The Sadies Circle And Return, Darkly

Sunday, 31 January 2010

It sounds like a cliche now – particularly because so many artists make similar claims only to only come halfway through when they finally do present new work – but The Sadies truly are one of the hardest working bands in show business. The Toronto-based band seems to never stop; since forming in 1998, The Sadies have released eight albums of their own and contributed their talents to a series of releases for other musicians including John Doe, Heavy Trash, Neko Case, Andre Williams and Jon Langford to name only a few in addition to supporting each one with tours and other appearances around the globe. With that staggering resume in-hand, it can only be said that The Sadies are a machine; the completion of one job just seems to lead to the start of another for them.

It sounds daunting but, in talking with singer/guitarist Dallas Good, that's exactly how The Sadies like it.

According to Good, the constant work schedule is a fantastic luxury for The Sadies because it also facilitates their enormous growth curve to express themselves as thoroughly as possible. In that way, it stands to reason that while some basics will always be in place (they'll always continue to be The Sadies), theirs will also be a perpetual motion of change as they agree to help someone with a recording, enrich their own palettes and then come back to their own work. With a new record complete [Darker Circles will be released in May, 2010], the band is gearing up to promote the record with a busy summer tour schedule but, between then and now, the curve will continue to arc with more projects. It's all in the name of artistic fulfillment – and there's no arguing that, eight (soon to be nine) albums in, The Sadies are well on their way.

Bill Adams vs. Dallas Good, singer/guitarist of The Sadies

DG: Hello?

BA: Hi, may I speak to Dallas Good please?

DG: This is.

BA: Hey Dallas, it's Bill Adams calling.

DG: Hey Bill, I'm sorry about earlier today. I appreciate your patience.

BA: Don't worry about it man, I've endured far longer waits [both laughing] and at least there was a reason for yours.

DG: Yeah, well, to be honest, I thought that we were going to come home after the show last night which would have put us back at around five in the morning so we stayed where we were and there was traffic on the way back to the city that was worse than we expected here we are.

BA: That's cool, where'd you play last night?

DG: Tweed.

BA: Oh nice. Bet that was a fun drive, how was the snow?

DG: Not bad at all – it was really cold though. Shockingly cold.

BA: Good show?

DG: Yeah – it really was. Last time we were there was during a hurricane. Oh – I'm sorry, not hurricane, remember when those tornadoes touched down in Newmarket?

BA: Oh I remember that. We talked around then too didn't we?

DG: I believe that was my brother.

BA: The other Good.

DG: We're all the same. But I digress.

BA: [laughing] That's quite alright. You could drive a truck through the holes in my memory; that's why I tape all my interviews.

DG: Were you able to make the show we did with Andre Williams in Waterloo recently?

BA: No, I wasn't actually – I wish I had.

DG: It was a lot of fun.

BA: That's cool. I haven't made a show in a while; I think the last one I caught was Eagles Of Death Metal when they came through last October, or maybe Sloan. I haven't gotten out to catch a show yet this year.

DG: We played with the Eagles in Norway last summer. Their one guitarist, Dave [guitarist Dave Catching –ed] is a good friend of ours so it's always nice to hook up with him.

BA: Oh yeah? He seemed like a nice guy, they all were when I met them actually.

DG: They're all really nice guys for sure, but we've known Dave for a really long time.

BA: That's not really all that surprising you know? At this point, The Sadies have done so much session work that you could probably fill a phone directory with the contacts you've made and the bands you've shared the stage with; people you've met….

DG: [laughing] Well, that's true. We met Dave when he was with Queens Of The Stone Age and we were with Andre Williams; that was eleven or twelve years ago at this point. At this point, The six degrees of separation has run its course – now it's more like two degrees.

BA: Nice! Okay, so The Sadies have a couple of dates coming up, but are they just shows to fill time? Are they a warm-up for a tour or something?

DG: Nah, Mark MacDonald is turning fifty years old and he's a really dear friend of ours that has always been really supportive; every appearance we've made in St. Catharines that has been a headlining show has been entirely his doing. I think the part of the birthday package for him was getting Glen Matlock over here from the UK too – so we're happy to be a part of it all for him. So, to answer your question, no – it's not part of a tour, but they're a decent set of shows that include Guelph, St. Catharines and London. The Sadies just completed a record in December; it'll be out in May. I believe the date is May 15th, but I'm not one hundred per cent on that. I know it won't be any later than that though. Anyhow, we've been really focused on that and not doing long tours until we're back at the grindstone. After the album hits, we'll be back at it.

