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Steven Page Has One Word For You: Excelsior

The ex-Bare Naked Ladies member’s first solo release in four years arrives Sept. 30.

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Steven Page has just announced Excelsior, his first solo album since 2018. Arriving digitally Sept. 30 on his own Fresh Baked Goods imprint, the album will be available on CD Nov. 11, with a two-LP vinyl version out early in 2023. The first single Zoom is out now, accompanied by a lyric video that you can watch below.

The album’s 11 tracks were composed and produced entirely by Page, who co-founded the band Barenaked Ladies, before departing on a solo career in 2009. The lion’s share of material on Excelsior was “workshopped” for audiences on his wildly popular virtual concert series Live From Home that Page has been conducting via Zoom since April of 2020 from his home near Syracuse, NY. Thousands of fans throughout the world have been tuning in to the shows, which are limited to 1000 ticketed audience members per show, with an estimated to-date paid viewer total of 85,000-plus.

While Page played most of the instruments heard on Excelsior, other musicians participating include Craig Northey (guitar, vocals) and Kevin Fox (cello, vocals), members of the Steven Page Trio, his touring ensemble who are well known to Live From Home viewers for their ability to accompany Page from remote locations. Also heard on Excelsior are Doug Elliott of The Odds (bass), as well as Joe Pisapia (pedal steel), who had been a member of Guster and has both backed and produced k.d. lang. Steven’s brother Matthew Page guests on drums.

Once the Canada-U.S. border re-opened, Page was able to complete Excelsior at his Fresh Baked Woods studio in Blackstock, Ont., with some of the basic tracks recorded in the upstate New York basement from which Live From Home originates most Saturdays. FBW is the same facility where several Barenaked Ladies albums, including Barenaked For The Holidays, were recorded. Seven of the 11 tracks comprise a thematically linked song cycle that Page characterizes as “a suite of songs tied into what we’ve been involved with over the last ten years.” These will occupy sides A and B of the 2 LP version of Excelsior when it is released next year along with the unrelated additional four songs (“gifts with purchase,” Steven jokes) to be found on side C of the second LP. Side D will be silent and occupied by an etched graphic. “So you have two buckets of songs, so to speak. One speaks to an ‘outer life’ — bigger picture stuff. The others are largely about our very online existence and isolation we’ve all experience. It’s about all of us who spend too much time online.”

The songs on sides A and B are, in some way, an overview of humanity’s plight as reflected in the struggles of the individual. Says Page, “I don’t want to make it totally prescriptive as in ‘this is how you should hear it,’ but you might want it to apply it to your own lives if you feel so moved.”

Feel takes place at a funeral and deals with loss and grieving, a church choir plays inside the mourner’s head while What Will I Do Now is about learning to live with loss. Human Doll imagines a world where the ideal partner can be acquired by mail order and shipped to one’s door, the outcome of which is equally lonely and troubled as our current reality. How Much Is Enough that had been set to debut but was postponed due to Covid as part of Here’s What It Takes, the musical Page wrote for the 2020 Stratford Festival in Ontario.

Photo by David Bergman.

Look To the Stars is a musical contemplation of what might be “bigger than us” and beyond our ability to understand. Page describes Infinitely Light Years along these lines: “In my mind we’re floating through space … it’s a duet with myself but imaged as between two separate people, a kind of quantum entanglement. It asks if it’s possible that we’re tied to somebody else who we don’t even know.” That’s followed by Safe in which one member of a couple explains the benefit of boundaries; Page suggests it’s “a plea for time and letting people set their own space.” In more than one way it calls back Feel, the opener.

The free-standing songs on side C include Xylorimba, conjured up for a special episode of Live From Home that called for Steven to perform 26 songs, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. For Live From Home A to Z, Steven had 25 letters covered with existing repertoire, so he commissioned himself to write a song titled with a word starting with X. He chose an arcane musical instrument that he calls a “the oddball child of a xylophone and a marimba” popular 90-plus years ago and not often spoken of or played in more recent times. The song addresses that oversight, both in a titular and musical sense.

