Skydiggers still pushing the envelope

As people get older, there is a tendency to settle into old, familiar routines. In the case of Toronto roots-rock band The Skydiggers however, the group has thrown the playbook out of the window, 20-plus years into their existance.

This past April, the group released Northern Shore, their 12th album and the follow-up to their 2009 retrospective The Truth About Us. Northern Shore finds TheSkydiggers expanding upon their sound in new and unexpected ways. And yet for all of the branching out that the band has done with their sound, many of the songs on Northern Shore including Falling With The Stars are certain to resonate with listeners much like the group’s prior hits I Will Give You Everything and You’ve Got A Lot Of Nerve have done.

In an intimate performance, The Skydiggers will take the stage at Moncton’s Plan B Lounge (212 St. George Street), on Thursday night. Their special guests for the evening are Moncton honky-tonkers The Divorcees.

Speaking by phone from his Toronto-area home, Skydiggers co-founder Josh Finlayson says that the making of Northern Shore allowed the band to free themselves of any perceived restrictions on their sound.

“As a band, I think you like to think that you’re taking a lot of risks with your sound but the truth is, you are never as close to being a risk-taker as you might think you are sometimes,” he laughs. “Over the course of the past 20-plus years, we have learned that when it comes to making records, there is more than one way to skin a cat. There is any number of ways you can go about writing songs. The final verdict is whether or not you have served the song at the end of the day.”

Finlayson says that he and vocalist Andy Maize began putting the songs for Northern Shore together at home, laying down the basic bed tracks of vocals and guitar. Then, the rest of the band was brought in to build on that groundwork.

Running the gamut of simplistic songs like Liar Liar to the more edgy moments of Fire Engine, Northern Shore is the sound of a band not afraid to take chances. And after all, why shouldn’t they?

The Skydiggers extensive catalogue of music stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the best. The group has toured relentlessly over the past two decades, earning the respect and unwavering friendship of Canadian heavyweights Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies and The Tragically Hip in the process. Perspective is something that Finlayson admits that he and his bandmates have not lost although he admits that their 2009 retrospective was indeed a turning point of even greater appreciation.

“That retrospective album gave us such a huge appreciation for the community that we are a part of here in Toronto and in Canada in general,” he says. “We’ve recorded in the studios of Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip. It is the Cowboy Junkies record label (Latent) that we are signed to.

“Releasing the retrospective really helped us appreciate things that we had perhaps taken for granted, to an extent, in the past. That was a big part of the thought behind compiling the first two decades of our work, to help us realize that we had created music that had made a connection with not only our friends but our fans, as well. It was The Skydiggers acknowledging and recognizing the community that has embraced us and that we have been a part of.”

The Skydiggers’ performance show in Moncton this week is one of six shows they will play in the Maritimes. The last time that The Skydiggers performed in Moncton towards the end of 2009, it was an acoustic show featuring only a few members of the group. Finlayson says that while doing acoustic shows is fun, he is rather excited about the entire band make the journey to the East Coast.

“We have always loved coming to the Maritimes and coming out with a full band is a nice little treat for us. We haven’t been out as a full band in years so we are pretty excited for this run of shows.”

Of course, one big benefit of having played music as long as The Skydiggers is the fact that they have the clout to call a lot of the shots pertaining to the venues where they perform, as well as what time of day they play. While some bands are forced to contend with bars that want live music until closing, Finlayson says it is a tremendous benefit to the band to have some say into how their shows run.

“In some cases, it has been hard to find venues in some cities that meet the criteria we need to put on a show and connect with people,” Finlayson says. “We are not interested in playing super late in the evening as a big part of our audience has to get up and go to work the next day. The venues we choose to perform in becomes a key part of a successful tour because you want to make sure that people are comfortable and leave the show feeling as though they were welcomed. We are more than 20 years into our career and made a significant investment into our songs and the band. It is important to honour that and make people feel as though they are not only getting their money’s worth but that they are also making that connection to the songs and to the band.”

Article published in June 20, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript