Interview: The Sadies’ Travis Good on the worst year of his life and their best album

Credit: Chris Colcha

Dallas is still influencing The Sadies and touring is part of the healing process.

Twenty-twenty-two should have been a career-high for The Sadies as after over twenty years together they had recorded their best album to date, ‘Colder Streams’. However, fate interceded and guitarist and singer Dallas Good died suddenly earlier this year, turning what should have been their best year into their absolute worst. The Sadies are a leading Canadian alt-country and americana band that successfully blends country, punk, surf, and garage rock to make their own unique sound. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with guitarist and singer Travis Good as he was leaving for The Sades’ latest tour to reflect on the significance of the loss of his brother Dallas, and how the pandemic and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry helped The Sadies record their best album, as confirmed by Dallas Good’s bio notes which said it was the best album recorded by anybody, ever. He shares the fact that The Sadies have always simply played the music they enjoy and have followed their instincts, rather than working towards a strategic master plan, and this flexible approach is what is helping them deal with the loss that the band has suffered. Travis Good also hints at the personal loss he feels at losing his brother and he admits he still feels his presence, and sometimes thinks he can see or hear his brother still giving him advice, and how the current tour will be part of his and the band’s healing process.

How are You?

I’m fine, as soon as I finish this, I’m hitting the road to Vancouver for some dates.

How is everyone coping with what must be one of the worst years ever for the band?

I know, I know, the worst year ever. But it will be nice to get out again with the band, and we’ve just done about nine shows around Ontario, and it went pretty well. It was pretty good, we had Casey & Clayton opening for us and they joined us for the set, and Gary Louris from the Jayhawks and Geg Keelor from Blue Rodeo all came and played with us, so it was nice. It was a big love in.

The critical consensus is that ‘Colder Streams’ is the best representation of The Sadies sound and songwriting, how does that make you feel?

It is the album I’m most proud of, that’s for sure, and that is not just because of the circumstances. We spent a lot of time on it, the whole of COVID time, the whole of lockdown time because it gave us something to do and concentrate on, so we were pretty focused on it.

What was Dallas’s view of the album, I read he wrote it was the best album recorded by anybody, ever, haha.

Yeah, that was a pretty funny bio he wrote, haha.

You may have had the luxury of COVID time to work on ‘Colder Streams’, but it is still an achievement to produce an album of that quality so far into the band’s career. What made it really work this time?

Montreal where we made it was on full lockdown, there was a curfew, a strict curfew, and we had to sneak around and stuff to get home from the studio. We had to cross a border to get into Quebec, we had to show paperwork saying we were essential workers and stuff. As a result, it was recorded differently because we were social distancing in the studio, and we would only go in in pairs and all four of us were never in the studio together. We would go two at a time which was pretty different, but it all worked out pretty well. It may have been new for us, but it did work out well.

All the songs are written by the band, including Mike Belitrsky and Sean Dean, how did you go about actually writing them?

It is always a mystery to me how the songwriting happens. We kind of go about it differently to most bands, I think because we usually just start recording whether we have the songs ready or not, and usually the last thing to be ready are the lyrics. We will get the songs down, and then come up with the lyrics and I know that is the opposite of what most people do.

It takes quite a bit of courage as well.

Yeah, you are committed to something when you do that, you are working on a song and it isn’t even a song yet, haha.

Particularly when you have to pay for the studio time.

Yeah, and we were paying for it, haha. It was great working with Richard Reed Parry from Arcade Fire, he was really, really helpful. He has been doing a lot of work with Dallas, they have been working for over ten years now, so they have a really good working relationship in the studio.

Your last album, 2017’s ‘Northern Passage’, was also seen as a career-high and that was produced by Dallas, what did Richard Reed Parry bring to the production of ‘Colder Streams’?

Just having Richard there was the difference, haha. It was his input, he has lots of ideas about arrangements, a lot of ideas about bass parts him being a bassist. We really spent a lot of time on every little bit with him, and it paid off, I think.

Your mum and dad get a small feature on the album, which was a very nice touch.

They show up on a lot of our records, they’ve been popping in on most of our records here and there, haha. It was nice, and John Spencer happened to be playing in Montreal one night and he came over and did a guitar part. Yeah, it was nice, and as I said, it was so important to have something productive to do during lockdown time. We were just dying to go out on the road, and it’s funny because we’ve been wanting to go on the road and now, I’m going in like ten minutes I’m really nervous, haha.

You need the nerves though, don’t you?

I guess, haha.

Your early years with the family band The Good Brothers are well documented, but how did you and Dallas build The Sadies sound with all the other influences you reference? On paper, you would be surprised if it worked, but it is a truly unique sound.

