Barenaked Ladies booking

'Detour de Force,' Barenaked Ladies' 16th studio album, is only a few minutes old when Ed Robertson declares that "it's a good life."

Few would argue. And the group's 14 new tracks show it's only getting better.

Over the course of 33 years, the Toronto quartet has sold 15 million records worldwide and built up an arsenal of hits such as "If I Had $1,000,000," "One Week," "Pinch Me" and "The Big Bang Theory Theme." Widely acknowledged as one of the best live acts on the planet, BNL has hosted a cruise ("Ships and Dips"), had its own ice cream flavor, won eight Juno Awards in Canada, and was inducted into the

Canadian Music Hall of Fame during 2018. As Ed Robertson, Jim Creeggan, Tyler Stewart and Kevin Hearn put it on 'Detour de Force,' "Wasn't easy but it turned out alright/Wouldn't trade it for another...You don't wanna miss this mutha."

"Flip" leads the album as the buoyant and sonically adventurous first single, which reflects the many flips and changes of the last year. Ed says the song "is about being open to other perspectives. We try to write songs that move us, that are big. I think this is a song that's going to be a real energy moment in the live show."

Following with standout tracks "New Disaster" and "Good Life," 'Detour de Force' is BNL at its most ambitious, accomplished, intricate, intentional -- and, in some ways, circumstantial. Its gestation was long and exacerbated (as so many things have been) by the global pandemic, and the scope of the resulting album is significantly different than what the group had in mind when it started.

The good news is that it's BNL's most broad-reaching and diverse work to date -- perhaps, if you will, it's kind of 'The BEATLES' (aka 'The White Album'), fusing the distinct writing voices of Robertson, Hearn and Creeggan into a cohesive work from the uptempo fun of "Flat Earth," the playful and countryflavored "Roll Out" to the gentle melodics of "Live Well," "The National Park," "God Forbid" and "Man Made Lake" to the sonic roller coaster of the album-closing "Internal Dynamo."

"We've always liked that our band is very diverse in what we do," Robertson says, "and on this record I really enjoyed the exploration. This record is a journey. Taking off one song would tip it in a way we didn't feel was representative of the record we made. We wanted everything that's here to be part of the record."

Stewart adds that, "This is some of our strongest material in 30 years, easily. I think it stands up there with our best albums. It hangs with 'Gordon,' or it hangs with 'Maroon.' There's a deep well of music we want to draw from, and this probably is the best example of all of that coming together, feeling like an entire album -- different voices, same band."

The long road to 'Detour de Force' began during early 2020, when BNL convened at Robertson's lakeside cottage north of Toronto, with producer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, the Tragically Hip, Daniel Lanois, U2). Inspired by the 'Fake Nudes Naked' acoustic remake of BNL's last studio album, the idea was

"to close ourselves off from the rest of the world," according to Robertson, "and have no distractions and really capture the sound of a band making music together." Songs were prepared in the basement rec room and recorded in a make-shift studio in the living room during a productive five weeks.

"There was a lot that was amazing about that," recalls Robertson, who wrote songs on his own and with friends Kevin Griffin, Craig Wiseman, Donovan Woods and Danny Michel. "The focus was great. The vibe was great. The hang was great. It was super positive for the band dynamic." Hearn, who contributed four tracks to 'Detour de Force,' adds that, "We set out to make a record that sounded like a band playing together. We were working really well together, and it was very harmonious. We worked on each song all together, and once we felt we had the arrangements in the right place, we'd go upstairs and record."

Nevertheless, BNL reckoned even before the cottage sessions were over that there was more to do with the tracks they were creating. "We thought a lot of this stuff could really benefit from a little more indepth production," Robertson says. The plan was to go into Noble Street Studios in Toronto and work with Eric Ratz (Arkells, Big Wreck, Billy Talent) to add sonic bells, whistles and polish.

Then the pandemic hit.

