From the first few chords of “Warmth of the Sun,” it’s utterly clear that the Skydiggers are not only not resting on past laurels, but they are fired up with an urgency and energy to speak their truth. The album, just out today, is a taut, passionate exploration of honesty, communication, and the need to make things right – globally, locally, personally.
Listening to the title track this morning is more than a little poignant, given that it was inspired by Gord Downie’s “Secret Path.” The Skydiggers, though, call us to action, not just recollection, with this powerful song. Several songs on the project focus on communication in relationships – “Push Comes to Shove” and “An Apology” are eloquent pleas to be open rather than closed. The voice of Andy Maize, who takes most of the lead vocals on the album, is a wonder here – by turns plaintive, angry, disquieted, soothing. Jessy Bell Smith also delivers a gorgeous vocal on “Show Me the Night,” a gently rolling tune cowritten by Josh Finlayson, Tom Wilson, Thompson Wilson, and Stephen Fearing.
In addition to ten original songs, the album also includes two covers: “The Rock” (Tragically Hip) and “The Air That I Breathe” (The Hollies, among others). Both are wonderfully fresh readings of what will likely be familiar songs to their audience. “The Air That I Breathe” in particular provides a fitting closer to the album – a sweetly rocking ode to love, and a reminder that at the end of the day, love does win.
As much as I’ve enjoyed recent projects from the Skydiggers such as their Gene Clark covers and “She Comes Into the Room” (a collection of older Skydiggers songs sung by female guest singers), this album is a vibrant and energetic addition to their catalogue and one that I’ve been enjoying immensely. Not only is the musicianship on the project superb, but the message they bring is so crucially important in our day and age – so let this fantastic album encourage you to listen to others, to reconcile the wrongs committed on our collective behalf, and to find fresh ways to communicate honestly with others. And – bonus – you get to rock out while doing so.
We’re so thrilled that Skydiggers guitarist Josh Finlayson took the time to answer a few questions about the album.
You’ve said that the title track was inspired by Gord Downie’s “Secret Path.” In the last year, First Nations and indigenous issues have had a higher profile, at least in the musical conversation. How would you hope that your song contributes to that conversation and process?
From my own perspective it’s an understanding that my (our) ignorance is no longer acceptable. How does one heal? Ask for forgiveness. Forgive? That’s what i was attempting to address. I think as a country, we have an opportunity to show the world how to right a wrong going forward. Particularly with future generations. The world could certainly use some of that now.
Gord sent me a finished mix of “Secret Path” in 2013 after he recorded it. We had talked about Chanie Wenjack’s tragic story and the residential schools. I had been aware of the residential schools but, not the extent of their impact. The story of Chanie, combined with Gord’s prognosis, Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel and subsequent video, provided an opportunity to leverage it into an unprecedented place in the consciousness of Canadians. Gord was well aware of that.
It is incredibly powerful. And inspiring.
I’m sure no one will be surprised at the inclusion of a Hip song on this project, but can you talk a little about why you chose this specific song (“The Rock”)?
We were asked to record a Hip song for a CBC 30 year celebration of the band. I recorded and toured with Gord on his solo records and in the last number of years the 2 of us would do shows together. This was a song we often did as a duo. Andy and I had just recorded a Skydiggers record of Gene Clark songs (Here Without You) which was mostly acoustic and i played baritone ukulele on several tunes. That was our approach with “The Rock.” Andy really connected with the song and sang it great. Jessy sang a harmony that is haunting and beautiful. It just felt right to include it.
I was fortunate enough to be at Budweiser Stage in August for your terrific performance there. At least where we were sitting, all of the audience were hugely engaged during your set, knew the words to almost all of your songs, etc. What was that experience like for you all, and how is it to have such audiences who have clearly followed your work for years?
Thank you. What a night. Lots of family and friends to enjoy. An incredible gathering of fans. Music is the best medicine going. For all concerned. What’s not to be grateful about.
In the press materials, Andy mentions the common threads through the songs of reaching out, being honest, and making connections. What I also hear throughout is the topic of communicating – when it’s easy, when it’s difficult, when it’s too late. Even in this age of instantaneous communication, we still struggle with actually talking… how can we learn to do better, do you think?
A considered response is often better than an instantaneous response. I think taking the time to reflect and to be mindful of the distraction that technology has provided us in this day and age would be helpful. I also think its just a constant pursuit. In any generation. Relationships change. People change. Accepting that is part of communicating.
“An Apology” comes from early in the band’s life – what told you that this was the right time to put it on an album?
I think it was a tune we were trying to turn into something it wasn’t when we initially recorded it. Which would have been around the time of Restless (1991).
The growing pains of learning how to record and be a band. Don’t put a saddle on a pig. At the time we were doing a lot of touring. The band had evolved into using more of an electric sound and we were interested in representing that side of what we were doing.
I’m constantly asked why I love Canadian music so passionately. I think it’s fair to say that the Skydiggers have played a significant role in the growth of Canada’s music scene over the last decades – to you, what sets Canadian music apart? What makes it so special?
Maybe perspective. We have a unique place to view the world. There’s some distance and space. I also think that in the generation of musicians and bands the Skydiggers came from the audience and artists were ready for a voice and identity of their own. Much Music provided a national outlet through videos for artists. As did CBC on both a local and National level. In combination with Canadian content rules it helped foster this generation of musicians. Venues began opening in cities and towns across the country. Within the country this provided an opportunity to share that experience. And for songwriters to write about the experience.
What are you looking forward to the most in bringing these songs to live audiences over the next few months?
Performing is still the best way to connect with people. We are grateful to share that experience and look forward to playing some new songs from “Warmth of the Sun” and tunes from our catalogue. There is so much to choose from.
The band is sounding better than it ever has.
Photo credit: Heather Pollock