Sadies – Brothers in all things Good
Precious Moments is the title of the Sadies’ debut album, and up to this point, precious moments are all the four busy members of the Toronto group have been able to devote to this band. It’s a situation guitarist-singer Dallas Good expects will soon change. With the new Steve Albini-produced album out on Bloodshot Records, the band member will put their outside projects on hiatus and hope the Sadies will become, if not a full-time job, at least a more common cause.
“The Sadies were always circumstantially on the back burner,” the sleepy but gracious guitarist says between cigarettes and sips from a bathtub-sized latte at a cafe in his Toronto neighborhood. “But there’s obvious benefits to playing with lots of different people. The fact that every time you play a show, you learn so much from interacting with other people. You get better fast. But what if the Sadies had been doing three practices together a week? I think it would definitely change the band. I don’t know for better or worse.”
When a musicologist plots the Sadies’ family tree on some distant day, what a gnarly, many-limbed thing it will be. Drummer Mike Belitsky holds down parallel duties in the New York band the Vees (composed of former members of Sub Pop signing Jale), and is a touring member of the Pernice Brothers. Upright bassist Sean Dean’s pedigree includes time with Phleg Camp and Atomic Seven. Dallas Good carries shadow membership in the new-wave instrumental combo Phono-Comb and has toured with Jad Fair’s Half Japanese and fellow Bloodshot artist Neko Case. Big brother Travis Good’s roots as a guitarist and fiddler reach across a generation to the Good Brothers, their father Bruce’s family band.
For years, the Goods dominated the Canadian roots music scene. The clan won an unprecedented eight consecutive Junos for best country band (197784). Travis’ picking style was honed by years of touring across Canada and Europe with his father and uncles. Dallas, too, has done time on tour with dad.
Raised on country but weaned on punk, the Sadies play a tough amalgam of moody, guitar-driven instrumentals that tread the line somewhere between Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundscapes and Dick Dale’s surf turf. When Dallas and Travis do step up to the mike to harmonize on revved-up trad nuggets such as “Pretty Polly” or the Stanley Brothers’ “Glass Of Wine”, or on “Make Your Bed”, their morbid, vinyl-only Bloodshot single with Neko Case, the effect is singularly chilling. Dallas calls them “killing songs.” Although he grew up around country music, he rejected it. But a taste for relentlessly bleak music brought him back to the music of his childhood.
“The focal point for me has always been really raw stuff — rock and roll, R&B, punk rock,” he says. “There’s not much of a line between those categories and country & western. The difference is often the drawl. Bakersfield and Texas country, that stuff is as tough as you get,” says Dallas. “What has impressed me is the darker stuff. When I call it darker, I mean songs I consider sad, in a minor key. It conjures up sadder imagery. That has gotten us into killing songs.”
Tragedy and mayhem is a theme in plenty of early folk, bluegrass and blues music — just about any style popular with people who lived a harsh, rural life. “This style, this theme has always been in there, in all the tough styles of music,” Dallas concurs. “How it relates to me may seem complicated, being a city dweller and in general totally pacifistic. But I’m drawn to it more for the images it conjures up.”
Onstage at their recent record-release gig at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern, the Sadies conjured up music that drew much of its character from the chemistry between the two brothers. Travis’ bluegrass style elbowed up against Dallas’ rockier leanings like Doc Watson dueling with Link Wray. The brothers, who are five years apart in age, have a complex relationship.
“When Travis and I fight, it’s for a good reason. Or at least we think so,” says Dallas. “There’s a lot of what I love about working with Travis that comes from the tension involved with working with your brother. We have no formality with each other.”
To deflate some of that tension, the members enforce a strict fine system onstage. Screw up a solo or violate the band’s suits-only dress code, and you pay five bucks a shot. “It’s half in jest and half we should get our shit together,” he chuckles.
With more time to get the Sadies’ shit together, he wonders how it will effect the band. Maybe they’ll get into scoring films. Maybe they’ll follow up on Precious Moments’ most unlikely track, “Wraparound”, a Velvets-like ode to New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur.
But despite talk of the Sadies taking center stage now, Dallas says he still wants to make room for one more outside project. This summer, he’ll round up Travis, his father, his uncles and his singing cousin Darcy for a one-off bluegrass performance in Toronto. “To pursue all straight bluegrass is kind of the antithesis of the Sadies,” he says. “But with the brothers, it is going to be totally different.
“For one thing, I am going to be saying: ‘Kick it, dad!’