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Skydiggers' latest reflects band's 23-year career arc

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The entire history of the Skydiggers is captured on its new album.

The veteran Toronto roots-rock band worked with former bandmate and founding member Peter Cash on a song, recorded two of his brother's -- singer-songwriter/Member of Parliament Andrew Cash -- and finally laid down a track Josh Finlayson and Andy Maize wrote together in prior to forming the band in 1989.

"A big part of what we were thinking with this record was we were celebrating the community we've been a part of and connected with all these years," Finlayson says over the phone from his Toronto home, prior to hitting the road for a tour of Manitoba and Saskatchewan that stops at the West End Cultural Centre Saturday (tickets are $23.50 at Ticketmaster).

The band is supporting Northern Shore, its first new album in four years and first release since the 2009 look back, The Truth About Us: A Twenty Year Retrospective.

While compiling the greatest-hits collection, the band members discovered a trove of recorded material that was never used, since the band was constantly recording whenever new material was written.

"We often would go in and record while we were touring or do batches of recordings," Finlayson says. "We wanted to document stuff on a regular basis as opposed to sitting down and saying, 'Let's make a record.' We got the best results just documenting it at the time. As a band we were catching it at its rawest and most vulnerable, and it was new so everyone was involved and into it.

"Sometimes if you can document it at that stage, it's often a hard thing to replicate again."

Because of its erratic recording schedule, Northern Shores is the first time in years the band used a producer. Over the course of a year, Saam Hashemi worked with the band at three locations: Finlayson's home studio, Blue Rodeo's studio in Toronto and the Tragically Hip's studio outside of Kingston, Ont.

One of the songs they recorded was Liar Liar, written when Finlayson and Maize were an acoustic duo before the Skydiggers was formed.

There were attempts over the years to lay down the track, but until now they'd never been able to capture it, Finlayson says.

This time he and Maize recorded the song alone, then added the band.

"That song was arranged in the opposite way, with the drums and instrumentation added later, giving credence to the theory there's no right or wrong in the theory of recording. The result is serving the song, or it isn't," he says.

With so many years behind them and so much unused material, Northern Shores also comes as a deluxe four-disc, 45-track version, with the band's first demos recorded in 1988, unreleased recordings with Peter Cash just before he left the band in 1996 and additional material recorded for Northern Shore.

"It's a bit of a career arc," Finlayson says.

Liar Liar isn't the only older song on the new album. One of the Andrew Cash songs, You've Been Gone So Long, was recorded by the band in 1995 but not used because they didn't feel they did justice to it at the time, while the other was off his third solo album.

"They were just songs we were drawn too. We didn't record them with Andrew -- he was involved with his campaign at the time; his life was too consumed," Finlayson says about the songwriter, who was elected as an NDP MP in the Davenport electoral district in Toronto last year.

Another Cash brother -- Winnipeg Free Press reporter Martin Cash -- also figures in a Skydiggers story. Finlayson distinctly recalls Martin hanging out with Sarah Harmer (then of Weeping Tile) when the floor of the West End Cultural Centre collapsed when one of the floor joists cracked at a 1995 Skydiggers show that has become part of Winnipeg concert lore.

"In hindsight, I'm just thankful it wasn't the lead story by Peter Mansbridge on The National: 'Floor collapses and band crushed to death,'" Finlayson says with a laugh.

"It was quite scary. It could have been a total disaster. It was a bad scene, but now it's one of those stories and I hear it whenever I go back -- there were 20,000 people who said they were there.

"It is the classic rock SSRqn' roll fable."

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2012 E7

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