Secret Of Barenaked Ladies' Phenomenal Success

Canadian pop-rockers attribute hit album to word-of-mouth following cultivated by years of touring.

The Barenaked Ladies' fourth album, Rock Spectacle, went gold in the United States while the Canadian quintet was recording its follow-up, Stunt.

There had to be "certain expectations," says singer/bassist Jim Creeggan. The album's success fixed the spotlight on a band that has been hailed as a phenomenal grass-roots success due to its relatively quiet rise.

But Creeggan says he still didn't think Stunt would rocket so high, so fast. In other words, he didn't think the album would -- on the strength of one hit single, "One Week" (RealAudio excerpt) -- surpass the 2 million-mark three months after its release.

"I could tell that something was going to happen with this one," Creeggan, 28, recalls. "But I had no idea it would take off this much past the initial demand." As he speaks from his hotel room in Dallas, the sound of a strummed guitar fills the thoughtful pauses in his conversation.

Although some have labeled Stunt's first single, "One Week," a novelty hit, Creeggan says he sees the song as indicative of the freewheeling approach BNL took to their material this time around. Featuring rap-styled vocals and a pop-reggae groove, the song was an instant radio-smash, spending weeks in the top three slots of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

BNL manager Terry McBride compares the quintet's slowly cultivated success to that of the Dave Matthews Band or Phish. Both of those jam-rock groups garnered a loyal fanbase through years of road work. McBride, who's managed the band for the last three years, put it on the exact same touring routine as another of his acts, singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan. (McBride also is an organizer of McLachlan's female-fronted, summer-touring festival, Lilith Fair.)

"People look at just what's happening now, but if they do the research and look at the history, they'll see that, previous to this release, Barenaked Ladies albums did very well," McBride says, explaining that he's not at all surprised by Stunt's platinum certification. "It's a little bit faster than I thought it would be, but it's not that far off, to be honest."

Howie Klein, president of BNL's label, Reprise Records, adds, "This is one of those bands that went to radio with their fanbase. They brought a very loyal fanbase who had discovered them through word-of-mouth, through their touring, and that was extremely significant to developing the band."

The BNL story began a decade ago in Toronto, when Ed Robertson and Steven Page met up at a summer musical-camp for kids where they both were working. Robertson and Page, who both sing and play guitar, formed the band's songwriting team. (In addition to Robertson, Page and Creeggan, BNL also feature drummer Tyler Stewart and keyboardist Kevin Hearn, who is currently recovering from leukemia.) In 1992, the band released its debut, Gordon, which featured the original version of its hit "Brian Wilson" (RealAudio excerpt).

Klein insists that he has always seen BNL as a band with longevity and that he knew massive success in the United States would just be a matter of time. "Their first album, Gordon, was nine times platinum in Canada," he points out.

According to Klein, everyone on Reprise's field staff has made BNL "a personal crusade" out of sheer love for the band. "I always said to this band, 'One day, we'll be nine-times platinum in the United States.' I don't know when it's going to happen, but we're part of the way there now."

Stunt's success also has fueled sales of BNL's back catalog, with Rock Spectacle reaching platinum status (1 million sold) and Gordon going gold (500,000 sold) this year.

The next single from Stunt will be "It's All Been Done Before," which reflects its title as it tweaks musical clichés, such as the '50s-style woo-hoo-hoos on the song's chorus.

"There's a lot to be explored with this band," Creeggan says. "I think if people look more into the album, or the live show, they'll see that there's a whole Barenaked world going on."