When Steven Page released Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct two years ago, he figured the sequel would just feature other songs that didn’t make the cut for that outing. But the forthcoming Discipline: Heal Thyself Pt. 2, whose provocative “White Noise” video premieres exclusively below, found its own path during the intervening two years.
“Of course what happens is I can’t stop fiddling with stuff,” the former Barenaked Ladies member tells Billboard. “I’m always tweaking songs and re-editing and playing new parts. Some songs don’t seem to fit anymore and also you write new songs over that course of time. So the feeling and the focus of the record changed.” So did the world, which gave Discipline a theme that built on its predecessor.
“(Instinct) was largely about what is it to call yourself an artist,” Page explains. “(Discipline) is about being an artist and you look at what’s going on in the United States and around the world and you can’t help but be scared or outraged or confused, so you write songs about that stuff. But then I started writing songs about what it is to write songs about that stuff. What does it mean to write a song that has some kind of political point of view, and who wants to hear that? Is it the artist’s place to be bashing people over the head with their politics? The short answer is yes, I think it is.”
While most of Discipline — due out Sept. 14 — is about that process, the power pop anthem “White Noise” is more explicitly and directly political, and personal, written in the wake of the Charlottesville white nationalist rally last August. “It was so shocking to me,” says Page, who’s a Canadian citizen living in the U.S. “I know I’m a very privileged immigrant, but I can’t help but look at Jewish history and feel like it wasn’t so long ago that our people were in a very similar position. So when I saw the protestors in Charlottesville saying ‘Jews will not replace us,’ my instant reaction was, ‘Oh, I’d be more than happy to replace you at this point, if this is what we’re turning into at this point.’ These racists have always been here. I’ve always been aware of it and I’ve felt it in the air, but now they’re being given legitimacy to their voice and that’s really scary at this point. Even if the mid-term (election) changes things or the next presidential election changes things, and it’s not going to change that.
“It’s scary — but it’s years of fodder for those of us who write. That’s one of the great things I’ve found about making music is I don’t have to have answers, but it’s important for me to have the discussion. As long as you raise the questions you can come up with your own conclusions.”
Songs from both of the Heal Thyself albums will also be part of Here’s What It Takes, a stage musical Page has been working on with Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor that was commissioned by the Stratford Festival in Ontario. “It deals with a lot of those same ideas, like ‘What is it to make music? What is it to make music with other people? What is it to be yourself in front of an audience?'” says Page, who hopes the piece will premiere “in the next year or two.”
Meanwhile, Page will support Discipline with his first major U.S. tour in seven years, kicking off Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C. with a trio that includes Kevin Foxx and the Odds’ Craig Northey. “We’ve been doing this trio now for three years, and it clicks so well,” Page says. “We love being on stage together, and we love been off stage together, so there’s a great rapport I think the audience feels. It’s the energy of a band, but you can hear all the words.
“It really feels like I’m hitting the place, now, that I’ve been aiming for as a solo artist. It’s been a slow burn and a build, but it’s also allowed me to hone my skills along the way, too, as well as doing the theatrical stuff. It feels very good.”
Page parted ways with BNL during 2009, but the parties regrouped during March to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, as well as for a new exhibit at the Canadian National Music Center. “I think both myself and the other guys were unsure how we were gonna feel about being in the same room together. When you don’t talk to each other for nine years you have no idea,” Page says. “But when you start getting jokes texted to you by Ed Robertson you start to feel a lot better and getting in the room and picking up the instruments was really fun. We just did the two songs on TV, but I think all of us felt like we could’ve done more” — which is exactly what BNL fans would most like, of course.
“I think there have been offers to do stuff, but there’s been no discussion on either side,” Page says. “I’m not looking for a gig. I don’t want to be in the band again. But if there was something else we could do, whether play a tour or a benefit gig or a special appearance somewhere, anything like that, I probably wouldn’t say no. But I’m booked well into next year and I think those guys are as well, so who knows.”