Asking guitarist Travis Good what The Sadies have been up to lately is like asking Bill Gates to count his money — you’ll run out of time before he finishes.
With The Sadies’ notoriously double-booked recording schedule and frenetic touring calendar, it’s obvious that they’ve likely had more irons than fire, and so it is. “We just finished a Country record with John Doe,” says Good, who leads the band with his brother Dallas. “There’s some original stuff and a couple of standards but it’s more like the B-sides of hits. And we wrote a song with Neko (Case) for her record coming up; me and Dallas put guitars on that up in Toronto recently.
“We’ve been working with Gordon Downie, the singer for The Tragically Hip — that’s not something we’re gonna start and finish, we’re just gonna chip away at slowly. And we’re doing a lot more U.S. dates, and we’re talking to (former Jayhawk) Gary Louris again about producing the next record.”
The Sadies (the guitaring Goods, upright bassist Sean Dean, drummer Mike Belitsky) famously love to collaborate within and beyond their own stylistic confines; as Good notes, their most oft-spoken line is “We should make a record sometime.”
In the past decade, the quartet has backed up Neko Case on her live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, and co-wrote with Case on her Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. They’ve collaborated with Soul shouter Andre Williams and the Mekons’ Jon Langford, among others. And the Goods’ Surf Rock instrumental side project Phonocomb has given way to the Unintended, a psychedelic combo with Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor.
“We’ve got to stay busy,” Good says. “We’re in a position where this is what we do for a living and all we do is music. As much as The Sadies tour, we find ourselves looking at the calendar saying, ‘Well, we can’t really go back home right now.’ So that’s when we do other stuff.”
One of the Sadies’ imminent projects is an all-Canadian tribute to The Band organized by their legendary keyboardist Garth Hudson, who guested on the Sadies’ 2006 live album, In Concert: Volume One. For the recording, Hudson plays keys with each contributor; so far, The Sadies have done a song on their own (“Shape I’m In”) and backed up Canadian chanteuse Mary Margaret O’Hara on another (“Out of the Blue”).
“And we talked to Mary Margaret and said, ‘We should make a record sometime,’ we really did,” Good says, laughing. “I’m not sure what’s next but we’ve thrown some bait out there.”
For the past decade, The Sadies have crafted a singular reputation for playing in the rickety Surf Rock roadhouse at the intersection of Americana Road and Bluegrass Pike, just off the Country Punk Highway. On their recent albums — 2004’s Favourite Colours and last year’s acclaimed and excellent New Seasons — the Toronto quartet has folded in elements of ’60s SoCal psychedelic Country and subtler shades of everything they already do well. Knowing that they were going in with Gary Louris behind the boards led them to bring partially completed songs to the New Seasons sessions.
“Given his strengths, which are singing and songwriting, we spent more time on the songs themselves,” Good says. “We came in on purpose with half-songs because we admire his writing. And we picked Spain to record because Gary had been working there a lot and also because if it all turned to shit, at least we’d have a nice vacation in Spain.”
Given the more ephemeral moments on The Sadies’ most recent albums, it seems logical enough to wonder how they translate to the band’s live performance. Good notes that it depends on the night, and the venue.
“It can be subtle and it can all be thrown to the wind, too,” Good says. “Sometimes it depends on the room, the PA and monitors. If it sounds distorted and muddy, then there’s a good chance we’re gonna plow hard through, like a Ramones-style set. If it sounds great … the more records we do, the subtlety is something we certainly have learned to do.” The audience plays a big part in a Sadies show as well. Although the band has a fair notion of what they’ll play when they walk out, they’re ready, willing and able to do pretty much anything in their catalog.
“We have a core set list, but we’re always trying to do requests,” Good says. “The last year, especially, it seems like we’ve got a plant in the audience. There’s always someone out there yelling for songs. And it makes it easier for us, when we’re stumbling for a song to pick. If someone keeps shouting for an obscure one, that’s gonna be the one.”
THE SADIES (thesadies.net) play the MidPoint Music Festival Friday at 10 p.m. at the Southgate House