The Sadies emerged from Toronto’s music scene in 1994 as one of those must-see live acts, one also known for collaborating with everyone from Neko Case to Gord Downie and John Doe. This week finds the quartet, consisting of brothers/singers/guitarists Dallas and Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belinsky, releasing its latest record, the gloriously dark Northern Passages.
“It’s all getting easier I think,” says Travis Good over the phone from his Ontario home. “If nothing else, we haven’t produced hits over the years, but we’ve at least come up with a sound that sounds like the Sadies that people are familiar with. I think we have a sound that we’re comfortable with, we’re just sort of fine tuning it.”
That sound, an eclectic blend of electric roots rock with a sardonic sense of humour, comes bursting to life on stage and on record.
“We write for the live show, it’s always been about the live show. Making a record is just something to get those new songs out into the mix. Not really looking for new fans, so much as pleasing the old ones,” Good says with a laugh. “We go in, we wanna make sure that there are at least five or six songs that you’re gonna be comfortable with playing on stage. We’ve learned over the years that not all songs you’re gonna play live are great in the studio, and vice versa. The ones we think are great in the studio might be time for everybody to go get a drink in the audience.”
Spending a few weeks recording in Good’s childhood basement allowed for the band to take its time when laying down the tracks.
“We’re just comfortable there, it’s where we used to make a racket when we were teenagers,” he says. “It’s nice sitting around in your parents’ basement with no time restraints, and there’s literally like, Dallas’s old Star Wars collection, like the Death Star and stuff like that. We ended up doing most of the acoustic on our mom’s guitar, I forgot about how nice Mom’s old Guild was.”
While his brother Dallas traditionally handles the songwriting duties, Travis (maybe somewhat reluctantly) finds himself offering up three tunes for Northern Passages.
“Dallas is great at crosswords and writing lyrics,” he says. “For me, the tune always comes first. I play it over and over and over and hopefully that pokes the rabbit out of the hole and I get some lyrics. I have to do it that way. Dallas can do it pen and paper, he’s more of a wordsmith.”
It’s that comfort with the guitar and writing instrumentals that began his songwriting career with a happy accident, an attempt at contributing a song to one of his brother’s other bands in the ‘90s.
“I first started the Sadies when Dallas was playing with (Jad Fair and) Phono-Comb, which is the guys from Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, like, 23 years ago,” he says. “I submitted a song, an instrumental surf song for them to do, and they ended up not using it, and the Sadies started and we started playing that song. I never thought I’d be a singer, I always thought I’d be a guitar player. The singing came in the live show, and then once you start singing you may as well sing your own songs.”
Though the Good brothers can hold their own on the mic, the Sadies are just as known for collaborating with other artists, and the new disc is no exception, as former tour-mate Kurt Vile brings his hazy, laid back charms to album standout “It’s Easy (Like Walking)”.
“I guess about three years ago we did a tour with him of the East Coast. I’d never met him, and he actually road with us. We got in the van, which we’ve never done with anyone! We just got along. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes you just casually say to musicians that we should make a record sometime. Just a song, anything.”
Another act the Sadies are known for collaborating with is Blue Rodeo. The band’s Greg Keelor has produced the Sadies material and collaborated with the Good brothers in CanRock supergroup The Unintended, which also featured former Eric’s Trip frontman Rick White. The Sadies and Blue Rodeo are even on tour together right now.
“The first time I ever saw the Sadies’ name in print was when Now Magazine asked (Blue Rodeo bassist) Bazil Donovan what he was listening to, and he said the Sadies, and I fell off my barstool, I couldn’t believe it. I felt, holy shit, we’re in the big time boys! They were like our earliest supporters, really. The only way the Sadies and Blue Rodeo could be any tighter is if we all climbed into our van!”
It could also be noted that Iggy Pop told the Toronto Star in October of last year that the Sadies are a Canadian band that inspires him, noting the band is “way different, and way more considered, and that’s really good, too.”
Back to the record and back to Rick White, another new tune on Northern Passages, the haunting “Riverview Fog”, finds Dallas penning a tribute to his friend, who is currently retired from music.
“Dallas and him are especially great friends,” Travis says. “We don’t see much of him anymore. He’s moved out to the country, he hasn’t been doing music. He’s doing other things, like art. He’s doing good. We’ll see him again soon.”
Visit thesadies.net for more information.