BA: …Until the end of time with an added cast of thousands I'm sure [both laughing].

DG: That's true, we've been really fortunate to work a lot of those recording projects into tours. We even did some pre-production on the latest Sadies record while we were on tour. Along the way on that, we just stopped in Minneapolis where our producer lives and argued about songs there for a bit. It's a good way to guarantee that we can set our entire focus as a four-piece band on that set project as opposed to letting it drift and have a million different little projects floating around that are incomplete. No matter how hard we try, there will always be a few of those, but it's just the nature of the hole we dug [chuckling]. We love it of course – it's also a great opportunity to stay busy all year-round; for example, there was the last album that we released in 2009 with John Doe. We toured quite a bit on that, but I think it's safe for us to say that it was a genuine side project; it was just something that we all wanted to do and we all wanted to participate in. It was really great fun for sure; but I don't consider it  to be at the heart of what The Sadies do. Having said that though, those side projects or collaborations or whatever the case may be are what we thrive on for sure.

BA: Well, I can understand that. They're the marvelous things that keep up an inflow of cash when you're not necessarily on the road and aren't necessarily working on a record of your own.

DG: Exactly, but I must add that we do it without ever having to compromise which is the key. We're very much no a session band or 'band for hire' per se. Unfortunately, we've been perceived that way and we've had to turn down some opportunities that would have been great. Often, we have to turn down opportunities just because we're too busy, but then sometimes it's just because it's just a little too far outside for us. We have a small circle of friends and we like to stay within that circle. We're lucky with what we've got though, because we get to stay busy year-round and we haven't been asked to compromise anything which has been great.

BA: And as you said yourself, it's less a matter of The Sadies being a session band so much as it is The Sadies having a gift for networking.

DG: There's that, and I guess we're on a mission to express ourselves as thoroughly as possible and I guess that takes a fifth source to bring it out of us sometimes. For example, we would never have gravitated toward A-side country classics the way we did with the John Doe album – we're a total B-side band by nature [mock 'Awww' from Bill] and obviously our record sales show that – and that was very much John's sensibility. Similarly, with Andre Williams, we never thought we might be a cutting-edge R&B band that should back what is, in our mind, R&B royalty yet our love of that music was able to come to the forefront and shine through because we were given the opportunity and it was a great outlet. It's certainly a left turn from what we do with The Sadies but it was a very crucial one for us as a band.

BA: I can understand what you're saying but it also begs the question of what The Sadies regard themselves as as a band.

DG: Well, I suppose we always prided ourselves on our instrumental music when we started and our instrumentation – being upright bass, drums, a Gretch and a Telecaster with an occasional fiddle – was what really created our sound and comfort zone as a band. For example, working with a group like Heavy Trash – which is largely traditional rockabilly, R&B and old-time Country/Western – isn't a left turn at all; that was something that we were quite comfortable and confident in, and we were given that same sort of confidence and respect within that ensemble in turn. That's the sort of stuff that my brother and I were raised on; having done stints in my father's band so Country/Western and bluegrass music especially are something we've taken for granted and always incorporated into our music. Now as we drift away from that as songwriters, we're still more comfortable with that as a blueprint for what might  make other people gravitate toward working with us. In other words, we don't get asked to do things we can't do or haven't done to a certain extent before.

BA: Okay so it's not like you're fielding calls from Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker and then debating if you want to work with them.

DG: Right – and furthermore, we don't go seeking out anybody that we've never met; we're just not really that type of band. That hasn't stopped us from working though – we've already got several collaborations already in the works that'll probably be released in 2010 or 2011 at the latest.

BA: As well as the new, forthcoming Sadies record, which I keep meaning to ask if there's a name attached to it already.

DG: It does – it's called Darker Circles.

BA: What can you tell me about it? If anything?

DG: I consider it an extension of our New Seasons LP and we worked with Gary Louris [guitarist for The Skydiggers and producer of New Seasons -ed] again. Of course, it's neither here nor there given that we won't be releasing it until May, but we will be performing material off of it at these upcoming performances; as a sidebar, I'd say that's probably relevant [chuckling].

