'I can't vote, so I used a song instead': Steven Page on how living in the U.S. inspired his new album
Originally published on September 14, 2018
Since leaving the Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page has built a solo career of dynamic and musically adventurous tunes. On his new record Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II, Page tackles everything from stripped down acoustic numbers, to big, orchestral pieces that could find a home on Broadway.
But behind the playful genre-bending is an album full of songs about some heavy topics: the condition of humanity and the world in 2018, and a personal examination of his own place in it as a songwriter.
Page drops by the q studio to perform songs from his new record live, and opens up about what the last year has been like for him, reuniting with his old bandmates for the first time since he left the Barenaked Ladies. Here is some of what he had to say.
On living in the U.S. for the past 10 years
I'm a Canadian citizen living in the United States with the ability to vote nowhere. I'm living with Green Card status in the States, but that means I can't vote there. And they took away the right to vote for Canadians who've been away for longer than five years — I have no right to speak up at all with my vote, so I used a song instead.
On how his perspective on Canada has changed
I think that Canadians — and this is said with absolute love and a passion for Canadians to be the best Canada that they can be — but I think we get lazy with our feeling of superiority to our American neighbours. I think that there is a certain sense of anti-Americanism that we grew up with here: that we're somehow better informed, we're better educated, we are more sensitive, we are more humanitarian. And I think in a lot of ways that's a falsehood. In other ways, it's an ideal that we're in jeopardy of completely losing and I think we've got to be careful. It doesn't take much for for those values to be eradicated. We think that those things get eroded over time, but I think as we saw in the United States, very quickly after 2016, things changed and things are changing here as well.
On writing protest songs
I think a lot of people are afraid to [write protest songs]. I address it in the song: I'm a little bit nervous about singing this, because what are they going to do, send me back? ... I know that my immigrant experience is highly privileged compared to to others who don't have the same kind of opportunity to express themselves that I do. So I kind of feel an obligation that way, but I don't know. I think it seems so absurd that there's so much chaos in the culture right now that it's hard to nail down what to protest.
On reuniting with the Barenaked Ladies at the 2018 Junos
It was surreal and also kind of oddly peaceful. I kind of felt like I was floating a little bit when we were doing that thing. … Everything from the technical elements — like I haven't worn in-ear monitors in years, like I'm kind of back in the big show — was one element. Seeing all the road crew from Barenaked Ladies that they still have with them, I mean it really is a family in that organization. It's the same guys. So being able to reconnect with them [and] see the guys' kids, and see how everybody's grown into young adults and so on. That's been really exciting.
On forgetting how to play One Week
Before our rehearsal, I remembered, I don't know how to play One Week. I had suggested [One Week and If I Had $1,000,000] because they were the two BNL songs that I don't play, because they're duets. For me, those are Ed and Steve duets. And so I thought, I don't remember how to play One Week on the guitar. I'm not sure what the chord shapes are — they're very Ed Robertson chord shapes — and I was like looking them up on YouTube and stuff. … And I'm starting to freak out a little bit. We go to the rehearsal, I put the guitar on and it's just there. Like it's in my hand, this muscle memory comes back. So being on stage was super easy, like no time had passed in a lot of ways, but the energy in the room was so positive. It was like it was buoyant. And it was sheer joy.
Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II is out everywhere today. Page's tour kicks off on Thursday, September 20 in Washington, D.C., and comes to Canada in the new year.
Want to hear more from Page? The musician joined us as a special guest on the q This music panel.
Listen to the full conversation with Steven Page near the top of this post.
— Produced by Mitch Pollock
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