Musical collab invigorates Gord Downie and The Sadies

Photo Norman Wong

Photo Norman Wong

Jane Stevenson, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:43 PM ET

It’s a mouthful but Gord Downie, The Sadies & The Conquering Sun, whose self-titled album came out this week, has significant meaning for its participants.

Specifically, Downie, the longtime frontman-lyricist for The Tragically Hip, and Sean Dean, the bassist for Toronto alt-country-punk vets The Sadies.

“It was not an accident, it took us literally years to come up with,” said Downie, relaxing on a couch with Dean in Blue Rodeo’s Woodshed studios in Toronto recently.

“It’s a list of things... But in and of itself, it created, ‘Is that the name of the band? Or is that the name of the album?' To which we say, ‘Exactly!’ But what occurred to me is, ‘It’s the name of the project.’ It’s a project more than it’s about our identities either to ourselves or to each other. So it steers the emphasis and the question towards the work itself. No one ever wants to talk about the work. They want to talk about why.”

Speaking of which, Downie and The Sadies - the latter who opened for The Hip “more than anybody else” says Gord - first recorded a song on a benefit album for the Canadian water charity, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, in 2006.

About a year or two later, their future musical direction would gel when they appeared on the now defunct CBC radio program FUSE - whose agenda was to bring two musical acts together to create something new - and did a number of covers including The Stooges’ Search and Destroy.

“So then we set to learning a bunch of covers which is really how 15 year olds do it,” said Downie. “You get in a room with a buddy and you realize how much love of music you share. Then you set out to learn those songs and play them and show people the music you’re into by playing it for them. We chose seven, eight, nine very disparate songs, Roky Erickson, Guided By Voices, Johnny Cash, Stooges. We were very proud of ourselves. We flipped some wigs, mostly our own, that night and celebrated in the hotel room afterwards and I think vowed there, ‘Let’s do more of this,’ and the way to do that was to take it to the next step and write some songs.”

Added Dean: “I remember (manager) Bernie (Breen) saying after, ‘Oh, man, it was good. At times, it made me violent like a teenager.’ I was just like, ‘Wow, okay, well that is really good. I think we can do this.’ It’s almost better than just starting, ‘Oh, let’s make an album.’ And then you start out writing songs cold and just insulated from what a rock band starts out organically like, a 15-year-old, in a garage.”

Their new album’s gritty, galloping rock sound is certainly youthfully punk-inspired despite the fact that it took years to get together in the same room to write and record, both at The Hip’s Bathouse studios in Kingston and The Woodshed.

Both camps were busy with their days jobs.

“There were times when we were like, ‘Are we going to finish this?’” said Dean. “And we just kept plugging away. And when we have played live it’s been so much fun, you know, I feel like I’m levitating a little bit.”

However, they weren’t precious with the new songs, with maybe 10 days in the studio in total over seven or eight years.

“The length of time sounds like we laboured over it like Pink Floyd or something but we really didn’t,” said Downie. “We wouldn’t go in for days on end, we’d get a couple days, three tops and we would work hard, come up with a song and a half, two songs, always push the yard sticks where we never thought, ‘Oh, God, it’s really bogging down.’ And then we didn’t labour over it. Lyrics, a lot of what you hear, is kind of first thought, best thought... This is me reacting to this music, in this moment and there’s a great feeling when you can get out of your own way that way. That’s what 30 years of experience leads you to react like you’ve had 30 minutes of experience. I liked it for all of that. And the songs really reflect not that passage of time but those moments were things were happening quick and we recognized it.”

Added Dean: “I hope it moves people like it moves me. And it moves me. I wouldn’t want to be in a rock band if I didn’t think I had good taste.”

Now that the album it finally out, Downie and The Sadies can’t wait to get out there and play the new material at festivals across Canada this summer starting with their label, Arts & Crafts’ own Field Trip in Toronto on June 8, and maybe a proper Canadian tour at some point with Dean hinting at some “very psychedelic” production.

So far they’ve played a total of three shows in the middle of the day over the last seven or eight years.

“It’s a continuation of the first time you ever wanted to be in a rock and roll band,” said Dean. “Sometimes you’re put with people and trying to hammer out some music, it’s not that easy. You have to make a conscious effort and then it’s like work. This is just rock and roll garage fun... It’s almost the closest thing I’ve come to where you were back there playing public school assembly... It’s almost like we shouldn’t do Sadies song or Hip songs because it would be so great if it’s just be our own songs with a couple of covers. Covers are different than playing our own day job stuff... It’s just kind of like having an affair. It’s kind of like cheating a little bit. But it’s safe. We’re doing it in public. It’s open.”

Added Downie: “It does remind me of my high school band and the kind of music that I like... I really, really want to react viscerally to music and The Sadies music does that, it invokes a time and a place, it puts me in a scene... I feel invigorated by it, not tired.”

Twitter: @JaneCStevenson

Jane.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

 


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