BA: Well sure. And it's also good to know and good to be able to say that the folks that are coming out are going to get a sneak preview.

DG: There will definitely be a couple of songs that haven't been released – or that well-rehearsed [chuckling] – in the sets for these shows.

BA: So what was the plan walking into the studio this time?

DG: We've had a lot of time to create this album from the embryonic stages onward because of the fact that the John Doe record was largely comprised of cover material. Oh – to actually answer your question because I sort of digressed a little bit, working with other people can also really change what our calendar ends up looking like in terms of touring and doing other things so The Sadies don't have the same sort of hard-pressed schedule for release dates. It's not like the band as a business relies on releasing albums on a certain schedule to maintain the status quo so it's given us a lot of creative freedom to be able to sit on songs and re-work them before than even bringing them to the band rather than that tongue-tied feeling of 'maybe this song will work.' We're able to focus a lot more time on getting it right.

BA: Well, sure – because of the session work, you're left to your own devices and the pressure's off as far as having to sit down and toy with something wondering if it'll work.

DG: Absolutely – it's interesting too because you just made me think of a more eloquent way of putting it. Basically, we've always thought of ourselves along the lines of session musicians so, in the studio, we've never spent that much time experimenting with different sounds because, ultimately, the extent of our experience was behind the microphone and not behind the mixing board. Because of where we are now, we've found a new freedom in being able to enhance our sounds rather than just document them; that has absolutely been a learning curve for us which is funny because we're, like, eight records in; god knows what we'd be like if we'd found that out in the first place. Having said that though, our early records are essentially live records – recorded live off the floor by Steve Albini who specializes in just that. Anyhow, as we've evolved and through these different experiences in the studio, we've learned how to manipulate our songs more instead of just documenting them.

BA: I can see that. It was obvious too on the last record that there was the sort of care taken that implied you already had the idea, but you also had the experience to be able to say, 'Well, this is what we've got, how do we improve it?'

DG: That's exactly what it's all about! A song is only finished when it's released. Working with Gary was great for that; having the fifth party there functions as the ultimate argument settler but also it makes us all more passionate about the process of getting better sounds because everyone's enthusiastic rather than that feeling of, “I'm taking up too much time. I'm so sorry.” There are a million examples of that on New Seasons – psychedelic tomfoolery [chuckling] – but also, Gary's specialty is lyricism and harmony and those are two things that we've always shied away from because we always tried to shy away from our weaker points. So yeah – to conclude my synopsis of Darker Circles – it's more of the same only better.

BA: Now, following the logic, you're afforded the opportunity to sit on songs for longer periods, how old are some of these?

DG: Never more than a year and a half. One of the pieces on the album is actually a re-working of a song that we had done with our band The Unintended which is The Sadies with Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo and Rick White of Eric's Trip. Basically, with was a song that we had worked out for our live album but it didn't get done at the time because it just fell by the wayside. Oh shit – I'm sorry, I was just trying to make tea and it went horribly wrong…. I'm back now, mentally.

BA: Do you need to run cold water over your hand?

DG: I'm good, I just did that. While I was trying to focus on what I was talking about. But yeah, the material is new but we've also been making an album with Gord Downie [of The Tragically Hip –ed] over the last year or so where we've been providing the music and he's been providing the lyrics and melodies. We've been deliberately taking it as slow as possible, again operating under the theory that we shouldn't just rush through it because we don't have the luxury of spending a whole lot of time together. We've been picking it up with Gord when we're able to and he has time but, having said that, we've also about halfway through that one and we're very happy with it.

BA: I was curious about that too. I mean, given the contacts and the name that The Sadies have established and the amount of work the band does, it stands to reason that there's probably so overlap in the time spent per project. Is that the case or do you try to one-at-a-time it as much as possible?

DG: We can't one-at-a-time it and one thing I never do is allocate a song to a project based on its worth to me. As I'm working on a song, I never stop, judge its quality and say, “Oh – I'm going to keep that one.” Whatever I'm focused on, I want to see it go out as quick as possible. Our work with Gord Downey really reflects that; like, I know that if Gord wasn't around, those songs would be on our new record – musically speaking – and that isn't to say that he didn't bring a lot to the table creatively, but we don't like leaving things floating around and, had they not appeared on Gord's album, elements of them may have manifested on Darker Circles. By the same token, I am a firm believer in killing things before they grow stronger so, in some cases an idea will be left to die because it's just not working and I don't dwell on it.

