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Published: Sunday, 3/6/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Clean and sober Steven Page has new disc, new life

BY GARY GRAFF
NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE

Former Barenaked Ladies member Steven Page released solo album "Page One" in October. Former Barenaked Ladies member Steven Page released solo album "Page One" in October.
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Steven Page may not be in Barenaked Ladies anymore, but that doesn't mean that he's through with the band or its music. Not surprising, perhaps, given that he was a Lady for 20 years.

"Oh, I do a lot of BNL stuff," says Page, who released "Page One," his first proper solo album, in October and has been touring to promote it ever since. "I do any of the singles that I sang, so 'Jane' (1994), 'Brian Wilson' (1993), 'The Old Apartment' (1996), and stuff. With a new band, it's really nice to rearrange those songs after playing them in a certain way for so many years.

"I'm still proud of them," he says, "and they are my songs, you know, even if we did them while I was in the band."

Mostly, however, the 40-year-old Page is enjoying being clean, sober, and liberated -- and, with "Page One," getting back on track after pulling his personal life out of a downward spiral.

It was 2007 when things turned seriously sour for Page, who with schoolmate Ed Robertson had founded Barenaked Ladies in Toronto in 1988. That's when he and his wife, Carolyn, divorced after 14 years of marriage and three children.

Then, on July 11, 2008, Page and girlfriend Christine Benedicto were arrested in Fayetteville, N.Y., near their home in Syracuse, and charged with felony drug possession. The charges were later reduced to misdemeanors, however, and subsequently dismissed after Page agreed to six months of probation and drug screening.

The ill-timed, high-profile drug bust, coming shortly after the release of Barenaked Ladies' children's album "Snacktime!" (2008), certainly contributed to his split from the band in February, 2009. Page says, however, that his relationship with the rest of the group had been deteriorating "probably over the last 10 to 12 years, gradually."

"In being a five-piece band, my experience was that at any given point in time there's always somebody who's on the outside, that everybody else is talking about behind their back," says Page, who adds that he maintains cordial to friendly relationships, "depending on the guy," with the other members of the band.

After his arrest, Page says, he felt that the other Barenaked Ladies "were more [angry] than they were supportive, and I don't blame them, because they were scared. They were worried about immigration stuff and whatever else. They thought it reflected badly on them. I totally understand it, but I couldn't really make it up to them, and it didn't bring us closer together. It could have, but it didn't.

"But it wasn't some dramatic, 'Hey, you got arrested, you're out of the band,'" he concludes. "It happened over time. I think, by the end of the band, we were all on tippytoes around each other. It wasn't just me versus them. I think we'd just been together a long time."

Now he's hoping to prove to fans that he's still the same clever pop craftsman who sang about "lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did" and all the things he'd do if he had a million dollars. Even before leaving Barenaked Ladies he had written music for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and teamed with fellow songwriter Stephen Duffy to form the Vanity Project in 2005.

Immediately after splitting with the band, he worked on another Stratford production, Bartholomew Fair: A Comedy, recorded the covers album "A Singer Must Die" (2009), and played a series of acoustic shows.

"Page One" is, however, the closest thing he's done since the split to the kind of melodic pop he made with Barenaked Ladies.

"I have to be myself," Page says. "I didn't know what this record was going to be like. In my mind it could've been something arty or indie rock or something else, but it wasn't. I just made the music that came out. I tried not to overthink it.

"I think a lot of people probably expected some kind of mopey, woe-is-me record," he continues. "But that's not how I feel now. I feel like I'm on a trajectory that I'm really excited about, both career-wise and personally. Maybe in some ways it might be cooler to be negative, but that's not how I feel, and I wanted to be honest about that."

Page plans to put a great deal of push behind "Page One," with plans to tour well into 2011. There's more that he wants to accomplish, though -- a lot more, in fact, although he says that he'll be judicious and won't glut the market with music.

"You know, there's always the Neil Young in me that wants to make every record totally different," he says. "A part of me wants to put together a three or four-piece rock band and go make a straight-up rock-and-roll kind of thing, and another part of me thinks maybe something more like a cabaret kind of record, a dramatic thing. I will get all that stuff taken care of.

"I'm ready to work," Page concludes, "and there's a lot I want to do. This feels like just the beginning."



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