It’s not the breathtaking mountains, the quirky culture or the gorgeous sunsets that members of Barenaked Ladies and Guster are looking forward to when they visit Utah — it’s delving into some internationally acclaimed mole.
"I’m feeling almost as good about this album as I am about getting back to Salt Lake City and to the Red Iguana," said Ed Robertson of BNL.
Tracks from his band’s latest effort, "Grinning Streak," will be part of the mix of songs from a three-band performance at USANA Amphitheater on June 20, joining Guster and Ben Folds Five, who are back together and performing for the first time since 2000.
For the newest album, Robertson tried a new writing approach. The Canada native traveled to Tennessee to "work with some Nashville cats" and write songs with some of his friends, including Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra and Zack Maloy of the Nixons.
"It was great to go down there and really push the craft of writing," he said.
The four band members got together in the studio to record one or two tracks, but the feeling was so good, they just kept going.
That’s a change from the mood in recording their previous album, "All in Good Time," the first album they created after the tumultuous departure of co-founder Steven Page.
"That was just about getting back on our feet and dusting ourselves off and ‘we can still do this,’ and it resulted in some of the best reviews of our career," Robertson said. "Three years later and hundreds of shows as a four-piece band later, we’re confident and settled in place. We’re not in the same throes of upheaval and turmoil. I think we still made a great record, but it was a difficult time. This time, we went in firing on all cylinders."
BNL has always been known for its whimsical lyrics and engaging improvisation, but Robertson points to the introspection and the sentiment of his songs.
"I think the humor has always been an intrinsic part of how we relate to each other and to the crowd, but there’s always been a deep, emotional center to the band," he said. "It’s all about entertainment, about the audience going on a roller-coaster ride. I want people to leave there saying that they saw a unique performance, that the band was connected to the place they were in, and that it’s not going to be the same thing in a different town the next night."
Part of keeping that experience fresh was teaming up with some bands to create a strong bill for an outdoor show.
Ryan Miller, lead singer of Guster, is looking forward to playing to passionate Utah fans.
"When we’ve played at In the Venue, people are stoked and people are excited. The shows are very high-energy in Salt Lake City. I don’t know if that’s the case for every band, or if that’s the venue, so I’ll be curious to see how this plays out," he said of his band’s first performance at USANA Amphitheater.
He said at this stage in the band members’ lives, touring is a treat.
"We really enjoy touring at this point, but we’ve scaled back quite a bit," he said. "We have families and mortgages and wives, and now that’s all part of the equation — knowing we’re not going to be back two more times this year."
He tells fans to expect a greatest-hits kind of set, one that will please the die-hard fans but maybe draw in some Ben Folds Five and BNL fans who may not have heard of the band that’s been making music for two decades.
He’s excited to return to a state that feels increasingly homey.
"We’ve spent a lot of time there, and it doesn’t feel strange anymore," he said. "And I’m excited to dig deep into the Mexican food scene there."
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