Interview: Tyler Stewart (Barenaked Ladies)

TylerStewart2.jpgTyler Stewart was the last of the founding members of the rock group Barenaked Ladies, which means he's only been with the band for 18 of its 20 years of existence. He's been the band's drummer ever since. Stewart chatted by phone last week about what his kids listen to (Neil Young and High School Musical, just to begin with); his views on the relative merits of Barney, Sesame Street, and Beethoven; the genesis of their first kids' CD Snacktime; and what's to come for the band. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia.)

Zooglobble: I'm going to start the with the question I always ask whenever I interview someone and that is -- what were your musical influences growing up?
Tyler Stewart: Well, my parents are pretty young so they were into popular and good music. My dad was a big fan of British rock bands like the Who, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, and my mom was really into Motown music and soul. There was always good music playing in my house.

Specifically, what do you listen to with your kids?
Well, my kids, their dad's a musician, so it's a pretty varied catalog, and my wife, too, has pretty good taste in music. My iPod has 14,000 songs on it, they run the whole gamut. Recently my daughter Millie was saying, "Gawd, I'm so tired of this old people's music -- I don't want to hear any more Neil Young." My daughter's nine. "I like Neil Young, but not all the time." Yeah, I'm guilty of that.

Right now they're heavily into High School Musical. High School Musical 1 and 2 is like the Grease of today.

Both my daughters really like Alison Krauss and her fiddle music. Of course they love the Beatles, the universal music of all time. And we really love to listen to They Might Be Giants, their three kids' albums, together. They know every word, and they love 'em.

Do they listen to the Alison Krauss-Robert Plant CD?
You know, I haven't gotten that one yet. I can't believe I haven't... They like the live record she did, the 2-CD one she put out 4 years ago -- they really like that one a lot.

My kids, they run the gamut, they like all kinds of different music. That's sort of my goal. When I got them iPods, I filled them with all kinds of varied different kinds of music so that nothing seems surprising. I don't want them to have any musical prejudices or fears at that age. So that when they want to listen to Hilary Duff, OK, we'll put on Hilary Duff...

But that's their own choice, and they've listened to everything else...
And it's for them. When you become a parent, you really realize that some stuff is for kids. I think my epiphany with that came with Barney, and I said, I don't really like this very much. But my child is absolutely enthralled and loves it. And I realized, this is not for me.

Who in the band first broached the idea of doing a kids', a family friendly, CD?
Well, I think it's one of those things we always thought we had in us, when we started to have kids. It's funny when you're in a band and one day you realize, wow, there's more kids in this band than band members, 11 to 5, more than 2-to-1.

One of the things you spend a lot of time with when you're in a rock band is juggling. Trying to juggle your family life with being away on the road and still putting enough dedication and craft into your art and also still being a present father. That takes up so much of your energy. And then it was almost collectively we thought, you know we could do a record for kids, and have our kids involved. We are parents, we listen and watch enough kids' entertainment as it is, why don't we make something that we really like, too. Because every so often something comes along in the land of kids' entertainment that just blows everyone away, like The Incredibles. Or I remember back in the '70s there was the "triangle-heads" thing with Harry Nilsson...

The Point?
Yeah, The Point! Made for kids, but everyone loved it. Most Disney fare, in general. You watch something like Mary Poppins, and everyone is thrilled. You know, bridging that gap between kids and parents.

So we knew we had that sense of play. We knew that we understood children and what makes 'em tick because there's so many hanging around the band -- we thought, hey, we could do this. And then our manager, Mr. Shrewd, Terry McBride, said, "For the first fifteen years of your career, I worked your [---] right off and had you on the treadmill. But now that I have children, I understand." He said it'd a great idea for you to put out a kids' record.