BA: Okay so it stands to reason that there are moments when, as much as you might be into something, you have to put it down for a while to concentrate on something else. When you do come back to it though, do you find that the rules have changed because it's more difficult to recapture that mindset?

DG: That's a good question because my answer will describe the last two years working with Andre Williams. We were on tour with Heavy Trash and we took two days off to go into the studio with Andre Williams. At the time, he was battling a severe drug and alcohol addiction and with those sessions, part of the magic was in his drunken debauchery but then there were other things that weren't standout but strong and didn't show him in his glory necessarily. So the rules changed. He got clean and sober and we suddenly found ourselves in the studio with a sober Andre and it was fantastic. It was great to get both sides from him but, of course, as we went along, the drunk material got lesser and further between and it ended up making a very fine balance but, again because it's only a side-project, we don't have a release date scheduled on it because I'm able to fuss on it to death and I'm enjoying re-opening songs and remixing them just for my own interest and I want to represent him as best I can. By the same token, The Sadies are very easy to work quickly with; it's a totally different set of rules, The Sadies work very differently as a four-piece from how we work as an ensemble supporting another artist. I should clarify something though because it just occurred to me how much and how many times I've used the term 'side project' and probably will use a little more. I don't think anything we ever do is a genuine side project because I've always assumed that a side project is something that get done in everyone's spare time and it never really equates to the sum of its parts. For us, while we don't necessarily think that we got the best music of all time out of the people we've worked with, we do pride ourselves on doing it just as we hear it in our heads. Because of that, nothing is really a side project; it's all or nothing.

BA: Is all that work a gift for networking? Or is it presented to you by an outside source like management?

DG: I suppose we've always been known for our collaborations, even from day one; our first one was backing Neko Case when she was completely unknown there. It was a really long, extensive tour but, having said that, the experience is what hooked us up with our first American label, Bloodshot Records, and they just assumed that we'd be the best backing band for Andre Williams and it just happened that I really, really wanted the job because I'm a really big fan of his. That said, it could be a little bit of networking, but I'd also say that with each set of people we've played, we find such a sense of camaraderie that I'd say, in spite of the drastic differences in how we might work, we'd all still gravitate toward each other. Even then though, I'm not sure if one could call it networking, because none of us is particularly outgoing [laughing]. I guess that's the answer that I'm beating around. We stick our necks out; we're not afraid to have our heads cut off.

BA: Aw come on. You're just trying not to sound arrogant. [laughing] You can say it, “We make really good music man, and people find us.”

DG: Yes! Thank you! That's great, but people also talk. “Hey man, we should get together and make a record sometime” and all that shit – it's just showbiz small talk, but we actually do it. We don't have anything else to talk about – we're not going to get together with these people and go for dinner or drinks or a movie – we just arrange to meet in the studio and it works out best for everyone.

BA: So what was the guiding principle behind Darker Circles when you walked in to make it?

DG: The guiding principle was wanting to walk away happy and I think, although relatively confused, we also walked away relatively happy.

BA: Confused?

DG: Well, you know, I'm not really at a point where I've come to terms with how I could even describe it aside from it's a sort of extension from the last one, maybe a little darker.

BA: Hence the name, Darker Circles.

DG: [chuckling] Yeah – we had a good time. I hate to be vague, but I can't really think about it in fair terms although I can say that while the comparison to New Seasons is valid, I can also say that there are fewer songs on Darker Circles and they're longer. There's only one instrumental on the LP – usually there's more than that – but, beyond that, I'd definitely say it's an extension of New Seasons.

BA: And you're breaking some of the songs in on stage?

DG: We started including a couple of the new songs into the set last month when we did the tour that started in Guelph, Ontario so it's still very new to us. I think we've got them pretty much ready to go for the stage, I think we've got the last imperfections worked out. At the very least, they're no more dented than the other songs [both laughing].


Further Reading:

Ground Control's Darker Circles album review.

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