Saturday, December 16, 2017
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Barenaked Ladies bassist talks fame, ice cream before gig at Gary Amphitheatre

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 has 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 the band 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 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 Tuesday as part of the Last Summer on Earth Tour, featuring Blues Traveler, Cracker and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Beforehand, Creeggan talked about nostalgia, reinvention and ice cream. Here are excerpts.

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.

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

The challenge was thinking about it before it happened, worrying about "how are we going to 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.

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

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.

I was in Toronto for the first time 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. 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.

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