It is just everything we listen to. The punk rock, and when I joined the band twenty years ago it was pretty much all instrumental, 80% was instrumental like Morricone and stuff like that, surf music. Dallas was playing with a band called Phono-Comb with people from The Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the instrumental band from Toronto, and we were really into instrumental stuff. The sound happened itself, and I always thought it had something to do with our gear, our old amps, guitars, and stuff because again, I don’t know where it came from. We never had an agenda for what we wanted to do, we just loved country music and punk rock, and that’s what it sounded like when we played together. Now we have had twenty years to polish it up and refine it a bit, and you are just going to have your own sound, it just happens, haha. It gets to the point where other people compare other bands to you.

What’s the music scene like in Canada at the moment, is it coming back?

I will know next week when I travel across the country, at moment I don’t rightly know, haha. The Ontario shows were great, people came out. People want to get back at it, I think, and it is looking pretty good. It is still the great unknown, I’m just hoping everything goes smoothly and nobody gets sick, and not everyone stays home, haha.

When you played Ontario, how did you and the band cope without Dallas on stage with you?

It is lonely up there without Dallas, you know. It is really hard, but it was the easy choice because there was nothing else to do. We knew we had to do it, at least for this record to give it a real good push and a tour. I’ll be honest, it is really hard, but the audiences are really nice, and they are helping us out with a little bit of the singing. I think we will push on, it is looking like everything will be OK. It is never going to be the same and I’ve lost my superpower which is sibling harmonies. That is the one thing I thought I had, I thought there are a lot of guitar players who are better than me, but they don’t have their brother to sing with, the sibling harmonies is the thing, you know. That is really, really hard, but it is coming along, and we practiced a lot as a three-piece, and it was just a way of coping with Dallas dying. We started really soon after he died, just learning every song from the new records. It was really strange, I had to learn how to sing half harmony half melody sort of parts because we used to sing harmonies all the way through. It is hard but it is rewarding, it feels good to do it, and I think he would approve. It just feels like the right thing to do, for better or worse.

And from what you’ve said, you have always just done what is in the band’s heart, without too much over-analysing.

It is a corny cliché, but it is really healing. It is a powerful drug for healing.

Dallas will always be part of the music.

Always. I’m playing his pedals, and I hear him sometimes when we are playing. It is eerie, I hear him, and I see him, and I think so does the audience because people shout out for him. It is tough but it is rewarding, and it feels like the right thing to do. We are going to keep at it for a bit, and that is how we have always dealt with everything, going on tour made us feel better in the past, and hopefully, it does again.

And there is still an audience out there who want to see the band and listen to the songs.

That is a really great thing, if they want to come and listen then we will keep playing.

You are going out again, how do you keep calm, how do you control those nerves?

Haha, each show gets a little bit easier, I will tell you that. The first shows were a full anxiety attack, and things were really difficult, but every show gets a little bit easier, a little bit more comfortable, muscle memory kicks in and you don’t have to concentrate on everything. It took me a really long time just to work out how to use all of Dallas’s pedals, he had so many distortion, delay, and fuzz pedals, and I never used any pedals, ever, so I’ve been spending a lot of time just figuring them out. It is what it is, and it is OK.

Are there any plans to record any of the shows on this tour?

Nothing right now, we are doing one day at a time, and we are just trying to make a good show happen. I don’t know about recording anything right now but one day.  I would like to record with our friends on the road, maybe do some collaborating for a while and see how that goes. We want to take it easy, and right now it is just all about focusing on this tour. Hopefully, we will get over there to the UK soon.

Dallas will be missed in the UK as well.

As sad as the shows are, it is a real love-in, and it is kind of beautiful. They are really supportive, and they do show their love at the shows, it is amazing, and it makes it so much easier.

Probably the best memorial to Dallas is to keep going.

Yeah, it is, it is. And I get to talk to people on tour who knew Dallas, and I get to talk to people, and it feels good, you know. It is almost like a little traveling memorial show, every night is a bit of a wake. But it is good, it is all just on the path to healing, I think.

Is there anything you want to say to our UK Readers?

We hope to get over there sometime and we hope to just keep at it, and it is working so far.

And Dallas will still be keeping an eye on you when you are on stage.

I hope so. I hear him sometimes, and I was going to stop playing fiddle when he died and concentrate on guitar. Before a show we played, I hear his voice saying, “You’ve got to play the fiddle, people like the fiddle, so go ahead and play the fiddle”. He is still here, he still bosses me around a little bit, and he is still calling the shots.

 The Sadies ‘Colder Streams’ is out now on Yep Roc Records.

About Martin Johnson 387 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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