The artist has to ‘keep pushing through’, and it isn’t easy, but Mr. Page has the talent to make that effort worthwhile. – New York Times
On September 30, Steven Page will release Excelsior digitally; it’s his first solo album since 2018. The album on Page’s Fresh Baked Goods imprint will be available on CD November 11 with a 2-LP vinyl version out early in 2023.
The album’s 11 tracks were composed and produced entirely by Page, who co-founded the band Barenaked Ladies, before departing on a solo career in 2009. The lion’s share of material on Excelsior was “workshopped” for audiences on his wildly popular virtual concert series Live From Home that Page has been conducting via Zoom since April of 2020 from his home near Syracuse, NY. Thousands of fans throughout the world have been tuning in on Saturdays (5 PM Eastern, 2PM Pacific,10PM/UK, 7AM Sunday - Australia-Eastern), which are limited to 1000 ticketed audience members per show, with an estimated to-date paid viewer total of 85,000+. The more than 90 episodes of Live From Home are available through Patreon. The Excelsior track titled “Zoom” is, in fact, the album’s first single and out this week.
While Page played most of the instruments heard on Excelsior, other musicians participating include Craig Northey (guitar, vocals) and Kevin Fox (cello, vocals), members of the Steven Page Trio, his touring ensemble who are well known to Live From Home viewers for their ability to accompany Page from remote locations. Also heard on Excelsior are Doug Elliott of the Odds (bass), as well as Joe Pisapia (pedal steel), who had been a member of Guster and has both backed and produced k.d. lang. Steven’s brother Matthew Page guests on drums.
Once the Canada-US border re-opened, Page was able to complete Excelsior at his Fresh Baked Woods (FBW) studio in Blackstock, Ontario with some of the basic tracks recorded in the Upstate New York basement from which Live From Home originates most Saturdays. FBW is the same facility where several Barenaked Ladies albums, including Barenaked For The Holidays were recorded. Seven of the 11 tracks comprise a thematically linked song cycle that Page characterizes as “a suite of songs tied into what we’ve been involved with over the last ten years.” These will occupy sides A and B of the 2 LP version of Excelsior when it is released next year along with the unrelated additional four songs (“gifts with purchase,” Steven jokes) to be found on side C of the second LP. Side D will be silent and occupied by an etched graphic. “So you have two buckets of songs, so to speak. One speaks to an ‘outer life’ -- bigger picture stuff. The others are largely about our very online existence and isolation we’ve all experience. It’s about all of us who spend too much time online.”
The songs on sides A and B are, in some way, an overview of humanity’s plight as reflected in the struggles of the individual. Says Page, “I don’t want to make it totally prescriptive as in ‘this is how you should hear it,’ but you might want it to apply it to your own lives if you feel so moved.”
“Feel” takes place at a funeral and deals with loss and grieving, a church choir plays inside the mourner’s head while “What Will I Do Now” is about learning to live with loss. “Human Doll” imagines a world where the ideal partner can be acquired by mail order and shipped to one’s door, the outcome of which is equally lonely and troubled as our current reality. “How Much Is Enough” that had been set to debut but was postponed due to COVID19 as part of Here’s What It Takes, the musical Page wrote for the 2020 Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.
“Look To the Stars” is a musical contemplation of what might be “bigger than us” and beyond our ability to understand. Page describes “Infinitely Light Years” along these lines: “In my mind we’re floating through space . . . it’s a duet (with myself) but imaged as between two separate people, a kind of quantum entanglement. It asks if it’s possible that we’re tied to somebody else who we don’t even know.” That’s followed by “Safe” in which one member of a couple explains the benefit of boundaries; Page suggests it’s “a plea for time and letting people set their own space.” In more than one way it calls back “Feel,” the opener.
The free-standing songs on side C include “Xylorimba,” conjured up for a special episode of Live From Home that called for Steven to perform 26 songs, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. For Live From Home A to Z, Steven had 25 letters covered with existing repertoire, so he commissioned himself to write a song titled with a word starting with ‘X.’ He chose an arcane musical instrument that he calls a “the oddball child of a xylophone and a marimba” popular 90+ years ago and not often spoken of or played in more recent times. The song addresses that oversight, both in a titular and musical sense.
The song “Zoom” is paradoxical for Page to have created, as he is something of a skeptic. “There’s a point of view that we’re supposed to believe that technology somehow makes our lives worse. During the pandemic Zoom did what it was supposed to do so you gotta hand it to them.” “The Golden Age of Doubling Down,” is focused on “our desire to be cruel to each other,” but is musically quite upbeat.
There’s also the self-deflating “Something About Me,” which Page characterizes as “a personal song about my own tendency to make everybody else’s problems about me. People’s sense of empathy is defined by their own ego. I like to point fingers at myself, not at other people.”
The album’s title, taken from the state motto of New York that relates to a Canadian living there and unable to go back to his native land for more than a year and half to see his parents or kids. Page, who was born in Scarborough, Ontario and inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in explains, “I was kind of stuck here (Manlius, NY) and, in essence, became a true New Yorker. The state’s vaccine passports are called Excelsior Passes and we reflect the slogan’s ‘onward and upward’ meaning in the album’s artwork.”
Beyond Live From Home and the new album, Page was commissioned to write “Canada Loves You Back” on the occasion of Ryan Reynolds being given the nation’s 2021 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. In a Tweet seen by almost 4 million, Reynolds referred to Page as “a friend and a legend” and thanked him “for wasting this amazing song on me."
This fall, the Steven Page Trio open select North American dates for The Who. “We’re not using drums on the Who dates; we can’t compete with them so the best thing you can do in that situation is to do the thing you do well.” He points out that “The Who was the first band -- that wasn’t the Beatles -- that I fell in love with.” The Steven Page Trio is additionally doing Midwest tour dates and expects to be on the West Coast in January in support of Excelsior.
In 2011, Steven Page guest hosted a special edition of CBC’s “The Current” dedicated to the topic of mental health.
The response to Steven’s intelligent, honest and candid approach to the subject matter was overwhelmingly positive and since then, Steven has been in demand as a speaker on a variety of topics including mental health, literacy, food and his life in the arts. Steven’s TEDx talk on “alchemy” was well received has been widely viewed.
To book Steven Page, contact information is here.
CBC Radio’s The Current
You have no idea … how much response the show has received so far. Our inbox is overflowing. It was a real pleasure working with him. He made my job as producer so much easier – and clearly, listeners loved him. I’m really glad we could make this happen!
Stage & Screen
THE ILLEGAL EATER
Tom Rankin Phd – UNIFOR Conference, St. John’s, NL
Steven was everything we had hoped for: he connected with people both in their gut and their head. Thanks for everything.
Our two days promoting Mental Illness Awareness Week was fantastic and much of it goes out to Steven … It has been a pleasure working with you and your company … Steven was an excellent speaker, engaging and inspiring. The audience appreciated his approach and honesty.
Musician, adventurer, food lover and host Steven Page is on a mission to hunt down clandestine dining experiences as he explores the tastiest, creative, underground and often illegal spaces that chefs around North America have to offer.
Steven takes Audrina Patridge to Studiofeast, an underground supper club to try baby eel and, well, some heart.