Feature Story: Canada’s alt-country heroes, The Sadies, show their versatility on their new LP

By  Peter Lindblad

Choosing to record a portion of their latest album, New Seasons, in Spain had unexpected consequences for The Sadies, Canada’s alt.-country space cowboys.

Originally, Dallas Good wrote “The First Inquisition (Part 4)” as a down-home, bluegrass picker, but it wasn’t to be.

“If we’d recorded it in Toronto [where one half of the LP was recorded], it would have been, but in Spain, there was no banjo or mandolin, and that would have ideal,” explains Dallas. “I pictured three-part harmony bluegrass and all that stuff, but sometimes, it all falls far from your hopes and intentions.”

Without access to bluegrass-style instrumentation, The Sadies changed course on the fly, turning “The First Inquisition (Part 4)” into a vibrating, feral garage-rock howl that’s more Iggy Pop and The Stooges or Gun Club than Flatt & Scruggs. How’s that for versatility.
Quick-change artists that they are, the Sadies often find themselves being summoned to guest star on albums by kindred spirits such as the rip-roaring rockabilly duo Heavy Trash, Neko Case — they co-wrote songs for her last album, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, and served as her live band on tour — and the Mekons’ Jon Langford. It’s not surprising, then, that they would attract top-tier talent to help them out with their own recordings.

For New Seasons, Gary Louris, formerly of The Jayhawks, was recruited to co-produce and help record the album. Stylistically, New Seasons doesn’t stray too much from past efforts, such as 2005’s Favourite Colours — an album hailed by critics. Typical of a Sadies release, New Seasons seamlessly stitches together traditional country-and-western fare with punk, psychedelia and ‘60s country-rock — think Gram Parsons or Sweetheart Of The Rodeo-era Byrds — in a sonic patchwork that has no loose threads.

What’s different this time around are the dreamy vocal harmonies of the two Good brothers. Louris was instrumental in drawing them out of Dallas and Travis.

“Gary Louris is an awfully good singer, so he would steer us in the direction of a better vocal take,” says Travis. “That was part of the reason that we thought we should work with Gary, because he’s such a good singer, and he did push us harder with vocal takes than we ever have before. When you’re self-producing [an album], it’s hard to push yourself too hard, because then you just feel neurotic.”

Louris drove them hard, but ultimately, he and The Sadies — a band that also includes drummer Mike Belitsky and upright bassist Sean Dean — were always on the same page, as Dallas calls him an “integral” figure in the making of New Seasons.

“He wouldn’t let us sleep or eat until we sang like sparrows, which isn’t easy for chain smokers,” says Dallas, with a laugh.

Nicotine, along with a glassful of hard liquor, would be the ideal complement for the wide-screen country-rock of “Anna Leigh,” “The Trial” and “My Heart Of Wood,” a trio of noir-ish forays into the dark side of Americana that comprise the heart of New Seasons. Though similar in style, they weren’t intended to be strung together as some kind of suite.

“Two of the three said songs were co-written by a very dear friend of mine, who I’ve made a lot of records with, named Rick White,” says Dallas. “So, there’s bound to be similarities there. But, that said, the record is a collection of singles. But, our lives are as shallow now as when we started making records. They appear more cinematic, but it’s the same movie.”

Off screen, The Sadies’ story begins in Toronto, Ontario, where Travis and Dallas grew up in a family of musicians. Their father, Bruce, performed with their uncles as Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductees The Good Brothers.

It was never a sure thing, however, that Travis and Dallas would go into the family business. In fact, as the exalted patriarch of the family, Bruce Good was brutally frank with his boys about the vagaries of a musician’s life.

“We had a lot of support, but [our parents] were also very realistic about the music business,” says Travis. “From our parents, we saw that you could make a living in Canada playing music, but you had to work really hard at it. My dad would say, ‘Just because I have been lucky enough to make a living in music doesn’t mean you can do it — you gotta work hard, but you’ve got to be lucky.’ Some people are really good and work really hard and still can’t hack out a living.”

Early on, though they were surrounded by all the trappings of musicians, Travis and Dallas were occupied with other interests.
“There were a lot of cool amps and records and guitars around the house,” recalls Travis, who would join his father’s band at age 18. “But, it’s not like we grew up sitting on the back porch picking bluegrass every night. Baseball and hockey used to be a whole lot bigger deal than playing guitars. You’d get beat up in school if you didn’t play hockey. Honestly, the tips [from dad] were way more about scoring goals and playing defense than playing guitars.”

Dallas was even more blunt, joking that music “ … kept us out of law enforcement. It was more of an albatross than an eagle, ‘cause it forced us down this shallow path of existence which is the music business. But, I don’t know any better, so I don’t know any worse. Don’t cry for me ‘cause I’m already dead.”

Don’t bury him, or The Sadies, yet, however. With its gritty, trailer-park lyrical realism and psychedelic mysticism, New Seasons — amazingly enough, the band’s 11th recording — sees The Sadies growing even more comfortable in their own skin, whether reeling off a complex series of finger-picking exercises in the album’s “Introduction,” drowning in the menacing surf blackness of “Wolf Tones” or easing into the melodic twang of “Never Again.”

Comparisons to Parsons or The Byrds are spot-on. Perhaps, however, that’s a little too easy. After all, there is a lot more going on with The Sadies than such surface resemblances to those hallowed legends would suggest.

Whatever the case, The Sadies as a whole, not just Travis and Dallas, are a family unit now, for better or worse. Keeping it together is a constant struggle.

“We’ve been a band so long now, 10 years, that I talk to Mike and Sean the same way I talk to Dallas,” says Travis. “There was a brother element that was much more present earlier — the typical brother element that you’d expect. We’ve figured out how to totally not get on each other’s nerves. We have a chemistry that’s very delicate between all of us, but if you’re a band that long, it doesn’t matter that there are brothers in the band or not. After 10 years together, you’ve got to start acting like a family — a dysfunctional family, but that’s good for us, since we grew up in such a normal family.”

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