Barenaked Ladies' Jim Creeggan talks '90s nostalgia, Ben & Jerry's and touring without Steven Page

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July

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Jim Creeggan is calling from San Diego, where his band, Barenaked Ladies, is about to perform for a group of people in the technology industry.

Interesting, says a reporter. Is that because of the band’s many experiments with music technology, like selling music on floppy discs in the mid-’90s, or USB drives a decade later? Is it because of their propensity for dabbling in apps, podcasts and social media? Is it because they sing the theme song to the nerd-tastic sitcom The Big Bang Theory?

“I’d like to think that’s why they asked us to do it,” Creeggan said. “But I think they might just kind of like our songs. We’re probably the only guys that could do it.”

Over a more than 20-year career, Barenaked Ladies have scored a few international pop-rock smashes (One Week, It’s All Been Done) and enough quirky, catchy cult hits (Brian Wilson, The Old Apartment, If I Had $1000000) to make them one of the biggest Canadian acts of all time. (How big? In Canada, they have their own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, called If I Had 1,000,000 Flavours .)

But in America, fame has been more fleeting. The group is no longer on a major label, and playing corporate gigs like the one in San Diego helps them pay for new material. Perhaps more critically, in 2009, singer Steven Page departed the band, leaving co-founder Ed Robertson and keyboardist Kevin Hearn to handle all vocal duties. Bassist Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart have embraced expanded roles as well.

Barenaked Ladies will come to Tampa’s 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre on July 17 as part of their Last Summer On Earth Tour, featuring Blues Traveler, Cracker and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. (Tickets start at $13; click here for info.) Beforehand, Creeggan talked about nostalgia, reinvention and a few notable Tampa Bay gigs. Here are excerpts.

How did the idea of the a ’90s nostalgia tour come about?

We really want to be touring in the summer, and we really want to connect with the fans and play in a nice setting, as opposed to a cold hockey rink in Canada. We still love doing that, but I think we want to be playing in the summer, and it’s nice to connect with people. We did the H.O.R.D.E. Tour with Blues Traveler before. The other bands are all bands that we know can play live as well. They’re great live bands. So I think that’s kind of an element of why we wanted to get together. And also they had a similar trajectory as us. We were all playing live in the ’90s and have kept our careers going. We’ve managed to stay together as bands.

Are we ready for ’90s nostalgia at this point? Have we reached that 20-year cycle where the '90s are cool again?

Well, sure. I wouldn’t take that away from anybody. It’s maybe different from a Styx concert, where they were gone for a while, and they’re back, and it’s like, “Hey, remember the ’70s?” I’m not really ready to think of it in that way. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to play these songs, and we’re coming out with a new song this summer. It’s what you want it to be, for sure. If it’s the ’90s, man, that’s cool. It’ll be good to connect with Blues Traveler again.

Have you guys ever jammed with John Popper on the harmonica? What’s that like?

Undeniably, he’s playing with so much energy, and I think he’s a really unique player. I’m a huge fan of his playing, for sure, so I’ll be bugging him to play. ... When I was on the Horde Tour with them, they invited me up to come up and play bass, which was really cool. That’s one of the great things about these shows, is you hang out with people, you’re eating dinner with them, and it’s a really casual way to collaborate, and  inevitably, there’s opportunities for people to get together and play with each other. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m all for it.

Is there music that takes you back to your high school days?

Weather Report. (laughs) I really experimented a lot from Grade 9. I was the guy who wasn’t paying attention to stuff that was going on — relevant music in the ’80s. So I would be into, like, jazz fusion with Weather Report and Jaco Pastorius. And even ’50s revitalization, with Stray Cats. I think that if it was left up to me with my influences, (Barenaked Ladies’ music) would probably have no relevance at all. I’m the guy that looks for something that’s totally different, the left turn. But I have fond memories of that.

After two decades in the music business, are you still able to ingest music like you did when you were a teenager? Or have you become so jaded by the music industry that you can’t experience it the same way?

I don’t have the speed in the way I used to consume music. I’m a little slower. But being a musician, I also kind of appreciate when there is really something to a song. I don’t think I’ve been jaded; I just can’t keep up with younger folks, you know? They’re the trendsetters and the demographic that can really move through music fast. I think from being a musician for that long, I’ve been able to see the gems in the rough, and appreciate when somebody is really going for something. When they have a sense of style.

So it’s not all just Weather Report now.

(laughs) Yeah. I can’t really handle that stuff now.

What’s been the biggest challenge of touring without Steven?

The challenge was thinking about it before it happened. Worrying about, “How are we gonna do this?” Once we did get onstage, we realized that if there were any spaces, we would fill them in our own way, in a different way. We definitely can’t replace Steven; he’s doing his own thing now. But it’s interesting what happened — Kevin was able to step up to the front more, as well as me, to engage the crowd more. It sort of changed the dynamic, as it should. We couldn’t play the way we used to, and we had to step up to the plate.

Were there songs that you decided were off the table, that you just had to retire?

Yeah, some songs. I don’t think we’ve ever written off any of them. A lot of the songs, Steve and Ed wrote together as a duo, as a songwriting team, and he was able to sing them. He has a strong attachment to those tunes because of the writing process, so it was very easy for us to play some of the songs that people wouldn’t necessarily think we could pull off. But they were in fact written by Ed as much as Steve.

I was in Toronto for the first time earlier this year, and I came across a pint of If I Had 1,000,000 Flavours. What kind of perks did you get from having your own Ben & Jerry’s flavor?

One thing that was cool is that we were able to give our royalty to a literacy campaign called ABC Canada, which was cool, and they’re actually doing really well. We were like, “Yeah, okay, the 0.2 percent that we get from this ice cream is actually going to make them money? No way.” But it’s true that people are probably buying more ice cream than they are records. ABC Canada is doing really well. They’re ABCDEFG Canada now. (laughs)

They didn’t give you, like, a “black card,” where you can go into a store and can get however much ice cream you want?

We got three tubs of it. We wanted to make sure that we knew what we were talking about before the press release. And it was like putting an atomic bomb into my family and kids. They were all fighting over each scoop. I think that it’s too volatile. You gotta eat your ice cream responsibly.

You’ve played a postgame concert at Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays. What was that experience like?

It was inspiring playing in front of an actual ray. I’m sure it inspires the baseball players as well.

Did you get to meet players or tour the stadium?

We got, what’s his name, Crawford? He was playing for the team at that time, and we got signed baseballs. That was pretty exciting.

And then a few years ago, you guys played a New Year’s Eve gig in Tampa. Do you remember that?

Oh yeah! I do. It was where the Sharks play?

The Lightning.

Yeah, yeah. They had just won, so everybody was really happy. I remember that vibe. I also remember going out after, and the street being a complete party zone. So I saw the best and the worst of Tampa Bay there. (laughs)

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 12:28pm]

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