I stumbled upon the music of Steven Page several years ago, whilst researching depressive singer-songwriters who hide their tears of sorrow and loneliness behind happy-sounding songs of suicide and dysfunctional relationships.
Legend has it that Page was a member of the little-known but critically lauded band of Canadian troubadours once known as Barenaked Ladies.
He has composed the score for three productions at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and in 2005 he released his first solo album, The Vanity Project.
He has recently struck out on his own full-time and has two recordings due this year, as well as much concert-touring.
I met up with him recently in the kitchen of the house he shares with his girlfriend Christine and their five children for a brief chat and a home-cooked snack of Welsh Rarebit and strong coffee.
Q: What is your dog's name?
A: Pompey Magnus in the house.
Q: How do shark's teeth make you feel?
Q: I'm confused - is A Singer Must Die your solo record or is it something else?
A: It’s okay to be confused. Although I hesitate to use the phrase “side project,” it’s a side project. And I only say that because I’m doing a limited tour for it, and it’s a collaboration, and I have an album’s worth of original material (herein known as “Solo Album™”) coming later this year. Still, A Singer Must Die is a labour of love and something I’m really proud of.
Q: What is Art of Time Ensemble?
A: It’s a group of musicians from the classical and jazz worlds, led by concert pianist Andrew Burashko. They play a huge range of styles from rock (last year, they performed the Beatles’ Abbey Road album in its entirety) to classical to Brazilian jazz.
Q: What is the last thing you searched for on Google?
A: “old “guide book” preface.” I was trying to find some stylistic inspiration for the opening paragraph of this interview, since it’s basically me pretending to be you pretending to be a scholar of some sort.
Q: What colour is your bedroom?
A: It’s blue and orange. With the most awesome hand-printed wallpaper with birds and clouds on it. I sleep well.
Q: Where do you go to, my lovely?
A: Mostly back and forth between Toronto and Upstate New York, but once the solo album™ is out, I’ll be traveling to all corners of North America, Europe, and hopefully other places too.
Q: What is your favourite kind of coffee?
A: I love good espresso. Although I’ll never forget my first sip of the real deal in Italy years ago, I’ve recently had some mind-blowing cups at Stumptown in Seattle, Intelligentsia in Los Angeles, and Mercury in Toronto. I try desperately to pull the perfect shot at home, but have yet to master it. I suspect it’s like golf, but not as boring.
Q: What do they know about friends?
A: Friend? This shouldn’t be the way things end.
Q: What does your new Solo Album™ sound like?
A: It sounds like Steven Page. Well, like the inside of my brain and heart. It’s stylistically all over the map: from power-pop to disco to big band jazz to folk. Even I am a little surprised at how upbeat it is, honestly!
Q: Will your Solo Album™ be as Steven Page or as The Vanity Project?
A: Steven Page. Loud and proud. No need to hide behind other names anymore.
Q:Sometimes I can’t tell when you’re being sincere or when you’re being sarcastic – both in your songs and in places like Twitter or Facebook. Does that ever cause problems for you?
A: Does that ever cause problems for you?
Q: No, I’m serious, does it?
A: No, I’m serious, does it?
Q: Stop copying me.
A: Stop copying me.
Q: Quit It!
A: Quit It!
Q: I am SO done.
A: I’m sorry. Please come back.
Q: Why say anything nice?
A: Shall I take back everything I’ve ever said and live my whole life in silence instead?
Q: What prompted your departure from Barenaked Ladies
A: Time to move on, twenty years, etc. etc.
Q: Do you hate Barenaked Ladies or something?
A: Not at all – we were quite awesome.
Q: Who plays on your Solo Al- er - your new record?
A: It’s mostly me and producer John Fields, but Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello and the Attractions/Impostors plays drums, which is a huge deal for me. He’s always been one of my favourite drummers, and it turns out he’s a great guy, too. Backup vocal cameos are made by Esthero, Glen Phillips (from Toad the Wet Sprocket), and my special lady Christine. I can’t believe I just said “special lady.” She's going to kill me.
Q: Who are your dream collaborators?
A: Well, I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of them, especially Stephen Duffy. Growing up, he was my absolute hero, and when we started writing together back in 1993, it was a dream come true. He’s still one of my favourite singer-songwriters, and I’m lucky to call him one of my best friends too. Otherwise? I’d love to do something with Jeff Lynne or Paul McCartney or Randy Newman. Remember, I’m dreaming here. Um… (thinks for a moment) Paul Williams? I mean, he wrote The Muppet Movie soundtrack. So great. Then, of course, there are singers who I admire, like Scott Walker or David Bowie or Charles Aznavour – total originals with such incredible phrasing and style. I’d be totally into working with any of the people I covered on the Art of Time album as well. And then there are the ones who’ve passed on that I wish I could have met: Harry Nilsson, Fred Ebb of Kander and Ebb (Though I’d love to meet John Kander too), Elliott Smith and on and on…I still have a couple of songs left to record for this album, and I’d also love to be able to persuade my kids to sing on them – they’re all great musicians.
Q: What will your live shows be like now?
A: Although I spent much of the past year playing solo acoustic shows (occasionally joined by Kevin Fox on cello), I’m currently in the process of putting together a new live band that will include the traditional rock elements of guitars and drums along with strings and wind instruments, and lots of singing. I’m hoping that by the time we get this show on the road, audiences will get to see a show that is both theatrical and intimate. See? That was sincere. I know; it’s SO difficult to tell the difference.
Q: Thank-you very much for your time. I must be leaving now.
A: Do you need directions or anything?
Q: No, I think I’ll be fine.
A: Would you like to stay for dinner?
Q: No, really, I have a flight to catch, but thank-you again.