By Todd Jackson
Ten years ago, the Skydiggers began to perform at a time when strange things were happening to the Canadian music scene. From the ashes of Glass Tiger and Honeymoon Suite came a few bands which developed into a full blown, though elusive, musical tradition–elusive, because they are not bands which have always garnered a lot of airplay from MuchMusic or otherwise. Consider the likes of the Rheostatics, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies and Skydiggers.
"We’re all definitely coming from the same direction," said Josh Finlayson when asked whether they feel they belong to this group after their afternoon concert on Sept. 17, in the Blue Banana.
He described a kind of Canadian musical colony–a bastion of smart pop musicians. In fact, he thinks of the other bands as close friends and not mere musical colleagues. According to Andy Maize some of them get together for a weekly Monday night hockey game. Unfortunately, visions of the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downey facing off against the members of Skydiggers were dashed. Maize explained that Downey, a big Ken Dryden fan, plays net.
As for the musical connection between the bands, Finlayson suggested that this has something to do with an emotional commitment to the music.
He compares it to a Van Gogh exhibit he attended in Amsterdam; for Finlayson, the work had an honesty, a visceral emotional intensity he tries to achieve in Skydiggers’ music. The goal is to write something timeless–something which has a mood or spirit, that captures the imagination of the audience. This musical integrity was evident in the afternoon concert. With Maize on vocals and Finlayson on acoustic guitar, each song was delivered with the force and clarity that strikes when a song is played meaningfully.
"We write good pop songs without conforming to a particular category or genre," said Maize. This frees their writing from the pretense of mere style and results in sincere, potent songs.
They draw their inspiration from the American folk tradition, bluegrass and rock and roll but aren’t caged in by any particular form.
Finlayson added that the Skydiggers and their peers stand apart because they realize the importance of story telling. "November in Ontario" from their latest recording, Desmond’s Hip City, illustrates this penchant for spinning a good yarn. In the song, Finlayson recounts the tale of his wife’s great uncle who, along with three others, drowned in a cold lake in Ontario. He knowingly tapped into a rich Canadian mythology concerning water tragedies–a tradition held up with the likes of Lightfoot’s, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and the Hip’s "Nautical Disaster."
Maize and Finlayson are both looking forward to getting back into the studio this coming November. Their new album should be out early in the new year.