Barenaked Ladies co-founder Ed Robertson says there are no simple answers as to why singer Steven Page has left the band after more than two decades.

"I wish it was as easy as saying creative differences or scheduling problems or any number of things, or, you know, the tumultuous year we just had," Robertson said Wednesday.

"But the truth is it's bigger than all that. And ultimately, I think we just recognized that we needed to move forward. You know, and that we weren't going to do that as we were."

The band announced on its website that Page - who founded the band with Robertson in Toronto more than 20 years ago - was leaving to pursue solo projects, including a career in theatre.

Robertson said he and bandmates Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn and Tyler Stewart will continue on as the Barenaked Ladies, and plan to head to the studio in April and out on the road in the fall.

While Robertson sings as well, Page has long been a signature voice for the band, performing on hits including "One Week," "Brian Wilson," "If I Had $1,000,000" and "Jane."

Though Robertson calls himself a "dyed in the wool, never say never kind of guy," he also says the plan at the moment is not to replace Page but to go ahead with four members.

Robertson said the decision was completely mutual, and wasn't one the band and Page came to lightly - instead, he says, it was the result of months of discussion and consideration.

"It was a very long process," Robertson says.

And though Robertson says it wasn't the main precipitating factor, any differences the band was having were exacerbated by a tough 2008.

Last summer, Page, his girlfriend and her roommate were charged with drug possession after police found cocaine at a Fayetteville, N.Y., apartment.

In late October, all three secured a deal that will result in their charges being dropped if they stay out of trouble for six months.

Robertson, who himself endured some adversity when his plane crashed in the woods last summer with three unhurt passengers on board, says that while Page's behaviour carried consequences for the band, it wasn't the main reason behind the split.

"Certainly, that was a huge event in all of our lives," Robertson said. "It would be ridiculous to say it didn't have a huge effect. I'm just saying this split isn't about that."

Robertson remains a bit vague about the reason behind the breakup, preferring instead to look ahead to the future of the band.

"I think the tendency from the outside is to view (the band) as an Ed and Steve thing, but we've been an incredibly collaborative group over the years," he said. "It's very much a band dynamic. That will shift and change certainly because one of those guys isn't there, but I just think we have so much to draw on."

Robertson says Page is a part of his family.

"I think Steve's going to do great. But if he's not doing great, he has a huge network of support to draw in to help him do better, and we're included in that network."

It's a sentiment that Page echoed in a statement on the band's website.

"These guys are my brothers," he said. "We've grown up together over the past 20 years. I love them and wish them all the best in the future."

Of course, the Barenaked Ladies are now wondering how the fans might react to the change. Robertson said he wasn't planning on talking about the split in the media until he saw how upset the fans were on the message boards and decided to speak out.

"I think a lot of people are panicking - 'What's it going to be like and how will they do it?"' he said.

"Canadian Idol" judge Jake Gold, who has known the group since they started out more than 20 years ago, says the band will be just fine.

"I think the Ladies have now developed their name to the point where it's like a brand, and when people go to see the show, they're going to hear those great songs over the years and the catalogue of material that they have," Gold said. "I think potentially they could do really well.

"I don't know if it's going to do better than it was, but then again, if they can maintain, that's good enough."

Gold points to a number of bands who have continued on without their lead singer with some success - Genesis, Van Halen and even the Guess Who, who have put on popular tours without Burton Cummings or Randy Bachman. And he says that's particularly true of bands, like the Barenaked Ladies, with multiple vocalists.

But of course, sometimes those bands face a backlash, notes Ken Beattie, founder and national media director of Vancouver-based Killbeat Music.

Beattie, whose roster includes Chad VanGaalen and Julie Doiron, says some of those bands that have toured without key original members border on self-parody in the eyes of fans.

So, he suggests a drastic solution.

"Maybe it's time to get a new name," Beattie said. "It's still them, but they just have a new name. They move on, they get to that next level, and it's like the chapter's closed. In fact, even the book is closed, to a degree. They start a new phase."

Robertson agrees that this is a "pivot point" for the group, but doesn't want to close the book on a group that the 38-year-old has spent most of his life with.

He says the band hasn't figured out what to do with Page's vocals when they perform live, but they will.

"A lot of the songs that Steve sings were co-writes with me, and I feel very attached to all of that music," he says. "So maybe some keys will change, (because) Steve sings a little higher than I do."

Meanwhile, he just hopes that the group's fans understand the reasons behind the change.

"We know inside that everything about this is right, and necessary," he said. "What's daunting is how it's freaking everybody out. So I guess that puts a lot of pressure on the recording and the next tour, but I know we're up to the challenge of that."

Latest From ...