP: Why did you guys decide not to re-sign with the label?
ER: The time was right. We just didn’t feel the label had anything to offer us anymore. We were lucky because we were on a major label right at the height of the record business, had a number one hit, and sold a ton of records, but when it came to the mid 2000s, with all the Internet technology changing the face of the business, I don’t think the labels had adapted, and still haven’t. We thought we could do a lot better on our own. We wanted to try out new ideas that would be cumbersome to do on a label.
LP: What is something new technology-wise that you’ve come up with?
ER: We’re actually trying to work out people being able to download the actual show on their way out of the show.
LP: Wow, that fast?
ER: There’s a couple glitches, but we’re sorting them out. If people bring their USB stick, they should be able to put it into a USB hub and get the whole show.
LP: That’s something you couldn’t do with a label.
ER: No, absolutely not.
LP: What was your main inspiration for this album?
ER: It was quite varied because we wrote it over the span of a year or more. We tried to be really inclusive with this material and write whatever we were thinking about. There’s certainly a lot of relationship-based stuff, but there’s some pretty pointed-political things inspired by current events. I think it’s a pretty honest record.
LP: What song would you say you’re proudest of?
ER: I really like the song “Bank Job,” also really love “Wind It Up.”
LP: Why those two?
ER: “Wind It Up” for me is a really natural extension of where I come from; it’s so Canadian Prog Rock influenced. And Bank Job was just fun to write. It came out really easily, and tells a complete story.
LP: What was the naked song on this album?
ER: Didn’t have one!
LP: Didn’t have one? How come?
ER: For the first time. We’re getting too used to each others’ naked bodies. (laughs) Unfortunate thing. It used to create some bizarre excitement to get naked, and now, we’ve been a band for 18 years, and it’s like being in a hockey locker room. It just doesn’t matter.
LP: How does being Canadian inspire your work?
ER: I think bands out of Canada are a hearty breed. Any band that has ever toured through the prairies through winter knows it’s not like, touring through Texas. Canada produces an inordinate amount of good music and comedy, and it has a lot to do with the climate and with where we are geographically to the States. We can sit back and see how the U.S. does it, and then say how we would have done it better.
LP: What is the difference between your Canadian audiences verses your American?
ER: American audiences are waaay more rambunctious, boisterous and energetic. Canadian audiences are the quietest, most reserved audiences I’ve played to anywhere in the world.
LP: Why do you think that is?
ER: I don’t know. But when we walk out on stage, anywhere in the U.S. people get up on their feet, cheer like hell, and dance for the entire concert. In Canada, people jump up on their feet and hoot and holler when you walk out on stage, and as soon as you start the first song, everybody sits down. And it just sucks all the energy out of the room. It’s a thing in Canada.
LP: How did your new TV show come about? [The show, “Ed’s Up,” revolves around Ed, who is also a recreational pilot, flying to unknown locations and tackling different jobs when he lands.]
ER: The production company approached me and asked if I’d be interested, I said “No,” (laughs) “I’m quite busy with the career I already have.” But when they talked to me about what the show was going to be, it sounded too cool to pass up. In terms of all the flying experience, and spending time in some more remote places in Canada, it seemed like it would be a lot of fun. I actually filmed the first episode in Fort Macloed, Alberta, at the Bent Creek Ranch.
LP: What did they make you do?
ER: They made me learn how to ride a horse, which is something that I was completely clueless about. I’ve been on a horse before, but never really in control of a horse. Did some branding, some moving of cattle. We moved 300 head of cattle about 10 miles through the Porcupine Hills.
LP: What’s your latest tattoo?
ER: I’m on my way back through Portland to get another tattoo. My latest is a big dragonfly on my shoulder.
LP: What are you going to get?
ER: Maybe a frog. I want to do a big circle of life thing wrapping around my torso. The frog jumping for the dragonfly, then the dragonfly trying to land on a big bear, then the bear pawing at a fish, and the fish jumping for the frog, which is jumping for the dragonfly.
LP: Describe yourself in one word.
ER: Wow, in one word. Relaxed
LP: I have to ask this. Do you still eat Kraft Dinner?
ER: (laughs) You know, I have three kids, so it hits the table more often than I would like and often a few spoonfuls go into my mouth.—Laura Pellerine