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Compassion, honesty and Warmth

Skydiggers kicking off tour with a stop in Winnipeg

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/11/2017 (939 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When veteran Toronto roots-rockers the Skydiggers sat down to work on their new album, Warmth of the Sun, it wasn’t a specific theme or idea they were hoping to convey, but rather a specific approach they wanted to take.

Founding members Andy Maize and guitarist Josh Finlayson wanted to take advantage of the road-honed skills of their four-piece band by recording much of the album live-off-the-floor, often with live vocals by Maize as well.

Heather Pollock Photo</p><p>The Skydiggers’s current touring lineup of Andy Maize (from left), Noel Webb, Josh Finlayson, Jessy Bell Smith and Derrick Brady will play the West End Cultural Centre Nov. 15.</p>

Heather Pollock Photo

The Skydiggers’s current touring lineup of Andy Maize (from left), Noel Webb, Josh Finlayson, Jessy Bell Smith and Derrick Brady will play the West End Cultural Centre Nov. 15.

"We’d been playing with Derrick Brady and Noel Webb and Jessy Bell Smith and Aaron Comeau now for the last little while and they’re all terrific musicians and we really wanted to capture that on the recording, the energy of the live band," Maize explains.

Warmth of the Sun feels very much like a classic Skydiggers release, but the live vibe does add a certain level of immediacy and intimacy, making for a charming, rough-around-the-edges listening experience. As the title suggests, there is a warmth to the sparse, vocal-driven tracks, with Maize’s particular brand of folky rasp often front and centre.

And even though there wasn’t an intentional thematic through line, among the 12 songs there is a warmth, there, too — Maize explains when the band looked back at the track list, the ideas of compassion, honesty and healing seemed to be repeated throughout.

"Often when you get to the end of the process and you look back on what songs ended up on the record, you see that there are sometimes things that connect the songs; in this case, with the world that’s swirling around us, we wanted to encourage compassion and dealing with the truth and what that means," he says.

Included on Warmth of the Sun is a tear-worthy cover of the Tragically Hip’s The Depression Suite (also known as The Rock, as it is on this album); Maize’s voice hovers delicately over a quiet acoustic guitar line, braced only by the subtle backing vocals of Bell Smith — a slow but stunning take on the emotional Hip song.

"George Stroumboulopoulos did a 30th anniversary Tragically Hip show (on his weekly CBC Radio 2 program) and we were asked to participate in that and that was a song that Josh picked," says Maize, who is, coincidentally, nearing the 30-year mark in his musical partnership with Finlayson.

"We were playing it and it just felt... sometimes songs, you feel like, not that you make them your own, but that you can somehow inhabit those songs, you can live inside them, it’s not just like singing karaoke — and that song definitely had that connection. We love the Tragically Hip and (singer/songwriter Gord Downie, who died from brain cancer last month) and Josh has worked on almost all of Gord’s solo records, so, you know, there’s a great connection."

One other cover can be found on Warmth of the Sun — the album ends with The Air That I Breathe, made famous by the Hollies in 1974. Maize says the band recorded the track more than 18 months ago, but just couldn’t find the right place to put it.

"It just kept hanging around. We ended up really liking the version that we did and it’s just such a beautiful song... often songs just force their way onto records and it seemed like a nice way to send people off," Maize says, adding the placement of the track was the suggestion of producer Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies.

The band is kicking off its fall tour in support of the new album in Winnipeg Nov. 15, at the West End Cultural Centre.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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