Barenaked Ladies cut loose and show it all with ‘Fake Nudes’

“I buy all of my music on vinyl, and I experience lots of new music because of vinyl.”

Sometimes familiarity does not breed contempt, despite how the infamous saying goes. Recently having bypassed that clichéd sentiment outright are Barenaked Ladies, the multimillion-selling Canadian band behind the tongue-twisty theme to The Big Bang Theory, which you’ve heard open everyone’s favorite geek-celebrating comedy whenever it airs on CBS, TBS, or on demand via your digital platform of choice.

Rather than get themselves all worked up into a hot, dense state of indecision while working on their new album, Fake Nudes (out now in various formats via Vanguard Records), the four main men of BNL decided the right course of action was to once again work with producer Gavin Brown, who helmed their past three LPs.

The certain level of recording shorthand that exists between them has led the band to some of their most inspired in-studio moments, according to BNL frontman Ed Robertson. “We feel that not just with Gavin, but with his whole team, from the engineers to the Pro Tools dudes who clean up a lot of the takes. They’re organizing a lot of stuff while we just keep forging ahead,” Robertson confirmed to Digital Trends.

“It makes for a very spontaneous and creative environment when you have a team around you that gets you and understands how you work, and also understands how you like to work,” the vocalist/guitarist continued. “You’re able to hit the ground running when you’re back in there with the same team again.”

Digital Trends got on the line with Robertson a few hours before BNL played a sold-out theater show in British Columbia to discuss laying down the sonic template for Fake Nudes, how one’s love of vinyl comes in handy when you’re on the road, and why they were the perfect band to have a song featured on a recent episode of Mr. Robot. And to think it all started with the big bang …

Digital Trends: I’ve really been enjoying listening to Fake Nudes on headphones. The production template you guys laid down for it totally lends itself to that kind of in-your-head listening.

Ed Robertson: Yeah, and I also think Howie [Beck] did a pretty incredible job of mixing this record. I did all of my listening to the record the first couple of weeks on headphones too. It was later that I got into more sort of casual listening, like just having it on in the background at home while I was getting other stuff done. But all my critical listening was done on headphones.

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I was just so pleased and blown away by the choices Howie made. He’s a very creative mixer. He added a lot of sonic flavor that wasn’t there — like delays layering into some spaces, for example, which were really just pleasant surprises to come along. Right after the first listen, I went, “Oh, we got the right fucking guy!” (laughs)

Is there one specific track where Howie did something you weren’t expecting, but wound up absolutely loving?

Ummm … it might have been You and Me. There was something where he threw in a delayed repeat of a vocal into what was just a space before. And it made me smile immediately. I was like, “Oh yes, Howie Beck — that was a really good decision!” (chuckles)

What else? Oh yeah, Sunshine — his mix of Sunshine was so beautiful. He made that sound so trance-y. And what is a really natural acoustic drum sound, he just gave it so much breath and life. He added those delay specs into the vocal that sort of carried you through those spaces, which was such a pleasant surprise.

What I scribbled down in my notes the first time I listened to that song was that it had a “sense of space.” On that one, I really felt like I was in the room with you guys as you were putting it down together.

All of my critical listening is done on headphones.

Yeah, I’m very proud of that song. Tyler Stewart [BNL’s drummer] thinks it might be my best song ever. I don’t know about that (chuckles), but I sure like it.

In the lyrics of the album’s first track, Canada Dry, you mention some very specific places and some specific artists — Canadian-born artists who make you cry whenever you listen to them.

Yes. On the first verse it’s Neil [Young], the second is Joni [Mitchell], and then third, it goes into Gord, who “is making me cry.”

And that’s a reference to our dearly departed friend Gord Downie. I thought that was a very poignant and timely line. [Downie, the dynamic frontman of the Canadian rock icons The Tragically Hip, passed away from brain cancer on October 17.]

Yeah, it sure is. It’s been a rough time, as you know. Gord was a colleague and a hero of ours, but he was also a good friend. Our kids have gone to school together since kindergarten, our boys played in a band together, and they played on the same hockey team. I very much looked at Gord as a respected colleague, but also as a school parent and a neighborhood dad.

He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. I saw you guys recently covered the Hip song Ahead by a Century, coming out of you also doing one of Gord’s more intriguing solo songs, Chancellor, on The Strombo Show [Ahead by a Century, one of the The Hip’s signature tunes, was the very last song the band played at their final concert in their hometown, Kingston, Ontario, on August 20, 2016].

It’s shocking to me how few Hip fans know about Gord’s solo work. It’s so good.

“I could have made chancellor without you on my mind.” What a classic Gord line, you know?

Yep, yep. That’s on Coke Machine Glow (2001), which I think is some of the best work of his career, you know? It’s a great record.

I couldn’t agree more. Well, maybe you guys could do a Record Store Day single with Ahead by a Century on the B-side, or something. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.

That would be a lot of fun!

Speaking of records, I’m glad to see you guys are still embracing vinyl and putting your records out on wax. How important is that to you these days?

Well, only because it sounds really good! (both laugh) And I still love tangible music. I love poring over liner notes. Every day when we’re on tour, I’m walking through record stores, and looking at vinyl.

Every day when we’re on tour, I’m walking through record stores, looking at vinyl.

It’s just a way-nicer experience for me, musically. Also, I’m not a total anachronism to the modern day — I’ve got my iPhone in my pocket, and I’ve got gigs and gigs of music on it. And I love the convenience of having a Bluetooth speaker in the dressing room, where I can stream anything I want at any time to it.

But I do buy all of my music on vinyl, and I experience lots of new music because of vinyl. I’ll buy things just because they have an interesting or kooky album cover. I would never do that with digital music. It’s hard to buy digital music based on the images you’re seeing.

Right? Sometimes you’re flipping through that vinyl rack and you come across something that speaks to you based solely on how it looks, and the vibe it has.

I really wish you could click on an album cover image on iTunes and make it go fullscreen, so you could just explore around the entire album cover. Right now, you can’t.

I’m with you there. I also still like that full tactile experience of holding an album cover in my hands and looking at it while I’m listening. Is there anything recently that you’ve personally done that with yourself?

I just picked up an old Persuasions record, We Came to Play (1971) [the Persuasions are a legendary African American a capella group from Brooklyn, originally discovered by Frank Zappa]. Making the record we did with those guys [April 2017’s Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions] was such a pleasure. They were so great to spend time with and make music with, and we got to do a handful of shows with them too. I’m always looking for their records whenever I’m scouring the racks. They’ve been added to the list of things I’m always digging around for.

Barenaked Ladies old press
Bob Berg/Digital Trends
Bob Berg/Digital Trends

What I’m currently digging for and hoping to come across is a record by Paul Pena, Gonna Move. It’s one of my favorite records of all time, and I gotta find it on vinyl. And I know it’s gonna show up someday [Gonna Move is a song on Pena’s New Train album, which was recorded in 1973 but never released until 27 years later in 2000 by Hybrid Recordings, albeit on CD. It’s a song the aforementioned Persuasions also sing on].

Do you still have an album you consider as one of your talismans, one of your main go-to’s?

Umm, well — there’s a lot! (chuckles) I like a lot of Who records, because they’re just such interesting, creative records. They’re such a weird band, sonically.

That’s true. All four of them were trying to be the lead instrument, which definitely made it interesting every time you saw or heard them.

I’m kind of all over the map when it comes to listening.

Yeah! They had all of those parts that somehow came together to make something larger than what you would think would be the song.

I’m kind of all over the map when it comes to listening. I might put on an old Taj Mahal record, or, and I don’t care how many thousands of times I’ve listened to it, but I can put on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977) and listen to those songs again and again — they’re fucking great! And everybody says, “That’s fucking great!” (chuckles heartily)

Some things you can hear thousands of times, yet still have them feel like they’re new and fresh. I had that experience recently when I heard a song of yours, One Week, on a recent episode of Mr. Robot [season 3, episode 2, titled eps3.1_undo.gz]. It’s the perfect complement and commentary for the scene it’s in, where some of the characters are seated and talking in an expensive fast food restaurant.

I didn’t even know, but we had to have authorized it! (both laugh) I’ve actually never seen that show, but I’ve gotten about 100 recommendations to watch it.

Well, consider this Recommendation 101. Once you’re into it, you’re into it.

My wife has watched it and loved it, so I’ve gotta check it out.

It’s a good tour bus watch for sure, something for those long trips with your bandmates. Last thing — we’re going to see you playing some Live Nudes songs once you tour down here in the States pretty soon, yes?

Yeah. We’re doing a Last Summer on Earth tour, where we’ll be hitting everywhere with Better Than Ezra and KT Tunstall. And that should be a lot of fun, because they’re all pals or ours.

Great. Exactly how much Nudes music will we get in the set? How many songs are you guys gonna try to fit in?

We were playing five songs from it before the record even came out! (laughs) We’re really enjoying it, and the stuff is translating really well live. We still play all the hits with five new songs added in, so you will still get an hour and 15 minutes of music that’s familiar to everybody.

You’ll just have to do two 90-minute sets for a full 3-hour show from now on, is all.

Yeah — we’ll have to start doing it just like Springsteen! (both laugh)

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