While working on his 2016 album Heal Thyself Pt. I: Instinct singer Steven Page had enough material for a double album. Yet the former Barenaked Ladies singer, now a decade into a prosperous solo career, thought better of releasing everything at the time. As a result, Page has returned with his latest studio effort entitled Discipline: Heal Thyself Pt. II.
“This record was in some ways even more inspiring because I got to work with those same musicians but a lot more with The Odds,” Page says. “I worked with them a lot on the last record but this one, we’ve done a lot more live shows together as well now as a unit. To have me enter the fold there’s a certain sense of telepathy now which makes it easier and also more exciting.”
Page also co-produced the new album (out Sept. 14) which he feels was a natural evolution of his talents.
“When I made Page One back in 2010 that was the big watershed moment for me because I realized I had been making records for at that point 20 odd years and knew how to do it. When you’re in a band situation, there’s so much delegating of roles and people stick to their roles of expertise. It’s hard for you to understand how much of it you know yourself and how confident you can be with those things.
“People talk about when a sculptor has a piece of stone they say the sculpture is already in there you just have to chip away at the stone until the sculpture’s revealed. I kind of feel the same way sometimes. Like my head is full of white noise and I’m constantly chipping away until I can produce the sound that’s buried underneath there.”
The album’s opening track, “Nothing Special,” is the antithesis of its title, a well-rounded, well-crafted pop gem along the lines of ’80s Brit popsters XTC. Page says it took a lot of fusing to create the end result.
“’Nothing Special’ which starts the record is like four different songs in one and each one is incredibly detailed,” he says. “So it took a deep dive into each section to make them sound the way I had imagined them. As a pop song writer I’m always trying to compress and economize so the song still ends up being four or four and a half minutes long when it could potentially have been 15 minutes long. So you’re putting 15 minutes worth of ideas into a compact and economical package.”
Possibly the album’s highlight is “White Noise,” a rousing, politically-charged song Page penned following the 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia which left one woman dead. The musician says the song essentially wrote itself.
“It really did,” he says. “When I heard the demonstrators saying Jews will not replace us I thought to myself ‘this feels familiar’ in a terrifying kind of way. And I’m usually not the type of person who runs downstairs, picks up a guitar and writes protest songs but I just felt like I had no choice.
“People for the most part really like the song,” he says. “Any negatives I’ve had have been people who haven’t been really listening to it. It’s pretty hard to go, ‘Yeah I disagree, I think white supremacists are pretty great!’ It’s kind of undeniable that way. I haven’t had a ton of, ‘Shut up and sing!’”
The musician, who now lives Stateside after growing up in Scarborough, says the current political climate seems to be similar regardless of what side of the border you’re on.
“I don’t think it’s that much different,” Page says. “You guys just elected Doug Ford and people go, ‘How does that happen?’ This is the same, I think one of the problems is we all think that we’re better than this. So much of it is a facade.
“It’s a constant contradiction. It’s this fear of losing something that maybe they never had anyways. It’s the same thing that happened in America and Toronto seems to think that it’s above the fray. That somehow the election of Doug Ford wasn’t Toronto’s fault. That’s a city that elected Rob Ford! I think it’s the same down here, people choose to not take action and would rather be outraged after the fact.”
Page plans to tour Canada extensively next May behind the album after some symphony dates in Atlantic Canada. A proper American tour is slated for the fall after coming off a stellar British trek in August, the result of a well-received British trek last fall.
“It was the first time I was there since I left the band so whether people still wanted to see me,” he says. “It was such an amazing response and really emotional for us and the audience.”
Perhaps even more emotional was his highly-anticipated reunion with Barenaked Ladies during this year’s Juno Awards.
“Oh absolutely, it was a big deal. To be able to sing those songs with those guys again for the first time in nine years was exciting and emotional and I was really happy to get to the point where we could do that. But then after that event, we went to Calgary, the National Music Centre where the Hall of Fame is for the unveiling of the plaque on the wall. That’s where you really get a sense of the weight of the honour.
“They unveil your plaque and right beside you are the Guess Who and Rush and Glenn Gould and Oscar Peterson. There are only 50 other people besides Barenaked Ladies on this thing thus far. It was an unexpectedly humbling experience for us.”