Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Barenaked Ladies are ready for a musical treat from the WSO strings

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The addition of a symphony orchestra backup to an otherwise raucous rock 'n' roll band may lead to a perception that an artist or artists may be abandoning their humble roots in favour of larger respectability. (Frank Zappa once said he stopped listening to Ray Charles when the R&B pioneer started recording with a string section.)

Be assured, the good-time Canadian band The Barenaked Ladies harbour no such prejudice against symphony orchestras -- a good thing as they prepare to play with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra all weekend long.

"I live where strings live," says Ladies' bass player Jim Creeggan. "I was studying to be a symphonic bass player when I joined the Barenaked Ladies in 1989.

"I was at U of T and I played with (lead vocalist Ed Robertson) many years before that in a high school band," Creeggan explains. "I have an affinity for the symphony because I was really trying to be one of the bass players."

For Creeggan, 42, the opportunity to play with an orchestra allows for a kind of unified experience that is missing in the recording process. Back in the day, an artist like Frank Sinatra might have been able to cut records with a full orchestra, but the realities of contemporary recording don't allow that anymore.

"What happens is you record the song, and then you bring the strings in after and you arrange around all the parts that exist already on tape. And you never get to do it for real," Creeggan says. "And it's just the weirdest thing.

"So this is also a great opportunity for me to hear the string arrangements," the Scarborough-born Creeggan says. "I'll be up there just listening. It's a treat, like candy."

The seasonal aspect of the Christmas show means the band will also get the opportunity to play songs from the band's 2004 Christmas release Barenaked for the Holidays.

"We have some tunes that we don't get to play that often. In fact, some of them are great tunes that we only get to pull out once a year, like Ed's song Snowman," Creeggan says. "It's a great tune, but it only fits as a Christmas song or a holiday song."

With the very visible exit of Steven Page from the band in 2009, the Barenaked Ladies consist of Creeggan, Robertson, Kevin Hearn on keyboard, guitar and vocals and Tyler Stewart on drums and vocals. But this incarnation of the band also allowed for a reunion of sorts with Jim's brother Andy Creeggan, the original keyboardist who departed the group in 1995.

"What's great about this is that my brother, who was in the band for the first five years, he's arranged all these (songs)," Creeggan says. "He left the Barenaked Ladies because he wanted to learn composition and orchestration, so he went to McGill and got his degree, so he could learn how to do what he's doing right now," Creeggan says.

"There's no other arranger that knows us better than Andy. So that's a treat on top of a treat."

Proceeding to record and perform without Page was a decision the band did not make lightly, Creeggan asserts.

"I think when we separated with Steve, we all made a commitment to really support each other. Otherwise, there would be no real reason to keep going," he says.

"We were lucky to have a great career up until the point where we split with Steve, but to move on, we really needed to know that we supported each other.

"Songwriting puts you in a vulnerable state and you need to know that someone is allowing you to make mistakes without judgment and so I think we're in a really good way right now," he says.

"In fact, it's been the easiest progression to an album," he says, referring to an upcoming project that will see the Ladies recording a new album.

"We're going to head into the studio hopefully at the end of January," Creeggan says. "So it's been good. But we didn't move forward without a little self-check."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 C9

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