As far as alchemical transformations go, what Gord Downie and the Sadies have accomplished with Gord Downie, the Sadies, and the Conquering Sun isn’t quite as startling as turning lead into gold. Yet it must take a certain kind of magic to make an album in fits and starts over a seven-year period and still have it come out sounding coherent and new.
That’s what the Tragically Hip singer and his part-time bandmates have managed with their first full-length collaboration, studiously crafted to sound like it’s the result of a single burst of flaming inspiration.
“That’s always the goal—to make it seem as if it’s just occurring to you,” says Downie in a phone interview from Victoria, where he and the Sadies are “gloriously miscast between Current Swell and the Cult” as part of nearby Colwood’s Rock the Shores festival.
“I think the recording industry is founded on that principle: to approximate the live experience, to approximate that thing that evaporates as it’s happening, disappears as it’s happening,” he continues. “But all that said, there’s no amount of design that could accomplish that. We didn’t pore over it; we didn’t agonize over it. We’d just get together catch-as-catch-can and move the songs forward a little bit and not get too compelled by good or bad or pass or fail or any other kind of judgment. And then seven or eight years later we had this thing, and we pretty much had to release it.”
Downie claims to be somewhat sorry that the record has seen the light of day. “I kind of love walking around with something nobody else knows about in my back pocket,” he explains.
Sadies guitarist Dallas Good has no such concerns, however. “This was just one of those dares. You know, ‘We should get together and work out stuff,’ ” he tells the Straight, just before flying to Victoria from Calgary. “The way I remember it is that we agreed to start writing and come up with a song or two to see how it worked. And if everyone liked it, we’d make a second song and go on from there.
“It ended up taking seven years,” he adds, “but I think everybody’s happy.”
They should be. Gord Downie, the Sadies, and the Conquering Sun is a great, galloping rock ’n’ roll record, with the band setting aside the psychedelic filigree of its recent Internal Sounds, and the singer sounding liberated from the confines of his number one unit. Even more remarkable is the fact that the band’s performances are getting looser and more exploratory, rather than more polished, over time.
“The shows are taking on a life of their own—and they’re pretty incendiary, actually,” Downie says. “We’re really enjoying ourselves. I mean, I do feel more like a sideman in this group. My ultimate goal is to be in my housecoat at 4 p.m. with an empty martini glass, saying, ‘Which way to the microphone?’ And I’m sort of achieving that here. Not a lot of psychic energy is spent on meeting expectations. We’re playing songs that no one’s ever heard, and every show is kind of growing, to the extent that we really look forward to getting on-stage and making a glorious noise.”
Gord Downie and the Sadies play a free show at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Wednesday (July 16) and the Pemberton Music Festival on Thursday (July 17).