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Steven Page, formerly of Bare Naked Ladies, now on the phone (Valerie Joidon Keaton)
Steven Page, formerly of Bare Naked Ladies, now on the phone (Valerie Joidon Keaton)

Music

Former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page comes home alone Add to ...

On Steven Page’s website, there’s a calendar with a red circle around the date April 13. It’s the night the former Barenaked Ladies singer-songwriter plays Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, his first proper hometown concert since his split with one of Canada’s most successful pop bands and the 2010 release of his stylish album Page One.

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The singer chats with The Globe and Mail over the phone about smaller audiences, humbling experiences and funerals not his own.

You’ve played a number of shows in Toronto since your split from Barenaked Ladies, including performances with the Art of Time Ensemble. But the show at the Winter Garden, with your band, is your first proper solo concert here. How are you feeling about it?

Toronto is always a big deal. When I was with the Barenaked Ladies, we always tried to figure out when exactly in the tour the Toronto show was going to be. You’re playing to friends and family and fans who’ve known you for a long time. We always hoped the show wouldn’t be at the beginning of the tour, so we could work out some of the kinks and so on.

I guess your last performance here was at Jack Layton’s funeral, at which you sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Given that he was a friend of yours, how were you able to keep it together?

It was really tough. I wobbled a bit. Any performance is most effective when the performer doesn’t lose it. There’s a sense that that’s part of what performance is – that the person onstage is communicating what people in the audience don’t have the ability to do, or the opportunity. So, I had to focus. It was emotional, standing feet away from Jack’s coffin and looking into an audience, seeing his kids and his wife and lots of people from different parts of my life.

You faced a different sort of audience when you opened for the reunited pop-rockers Goo Goo Dolls on their tour last year. Was it humbling, singing to people who weren’t necessarily there to see you?

I think, at that point, I was already sufficiently humbled. I’ve been learning more and more how well known I was or wasn’t, and what people knew about me or liked about me.

How did those shows go?

It’s interesting going out in front of an audience that isn’t innately your own, and to watch them respond. Opening for other artists was something that we in Barenaked Ladies enjoyed doing. It gives you an opportunity to win over an audience that might not be yours. But the match with Goo Goo Dolls worked in a way because some of the audience who remembered their stuff from the nineties might have had fond memories of the Barenaked Ladies hits from the nineties as well.

But you’re not Barenaked Ladies any more.

I noticed people who walked in as I was playing. It would take them a song or two, and then they’d realize, “Oh, it’s that guy.” Perhaps that’s where the humbling came in. So I thought, “Okay, so they don’t know who Steven Page is.” They might have seen the name on the poster or the ticket, but it hadn’t clicked that it was the guy who sings the songs that they know. There’s still work to be done in that department.

How has your solo material clicked with people who do know you well?

People didn’t know what to expect when Page One came out. Some were afraid it was going to be purposely inaccessible. But it’s almost the opposite in a certain way.

Page One didn’t sell as much as the Barenaked Ladies albums. Did that have something to do with your humbling?

I didn’t set out to make a record that that was pop or not pop, or anything else. I pressed “record and play,” and what came out came out. It was very freeing to be able to do that, without having to think about radio formats.

How did that work out?

If I’d been shrewder, perhaps I should have thought a little about radio formats. But I don’t know who plays what I do any more anyways. Adult album alternative I guess is where I needed to have success. Hopefully we’ll see more of that format here in Canada.

The album has been out a while. What kind of feedback are you getting now?

The one-on-one interaction I get with people is really positive. I still see people on Twitter and so on saying that they just picked up the record and they’re falling in love with it. The record business is different than it was, and I like that the new paradigm allows people to come late to the party.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Steven Page plays Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre on April 13.

Follow on Twitter: @BWheelerglobe

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