Sadies Hawking

Toronto's best band is an easy sell

Add Toronto, Ontario's The Sadies to the ever-expanding list of Reasons Why Canada Is (Comparatively) Awesome and We All Should Move There to Get the Hell Out of Jesusland.

Brothers Dallas and Travis Good (scions of the musical Good family, in Canada's Country Hall of Fame) along with bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky have been making genre-defying roots music for more than a decade, all the while performing and recording with a who's-who of "alt-country-whatever-that-is" types. Currently steaming their way toward Tucson for a performance with Neko Case and Yep Roc labelmate Dexter Romweber, the Sadies have just released their fifth (not counting collaborations) full-length, Favourite Colours.

"We made (Favourite Colours) by chipping away at it in locations where we felt comfortable," says Dallas Good, who serves as the band's frontman (no slight intended to brother Travis, who sings lead on many Sadies songs). Due to the band's heavy touring schedule, it was easier for them to record in a rather piecemeal fashion, crafting bits of Favourite Colours variously at home in Toronto (The Woodshed Recording Studio); at a remote farm location with Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor; and right here in da ol' dirty Pueblo at the increasingly high-profile Wavelab Studio. "Those guys are excellent, and we loved working with both of them," Good says of Wavelab principals Craig Schumacher and Nick Luca.

A defining aspect of the Sadies' career has been their tendency to collaborate with an impressively diverse array of other musicians and performers. Most recently, this has included The Tigers Have Spoken, the recently released live album the Sadies did with their longtime friend Neko Case. "Well, we recorded (Tigers) over the course of seven different performances in Chicago and Toronto. The whole thing was written and recorded in a relatively short period of time," explains Good. "We offered some of the musical ideas on the record, but the lyrics are all Neko's. We actually came up with a lot more material than made the record, and we've been performing those songs on this tour."

The Sadies' collaborative pedigree extends far beyond this recent foray with Case. They've made records and toured with the Mekons' Jon Langford, performed with Randy Bachmann (of Canadian rock gods BTO and The Guess Who) and Kris Kristofferson, and recorded a 1999 album with R&B/soul legend Andre Williams during his foray into country music. Says Dallas, "Bloodshot (the label on which Williams' Red Dirt was released) was dissatisfied with the results of what Jack White (of the White Stripes) had been doing, so they brought us in. We had never met Andre, which was kind of unusual for someone we were going to record with. We wrote some songs in advance that we thought he might like; it turns out he loved them. After the record, we toured with him a bit, playing songs that have spanned his whole career... . I got to play sax on 'Jail Bait,'" which was Williams' somewhat sordid '50s reflection on a common rock 'n' roll theme.

Good is expansive when asked why the Sadies like to collaborate so much. "We gravitate toward the people we admire, and the people we admire tend to gravitate toward us. But it's also a function of spending so much time on the road and encountering so many different people. We've found that we can make the most out of combining our particular talents with others. But we never set out to have a long list of co-conspirators; it's just the way it's played out."

Favourite Colours, like all Sadies records, packs much variety. Within its confines, you'll hear elements of surf (a la Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, who are quite Canadian as well); twang and bluegrass, which served them well during their tenure on the Bloodshot label; Everly-esque harmonizing between Dallas and Travis; psychedelia, "cosmic American music"; and Morricone-esque soundtrack instrumentals. In short, the Sadies touch on nearly every roots music sub-style.

Notable among Favourite Colours tracks is the closer "Why Would Anybody Live Here?" co-written and sung by Robyn Hitchcock. Despite Hitchcock's Tucson and Wavelab connections, the Sadies actually met him in Calgary. Good describes the scene: "We were performing at a festival, and Robyn was on the bill. We proposed doing some Syd Barrett songs with him, things like "Astronomy Domine," and he seemed a bit reluctant, but we went ahead with it and wound up playing all this Byrds and Dylan stuff as well. It was so fun and effortless, and we went on to do a show in Winnipeg and a couple others afterwards. There was some discussion of touring together, but we've learned over the years that with a collaboration like that, it's all just talk until it happens." For the record, Good is certain "Why Would Anybody Live Here?" is about neither Toronto nor Tucson.

When they're not touring the world and rocking the house (they're notorious crowd pleasers who frequently turn in two-hour sets), the Sadies are, like every ambulatory Canadian, playing hockey. "Our team is called the Nightmares," Good reveals, and sports the talents of not just the Sadies but other musicians including Andrew Scott from Sloan. As is noted on Yep Roc's Sadies page, the team occasionally wins.

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