The Sadies will be back in town to work their musical magic at the Orono Arena on Oct. 30th. The timing couldn’t be more appropriate for a Hallowe’en crowd, as the band promotes its latest album, Darker Circles, full of beautifully haunting songs of foreboding, and death.
But don’t let the subject matter spook you. The album (released last May on the Outside Music label) is an earnest collection of songs with a greater emotional depth to its lyrics than previous efforts. Exploring more mature themes like failure, addiction, and lost love, the Sadies’ writing talents seems to have finally caught up to their stellar instrumental abilities.
Some of the darkest songs — “Another Year Again,” “Cut Corners” and “Tell Her What I Said” — are also some of the album’s strongest in terms of both lyrics and instrumentation. But even the rollicking, Flying Burrito Brothers-styled guitars of “Postcards” are tinged with regret. Likewise, the wistful, Gordon Lightfoot-influenced vocal delivery of “Idle Tomorrows” gives the up-tempo song a haunting quality.
“A lot of our music is pretty dark,” said Sean Dean, the Sadies’ bass player, speaking by phone from his home in Toronto. “A few of our songs are more frivolous, devil-may-care, but for the most part we’re kind of obsessed with serious things, classic themes of morality, mortality, addiction, happiness and love.”
Dean said the timeless feel of many of the songs is due to the vast and varied musical influences he shares with fellow band members Dallas Good (guitar, vocals), Travis Good (guitar, vocals), and Mike Belitsky (drums) .
“We have such specific tastes in music,” he noted. “We know what we don’t like. We listen to a lot of wonderfully timeless bands. We do listen to contemporary bands, but also to a lot of great artists from the past, from the ‘70s and ‘80s. You are what you eat. It’s going to come out a certain way because we feed ourselves the old-time music.”
Asked about the more introspective lyrics in this album’s songs, Dean replied, “I think we’re just getting better at writing songs.”
“The challenge is to try to get together and make a great record,” he said. “We have this task of making a great record, so we crunch all of our ideas together to come up with the best. We’re trying to be objective, without egos, even though ego is always going to be part of the creative process. So we try not to get too personal. We try to come up with the best ideas, regardless of whose ideas they are, which is not always easy.”
He also gave credit to Darker Circles producer Gary Louris, a founding member of country rock band the Jayhawks, who also produced the Sadies’ 2007 release, New Seasons.
“Gary really pushed us to do our best,” said Dean. “He’s a really big part of both the editing of lyrics, and the changing of phrases, choruses, and bridges. I think of him as a kind of mentor in terms of song writing.”
Darker Circles builds on the Sadies’ ever-increasing critical acclaim, which started gaining momentum with New Seasons, and continued with 2009’s Country Club — a collaboration with punk rocker turned country crooner John Doe — which climbed both the indie and country charts in the U.S. and Canada.
In 2008, New Seasons made the 40-album long-list for Canada’s $20,000 Polaris Music Prize. This year, Darker Circles made the Polaris short-list, nominated as one of the 10 best Canadian albums of the year, judged solely on artistic merit.
Along with the other finalists, the Sadies played live at the Polaris gala at Toronto’s Masonic Temple in a performance which was broadcast nation-wide on Bravo! last month.
“It felt pretty good to be able to play and to be able to meet all the other bands,” said Dean. “It’s pretty exciting to be in the company of all these successful Canadian bands.”
This was not the Sadies’ first television appearance, as they also played before a live audience for The Hour’s Holiday Music Special on CBC in December, performing “White Christmas” with R&B singer the Mighty Pope.
“We really enjoyed doing live television,” said Dean. “It’s great to reach more and more people.”
At a point in their careers where the Sadies have no problem getting booked as the headlining band, they still occasionally serve as the opening act or the backing band in order to share the stage with other musicians they respect. Most recently, they opened for ‘60s psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators when he played in Toronto last spring; and they backed up Glen Matlock, original bassist and song writer for the Sex Pistols, as he toured southern Ontario last summer.
“We really loved the 13th Floor Elevators and Roky’s music,” said Dean. “We were so influenced by him; it’s kind of flattering to be a part of that night. It’s one of the thrills of being in a band. It’s always been a big part of what we do.”
In fact, the Sadies have become the musician’s musicians over the years for an impressive assortment of artists, playing with singer-songwriter Neko Case, punk blues vocalist Andre Williams, and indie rocker Jon Spencer, as well as more mainstream artists such as the Band’s Garth Hudson, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor.
The Sadies’ latest collaboration is with Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, a project that patiently evolved from casual recording sessions at the Hip’s Bathouse Studio near Kingston, Ontario over the last year.
“We’ve got about three-quarters of that record done,” said Dean. “All of the songs are on tape; we just need to get them mixed. I think it will be out sometime within the next twelve months.”
In the meanwhile, the Sadies will continue touring in support of Darker Circles. The band has already toured throughout Canada and the West Coast of the United States. They will be returning to the West Coast in a month, and then heading to England and Europe in December.
“We’re looking forward to playing Orono,” Dean added. Tickets for the show are $20, available at Don’s Auto on Hwy. #35/115, Hands-On Music in Bowmanville, and Star Records in Oshawa. The Orono Arena is located at the east end of Princess St., just off of Main St., in Orono.