Northern Passages takes the Sadies down a familiar path
Aspiring teenage bands stake out rehearsal space in their parents’ basements all the time, but it’s less common to see veteran rockers like the Sadies descending into their mom and dad’s cellar for creative rejuvenation.
After roughly 23 years of recording music together in studio environments, the Sadies switched it up for their new album “Northern Passages,” which arrives Feb. 10.
Even the band’s singer and guitarist Dallas Good was surprised how quickly he warmed to playing in a pit of suburbia.
“The parents gave us a really good deal,” jokes Good, who plays in the band with his brother Travis.
“(We went) with the theory of getting some very cheap demos with great catering.”
Aside from his mom’s homemade sandwiches and cookies, the Sadies found an attractive recording space. It’s not surprising since their father is Bruce Good, co-founder of The Good Brothers, a multi-Juno winning country rock band that had a huge hit in the ‘’70s with “Fox on the Run.”
The acoustics were stellar and they weren’t paying for the room by the hour, unlike most professional studios.
“We started recording up there with every opportunity we got,” Good adds.
Toughing it out with the concrete floors and drywall didn’t seem to bother any of them either.
As one of Canada’s most-determined touring acts, the Sadies are used to grinding it out for their craft. They’ve crossed the country supporting the Tragically Hip many times over and collaborated with homegrown acts like Blue Rodeo (The Sadies open for two Blue Rodeo shows at FirstOntario Centre Concert Hall, formerly Hamilton Place, on Feb. 16 and 17).
“And the Conquering Sun,” their 2014 album, united them with Gord Downie for a project that took seven years to complete.
Turning the Sadies’ basement tapes into “Northern Passages” was a much quicker process finished over last winter.
With everything centralized in one space, the band was able to record a song and save it for later. If they didn’t like it, they’d tweak the sound to their satisfaction, or take another run at it later.
“It was great to be able to try every guitar through every amplifier — every possibility,” Good says.
“Northern Passages” captures the Sadies in their comfort zone, playing pessimistic tunes liberated by classic country-western and
rock ‘n’ roll spirit. “Riverview Fog” contains echoes of Simon & Garfunkel before the lyrics turn dark, while “God Bless the Infidels” offers an ironic tone of reconciliation for those deemed sinners.
“It’s Easy (Like Walking)” leaves the strongest impression, with the Sadies’ latest collaborator Kurt Vile spreading his distinct Philadelphian ramble across the track.
The Sadies had asked the singer if he wanted to add his touch to the song, which was nearly complete. Vile quickly returned a version with entirely new vocals he’d written himself.
“We’re lucky enough to be in a musical community with people who want to work with us — and we want to work with,” Good says.
Putting the final touches on “Northern Passages” came at a difficult time for the Sadies. The album was recorded around the same time Downie’s terminal brain cancer was diagnosed and news began to quietly spread within the music community before it was made public in May.
It’s not a period that Good wants to recount.
“Please, I can’t really go there,” he calmly says when asked about the experience. “I don’t think it’s at all relevant how my personal feelings are about all this.”
But after a moment of contemplation, he says, “As much as it’s been a tough year for me, it’s been a very incredible year for Gord.
“Saying things like, ‘I’m so proud of him,’ just sounds so inappropriately trite. But he’s the man who walks (among) the stars. He’s the best.”
The Sadies were making plans to record with Downie again two years ago, before his condition was revealed.
As they saw it, their fusion was an ongoing effort, not just a fleeting side project. Good said in a 2014 interview he’d already started writing material for a second album.
But as time passed, some of those ideas landed on “Northern Passages” instead, he says.
With the Sadies album finished, Good thinks it might be time to circle back with Downie.
“In order to make another album you pretty much have to put the Sadies stuff on hold — so now’s the time to do that,” he says. “Gord ... you’ll be hearing from us very soon.”
The Sadies’ “Northern Passages” will be released Feb. 10.