The Sadies – Tales from the cryptic
Probably because he knows it’s true, Dallas Good doesn’t get offended at the suggestion that he’s a slippery character. In fact, the lanky singer-guitarist and co-founder of Toronto genre-benders the Sadies will happily acknowledge he has a habit of giving deliberately cryptic answers to seemingly simple questions.
It’s this quirk that sets him apart from his bandmates. Ask his fellow Sadies — singer-guitarist Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean, and drummer Mike Belitsky — for a laundry list of their major influences, and they’ll dutifully comply. Make the same request of Dallas, and he’ll launch into a philosophical discourse that covers everything from the brilliance of Texas acid-casualties the 13th Floor Elevators to his undying love for glam-spackled queens of noise the Runaways. But then, just as he’s getting going on the revolutionary importance of four glue-sniffin’ pinheads called the Ramones, he’ll suddenly stop short on the basis that such details aren’t really relevant to what he’s doing with the Sadies.
“That’s not part of our history, and certainly not where I’d like to go with this story,” Dallas says gently, his nicotine-cured baritone suggesting he’s on a first-name basis with the Marlboro Man. “What I would hate to do to the other members of the Sadies is suggest that this one particular band has steered me down this path. All it did is steer me away from things that I’ve learned to despise.”
There is an argument to be made that the Ramones are as much a part of the Sadies’ DNA as Gram Parsons, Dick Dale, Ennio Morricone, the Gun Club, Paul Perkins, and the psychedelic protopunks that made Roky Erickson a legend. But it’s better to pick one’s battles with Dallas, because once you get to the big questions, the evasiveness really begins. For example, even though he’ll allow that the Bible has been a frequent source of lyrical inspiration during his decade-long run with the Sadies, seeking an answer as to what the good book means to him goes nowhere.
“I never said I read it,” he says with a big laugh. “But I’m not downplaying its importance in society. I don’t know what to say beyond that.”
Where Dallas does his best not to respond is when he’s pressed for even the most basic of insights into the Sadies’ songs. Take, for example, “The Trial” off the band’s new album New Seasons (released October 2 on Yep Roc). Over dream-fever acoustic guitars and soft-gallop drums, Dallas solemnly intones, “I wish that I could be the way I once was/But God’s got other plans for me.” Considering the Sadies now live out of a suitcase somewhere around 51 weeks a year — both as a headliner and as a band-for-hire to road warriors ranging from Neko Case to Andre Williams — one might wonder whether the motels and endless stretches of highway sometimes get to be too much. If being resigned to a particular fate is what he’s aiming to get across, though, Dallas isn’t saying.
“Nothing is intended,” he offers carefully. “I want to leave things up to the listener as much as possible. What’s clear to me is irrelevant.”
What’s obvious is that the 34-year-old musician knows exactly how he comes across when a tape recorder is rolling.
“I’m not trying to avoid anything — I’m being very truthful with my answers,” he pleads, following with a wry laugh. “But I realize that I am being slippery, because I’m trying not to say too much.”
What he will reveal with a little prodding is that, ironically, he and his fellow Sadies have never had more to say than they do at this point in the band’s history.
“Depending on who’s counting, this is our tenth record as the Sadies,” he says. “We’ve learned a lot over the years and I don’t feel that we’ve worn out our welcome or expired creatively. I’m much more excited about the future of the Sadies than I’ve ever been before.”
Of all the labels that have been stuck on the Sadies, overnight success isn’t one of them. Eleven years after the band’s first gig, things haven’t changed much at first glance. The Sadies are no closer to trading in the cramped Econoline van for Keith Urban’s tour bus than they were in 1998, the year they released their debut disc Precious Moments on Bloodshot Records. They’ve never left the indie trenches, and they’ve played the same clubs for so long they’re on a first-name basis with many of the bartenders. None of which seems to bother Dallas’ brother Travis one bit.
“Luckily we started really slow, so we’re rarely disappointed,” says the 39-year-old singer-guitarist, who comes across as a moderately more caffeinated version of his sibling. “I can’t think of a time when we’ve really taken a step back. That’s more satisfying than starting up really high, taking a couple of steps down the ladder, and then having to work your way back up. I’d rather be continuing to learn and getting better as a guitar player and a singer, so I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere. And we’ve always all said, ‘We’ll just keep going as long as it’s getting better.'”
Looking back on their early records, the band was fixated on reverb-drenched instrumentals that rarely topped the two-minute mark. By 2001’s subgenre-jumping Tremendous Efforts, it was obvious the Sadies had become as interested in singing as they were sounding like an Americana-badlands version of Dick Dale.
“We started writing lyrics without very much confidence in the early days,” Dallas says. “As I looked around and saw it’s not really a competitive field, I found it was something that I really enjoyed and gravitated toward.”
The thirteen-track New Seasons definitely supports that contention, with the Sadies veering into instrumental territory just three times. The rest of the album finds them eerily adept at everything from discordant swamp-punk blues (“The First Inquisition [Part 4]”) to desert-baked psychedelia (“Yours To Discover”) to dusty jangle-pop (“Never Again”). The haunting “Anna Leigh” does death-party country every bit as beautifully as the Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce, while even the Everly Brothers would be impressed by the harmonies on the Laurel Canyonesque soft ballad “Sunset To Dawn”.
If New Seasons is light-years removed from where the Sadies were on their instrumental-heavy early offerings, it’s a full world away from where the band started. “The Sadies formed probably in about ’95 very loosely, and I think our first show was in October of ’96,” Dallas notes. “It was very much a punk rock band at the time — just myself and the bass player [Sean Dean] and a drummer named Ted Robinson.”
In the spirit of the bands that made CBGB famous, they christened themselves the Sadies. “Dallas and I were both trying to think what to call ourselves,” remembers Dean, “and I thought, ‘Let’s call us Sadie,’ because I liked the name Sadie. I also thought that it sounded weird and new-wave having a male band represented by a female name. That seemed kind of punk rock, and we definitely started out that way — I played electric bass and we were hard, fast loud, and furious. Later on, Dallas suggested adding the “the” and we became the Sadies.”