Few bands in Canadian music have a resume of collaborations as extensive as Toronto's The Sadies, and this past week they added author Margaret Atwood to the list.
"We had a slot of our own scheduled on CBC's Q that got moved by a day because Margaret Atwood was going to be in, and they wanted to know if we would collaborate with her," says Sadies drummer Mike Belitsky. "We couldn't turn down the opportunity to work with such a great writer and a Canadian icon."
The recording, which aired Wednesday, put her words and vocals---yes, she sings---to the band's country-driven sound. Belitsky, calling from on the road to Toronto where the band is catching a couple days' rest before heading to Maritimes, says Atwood took to it quickly: a couple of rehearsals and she nailed the track in one or two takes.
The band had an equally easygoing recording experience recently with another Canadian legend: Neil Young. They collaborated on a cover of The Band's "This Wheel's on Fire" for a forthcoming tribute compilation being curated by Garth Hudson. (The Sadies also recorded a song with Mary Margaret O'Hara for the project.)
"I'm just so thrilled to have been able to do it," says Belitsky. Young "was great to work with---totally mellow, nice guy. We went through it a couple of times, tape rolling and that was it...he knows what sound he wants and he gets it."
Of course, it's The Sadies' own material that brings their legendary live show to both Halifax's Paragon and Sackville's SappyFest this weekend. The band is touring behind the dark, apocalyptic Darker Circles, recently shortlisted for the 2010 Polaris Prize.
"It's such a great contest, so to be nominated and shortlisted is a real honour. It's not genre-specific, so those are 10 of the critics' favourite records---not just a song, or even a country song, but the favourite records of the whole year. So that's really a big honour for us and we all take it really seriously---and hope we win!" he adds with a laugh.
Once again, The Sadies worked Jayhawks member Gary Louris on Circles, who, as producer, has helped foster the band's evolution towards a song-centric approach from their earlier, often instrumental work. His commitment to quality can be heard on the record, undoubtedly one of the band's best.
"He's got a great ear, a great talent for songwriting and for singing and arrangement...he doesn't let us get away with something that is just OK. He really pushes us to get the best performance, whether it's a drum take, a vocal take, a guitar solo or even a tambourine part."
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