BNL wasn't dormant as the world shut down -- evidence the group's spirited "Selfie Cam Jam" series and Robertson's weekly Friday livestreams online, both for charity, as well as a pair of virtual concerts. But the pause brought a fresh perspective to where the band wanted 'Detour de Force' to go. "The ensuing months of home quarantine," Stewart says, "really created an appetite for us to go into a much more produced, slick you might want to call it, modern recording situation -- one which we were quite used to after working with Gavin Brown for most of the last eight years or so." Working together in the studio, socially distanced of course, and in their respective homes, the quartet layered and sculpted and in some cases completely overhauled songs. Guests were also invited, including original BNL keyboardist Andy Creeggan (Jim's brother), all-star singer and bassist Fernando Saunders and MOOG bass pedals borrowed from Rush's Geddy Lee even make an appearance.

"The pandemic really affected the album in an interesting way," recalls Jim Creeggan, who penned a pair of the 'Detour de Force' songs. "I was getting calls from friends to do remote-based stuff, people asking each other to add something to those projects. So we started reaching out and bringing other things into what we were doing."

For Hearn, the changes, intentional and otherwise, were silver linings in the process.

"We took several detours de force," he acknowledges, "but I think what you get is a beautiful hybrid of a live off-the-floor band on songs like 'Live Well' and 'Man Made Lake' all the way to full-on production numbers like 'Flip' and 'Good Life.' It's kind of reminiscent of (1998's quadruple-platinum) 'Stunt'; We made a record in Austin with Susan Rogers and we turned it into a completely different record back in Toronto with David Leonard. That's kind of what we did here."

The depth goes beyond sonics throughout the album. Though there's certainly the verbal playfulness and whimsy that's part of BNL's stock in trade, many of the songs have a reflective and philosophical, sometimes topical, underpinning that's also long been part of the BNL makeup. Even on something as light-hearted as Hearn's "Big Back Yard," his proclamation that "I became a drifter and began to roam/Now all I want is a home" reveals a gentle kind of yearning. Similarly, Creeggan reveals that both of his contributions -- "Here Together" and "Paul Chambers," the latter titled for the great jazz bassist -- "really have to do with connecting to the people who are close to you, a positive experience of being at home," which took on even greater meaning as the pandemic set in.

"I think we're at a point in our career and our lives where we're reckoning and trying to really appreciate what we have," Creeggan notes.

That can certainly be found throughout Robertson's songs on 'Detour de Force.' While "Flip" comments on his ambivalent feelings about "our new, connected life" of social media and streaming media, in "Good Life" he speaks about what's been achieved, particularly (and specifically) by the band. "God

Forbid" and "Man Made Lake," both co-written with fellow Juno Award-winner Donovan Woods, are "really specific and raw," Robertson says, "songs that I had a lot of trouble singing because they're hitting some pretty raw nerves, kind of admitting some things to myself in writing them. It was really therapeutic to explore that stuff and have the guys get it right away."

"I think Barenaked Ladies have always had introspective, heavier kinds of songs," Stewart says. "I've always been proud of that element of the group, to be able to take it down to a more plaintive song and style alongside the humor."

All concerned, meanwhile, point to Hearn's "Internal Dynamo" as an outlier on 'Detour de Force.' An airy, psychedelic mantra builds before exploding into a frenetic, metallic blow-out led by Stewart's vocals before returning to the original theme. "I wanted to sort of emulate what we do at the end of our live set," Hearn explains, "when we break into Led Zeppelin and Tyler sings 'Whole Lotta Love' or something. I thought it would be fun to capture that energy in a song."

'Detour de Force' is, in the end, a potent musical statement, a testament to time well-spent and an open spirit of following where the music leads. It also speaks to the comfort of a band that at this point works on and trusts in its collective instinct, confident that the drive that led to this point sill continue to steer it in the right directly.

"At this point we want to have fun, make a record, go to the limits, push ourselves, indulge ourselves," Robertson explains. "Ultimately who we've got to please are the four guys in this band. If we like the record then we're going to like touring the record, and everyone's going to be happy. We have done it all at this point, and here we are. We're still making music, and we're f***ing lucky that this is our job."

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Agents Larry Webman

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