Formed in Toronto in the mid 1980s, roots-rockers The Skydiggers emerged from the city’s music scene at the same time as Cowboy Junkies and Blue Rodeo.
The group is celebrating their 20th anniversary with a retrospective CD entitled The Truth About Us; an impressive 22 track compilation heavy on memorable melodies that will leave the listener wondering why the band haven’t yet achieved massive success akin to that of Blue Rodeo.
Founding member Josh Finlayson notes the disc does indeed mark a milestone in the band’s career:
“It was nice to participate in the ceremony of going through our catalogue. I’m not usually one who likes going through the past but looking back on your work, you can gauge where you are at as a songwriter at that specific time. One of the most interesting aspects of this record for me was having the chance to choose songs that we felt were real benchmarks in our career as opposed to including only ‘hits.'”
With the modest success that has come The Skydiggers way in the past, the group has entertained a somewhat revolving door of musicians backing Finalyson and vocalist Andy Maize.
“Andy and I often play as a duo but the premise of doing this retrospective was the 20 year benchmark we had reached; the band hasn’t always been a full-time band though.”
This has allowed Finlayson to pursue other opportunities outside of the band including record production (Finlayson produced the latest record from Moncton band The Divorcees) as well as performing on records by Gord Downie, Mary Gauthier and Tom Wilson from Junkhouse.
Nobody says that the music business is an easy life though. Throughout The Skydiggers’ career, the band has lived through no fewer than three record deals with three separate labels.
“Our first record was on Enigma which ended up going out business,” Finlayson says. “Out of those ashes came FRE and long story short, they didn’t have the funding in place to sustain their operations.”
The band released three records on FRE before signing to Warner Music for their fourth record (1997’s Road Radio) which is the only title in their discography to be issued on a major label.
“When we signed to Warner Brothers, we were under the naïve impression that they were going to partner with us, when in fact they weren’t. It really was a one-sided relationship.”
The group has been independent since Road Radio, and according to Finlayson, being independent has its pros and cons.
“There is a two-sided reality to being independent. Even in today’s day and age, having a record deal doesn’t give you a huge advantage but there are definitely some pluses. Having the money and resources to promote what you’re doing is sort of a key to success,” he said.
“But the reality is that there are so many bands competing for consumer’s dollars. Even for a band like us who have sold respectable amount of records, our challenge right now is figuring out how we reconnect with our fans,” he admits. “It’s hard to rise above the din of the other music that’s out there when you’re an independent band.
“One great aspect about being independent is that you have the freedom to do what you want, when you want not to mention you own everything at the end of the day. After our experience with Warner, we realized our autonomy was more important to the band then an association with a record label.”
Finlayson is hopeful that they will be successful at reconnecting with those fans that enjoyed the group during the course of their career but that there are a couple of different factors that they have had to consider:
“I think the retrospective is a good start,” Finlayson says. “We’re lucky that we put in a lot of hard work and we’ve always had a loyal fan base.
“I don’t think anyone is denying that rebuilding the band is going to take some work and some patience. The days of us starting our shows at midnight are done; our fans have jobs, kids and lives that it wouldn’t be conducive for us to go out and play a bunch of bar shows.
“We have to find the right venues to play in each city that will entice those people to come out to see us. That is the challenge we’re faced with and what we have to figure out.
“But it’s something we are looking forward to.”
The Skydiggers first career retrospective The Truth About Us is available for purchase in stores and online through most major retailers such as iTunes and Amazon.