The song Zoom is paradoxical for Page to have created, as he is something of a skeptic. “There’s a point of view that we’re supposed to believe that technology somehow makes our lives worse. During the pandemic Zoom did what it was supposed to do so you gotta hand it to them.” The Golden Age of Doubling Down, is focused on “our desire to be cruel to each other,” but is musically quite upbeat. There’s also the self-deflating Something About Me, which Page characterizes as “a personal song about my own tendency to make everybody else’s problems about me. People’s sense of empathy is defined by their own ego. I like to point fingers at myself, not at other people.”

Photo by JD Scarcliff.

The album’s title — taken from the state motto of New York — relates to Page’s plight as a Canadian living there who was unable to go back to his native land for more than a year and half to see his parents or kids. Page, who was born in Scarborough and inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in explains, “I was kind of stuck here (Manlius, NY) and, in essence, became a true New Yorker. The state’s vaccine passports are called Excelsior Passes and we reflect the slogan’s ‘onward and upward’ meaning in the album’s artwork.”

Beyond Live From Home and the new album, Page was commissioned to write Canada Loves You Back on the occasion of Ryan Reynolds being given the nation’s 2021 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. In a Tweet seen by almost 4 million, Reynolds referred to Page as “a friend and a legend” and thanked him “for wasting this amazing song on me.”

This fall, the Steven Page Trio open select North American dates for The Who. “We’re not using drums on the Who dates; we can’t compete with them so the best thing you can do in that situation is to do the thing you do well.” He points out that “The Who was the first band — that wasn’t The Beatles — that I fell in love with.” The Steven Page Trio are also doing Midwest tour dates and expects to be on the West Coast in January in support of Excelsior.

Photo by David Bergman.

Excelsior Track List

Side A
1) Feel
2) What’ll I Do Now
3) Human Doll
4) How Much Is Enough

Side B
1) Look To The Stars
2) Infinitely Light Years
3) Safe

Side C
1) The Golden Age Of Doubling Down
2) Xylorimba
3) Zoom
4) Something About Me

Side D – intentionally blank with etched graphic

Steven Page Tour Dates

Thu Sep 8: Luton – Bear Club
Fri Sep 9: Birmingham – Castle and Falcon
Sat Sep 10: London – Omeara
Mon Sep 12: Brighton – Komedia
Tue Sep 13: Cardiff – Clwb Ifor Bach
Wed Sep 14: Leeds – Brundenell
Fri Sep 16: Manchester – Band on the Wall
Sat Sep 17: Glasgow – King Tuts
Sun Sep 18: Glasgow – King Tuts
Wed Sep 28: Nanaimo BC – Port Theatre
Thu Sep 29: Campbell River BC – Tidemark Theatre
Fri Sep 30: Maple Ridge, BC – Act Theatre
Sun Oct 2: Toronto, ON – Scotiabank Arena (with The Who)
Tue Oct 4: Detroit, MI – Little Caesars Arena (with The Who)
Fri Oct 7: Elmont, NY – UBS Arena (with The Who)
Sun Oct 9: Columbus, OH – Schottenstein Center (with The Who)
Mon Oct 10: Nashville, TN – City Winery
Wed Oct 11: Chicago, IL – United Center (with The Who)
Fri Nov 11: Minneapolis, MN – Dakota
Sun Nov 13: Madison, WI – The Bur Oak
Mon Nov 14: Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
Wed Nov 16: St Louis, MO – Delmar Hall
Thu Nov 17: Kansas City, MO – Madrid Theatre
Fri Nov 18: Council Bluffs, IA – Arts Center at Iowa Western
Sun Nov 20: Dallas, TX – Granada Theatre

Pre-save Excelsior HERE.

Photo by Robert Georgeff.