Return to Bare Naked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies guitarist Hearn recalls hero Lou Reed, talks teaming up with The Persuasions

By Eric Althoff - The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2017

The idea came to Kevin Hearn during a memorial show for his friend and hero, Lou Reed in December 2013. He had earlier been a part of Reed’s touring band, thereby fulfilling a lifelong rock ‘n’ roll dream.

Lou was my hero all my life. I had his picture up in my locker,” Mr. Hearn, keyboardist and guitarist of the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, told The Washington Times of the Velvet Underground singer. “I learned a lot from Lou even before I met him, and then had the great honor of being his friend and working with him.”

And so backstage at New York’s Apollo Theater, during Reed’s tribute concert, Mr. Hearn encountered The Persuasions, the Brooklyn-based a cappella group Reed had once taken with him on tour decades prior.

It seemed only natural, Mr. Hearn said, that the two acts team up. It took several years, but their new collaborative album, “Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies & The Persuasions,” has allowed them to do precisely that.

“I went through our back catalog and picked songs I felt could work in the context of performing with The Persuasions live or in a studio,” Mr. Hearn said, “so it’s actually a bit of a look back.”

live or in a studio,” Mr. Hearn said, “so it’s actually a bit of a look back.”

Mr. Hearn said that as the Barenaked Ladies gradually became a worldwide force in rock, they increased the amount of stage theatrics and ever more plugged-in instruments. The new album with The Persuasions, he said, was a way to get back to the band’s unplugged days of yore.

“The roots of this band really were in stripped-down acoustic instruments, performance [and] lots of harmonies,” he said. “So I thought it would be nice to do a record in that way, and play like we do when we’re doing in-store appearances.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies & The Persuasions” contains rather joyful mixing of the Brooklyn a cappella musicians with the Canadian rockers on powerful tracks “Gonna Walk” and “Don’t Shuffle Me Back,” a reworking of Mr. Hearn’s solo song “Don’t Shuffle Me Back to the Bottom of the Deck.”

“I thought it’s now or never,” Mr. Hearn said of the joint venture.

The band’s current tour brings them to Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount, Virginia, Tuesday.

Mr. Hearn joined the Barenaked Ladies in 1995, when he was in his twenties. He said that as he and his bandmates have aged — Mr. Hearn is now 47 — the demands of recording and constant touring have necessarily altered his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

“When you’re 20, you’re kind of indestructible,” he said. “You really have to manage yourself or you’re going to burn out quickly [and] the performances will suffer.”

With time and age have come the wisdom to get to better know the cities the Barenaked Ladies have toured. Mr. Hearn is known to revisit the same restaurants year after year with each new road adventure.

“You develop friendships over the years with other [local] musicians or artists. That’s really nice as you get older,” Mr. Hearn said.

Not only has the musician himself changed, but so too has Toronto, which the Barenaked Ladies call home. Mr. Hearn points to a thriving, multicultural dining scene and a music climate that has fostered bands like Rush and The Weeknd.

“When I was younger, Canada wasn’t seemingly as willing to embrace their own talent,” Mr. Hearn said. “I think that’s changed with all the talented singer-songwriters who have had success. We’re very proud of that as a country now.”

Barenaked Ladies has played far and wide in the Great White North. Mr. Hearn, who has an affinity for collecting native Inuit art, even recalls traveling alone to tiny Cape Dorset, located in the Nunavut territory near the Arctic Circle.

“There’s a great arts community up there,” Mr. Hearn said of the hamlet of little over a thousand inhabitants. “I wanted to visit the artists and write a few songs. Hopefully the band will get up that way again someday.”

Being Canadian, it seems almost laughable Mr. Hearn would describe any environment whatsoever as “cold,” but he does so when recalling playing at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. Earlier that week, Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were awarded gold medal in the pairs figure skating despite Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier performing what many considered to be a superior routine.

The band then invited their fellow Canadians to join them onstage for an outdoor performance, during which Mr. Hearn had Sale hold down the frets as he strummed the strings.

“It was so cold,” Mr. Hearn said of playing in the Utah night.

(Later that week, French figure skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted to a vote swap. In the wake of the scandal, Sale and Pelletier were awarded dual gold medals alongside Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze.)

In addition to ReedMr. Hearn cites Bob Dylan, Psychedelic Furs and King Crimson as among his many influences. Above and beyond his work with the Barenaked Ladies and his solo project, Kevin Hearn and Thin Buckle, Mr. Hearn also released a duet album with his cousin, comedian Harland Williams, called “Rattlesnake Love.”

A constant question from fans is if Barenaked Ladies founding member Steven Page, who left the group for a solo career in 2009, will ever return to the lineup — or at least join them for a one-off.

“I never say never,” Mr. Hearn said. “I love Steven; I’m always happy to hear that he’s doing well.”

Mr. Hearn advises aspiring musicians to “find your own voice.”

“Certainly learn from your influences, but don’t try to sound exactly like them,” he said.

And despite all of his success, Mr. Hearn maintains that his goals remain to continue growing and improving as a musician.

“I’ve realized so many of my dreams. I’m just so happy to be here,” he said.