BarenakedLadies08.jpgIn the grand scheme of the changing music business -- now artists are selling very few records. Careers have got a whole different shape because of the internet. The traditional models of putting a record out, and touring, and going to radio to sell a song, all that stuff has really changed in the past 5 to 10 years. We were at the point in our career where we were coming to the end of our major label record deal and we decided to do things on our own and navigate things differently. One of the philosophies behind that is to use your assets, to realize that everything you do, now that it's not owned by a major label company, is an asset. (Photo courtesy Nettwerk.)

So we put out a Christmas record. That's something that'll be out there forever; it's not based on a hit single or a tour, it's based on people picking it up and playing it every Christmas. We did some TV soundtrack work, we did the music for a Shakespeare production, and a kids' album fits into that milieu of us branching out and trying a whole bunch of new and different ways to get our music and our name out there.

I know that you are not the main songwriter in the group, but were the songs written for the album, or were there a lot of tunes or lyrics that were written 5 or 10 years ago and you just had never found the proper place on your "adult" albums to put something?
No, all these songs were task-specific. We came in and we wrote songs for this record. Kevin Hearn contributed a lot of songs. He really took it on and said, this is great, I'm writing kids' music. And Ed [Robertson] wrote a whole bunch, too, and Steven [Page] and Jim [Creeggan] and myself also wrote songs. It was really a bandwide effort. We're very excited by the fact that we got together with this task-specific and essentially wrote and recorded a whole album within a month-and-a-half. Recorded it all in three weeks. It was just quick, bam-bam, the way we did it. And I think that kinda shows in the material as well. Sometimes when you're making a studio record -- coming off our last studio record, where we put 30 songs on it, spent a lot of time, six months, working on the record -- it was kind of liberating to just go in and have a sense of fun about it, and not being to precious about it.

And there are at least 2 or 3 songs on there that aren't much more than a minute. They're song fragments -- you could have spent a lot of time trying to flesh that out, and you thought, no, this is nice. Why exclude it?
Exactly. There are some little perfect moments on there. And you think of the attention span of kids, too, it's not always so great. You can blame Sesame Street for that. [Laughs.] I remember reading this scholarly critique of Sesame Street and how it was a perfect reflection of the new television generation. But that was my absolute favorite show. Barenaked Ladies have probably been more inspired by Sesame Street than any of the works of Beethoven or Shostakovich.

That snippet... I love snippets like that. They get right to the point and move on to the next thing. It's like humor. The longer the setup usually the worse the joke, but the more spontaneous and quick something is, the more you're laughing.

The PR materials implied this might be a one-off thing, but if this did really well, or even if it did really poorly, but you had lots of fun, would you consider doing another kids' album?
Yeah, sure. Like I said, the way we approach our whole career now, anything's possible. The collective will would have to be there. "Hey, this is really rewarding and exciting." On the other hand, it's really special that we did this. The experience was fun and liberating, sometimes you want to protect those experiences -- sometimes when you revisit something it doesn't have the same kind of charm or loses its luster. But at this point in our career we're not saying no to anything, except perhaps a reality show based on our drug addictions. Because we don't have any... The main thing for us is that we keep making and performing creative and fun music that people want to listen to. We're 20 years in now, any way we can do that, that's great. Mostly it's about satisfying our own creative urges and keeping our fanbase dancing.

What's next for the band? You're doing a promo tour for the CD, are you planning on any other concerts? You're going into the studio later this year for your next "adult" album?
That's correct, the next A-dult album.

A-dult
Triple X. [Laughs]

That's what you should name the next Barenaked Ladies album. Triple X. Just to differentiate it from Snacktime.
Yeah, that's basically it. We decided to not tour this record per se, large scale. We may end up doing a few shows here and there. It'd be fun to do a "family fun day," or something like that. But as of right now, those are just in the elementary planning stages, so we're just going to do this promo run and see how that goes and sort of get down to work writing the next studio record. It's kind of a pivotal moment for us -- it's our 20-year anniversary. We have a boxed set coming out too in the next little while with all our Warners stuff...