Published May 09, 2013Canadian roots music fans have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Good Family Album, the debut album from the Good Family. It's no great exaggeration to call this new eight-member band a family supergroup, as it features all the members of the Sadies, Bruce and Larry Good of Canadian country veterans the Good Brothers, plus family matriarch Margaret Good (wife of Bruce, mother of Dallas and Travis of the Sadies) and her niece, D'Arcy Good (daughter of Brian, the one Good Brother not featured). Got that?
A long time in the making, The Good Family Album is out on Latent Recordings, the label owned by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies. He is credited with the mixing and Dallas Good with the production of the record, while other notable collaborators in the studio and on the writing of the album include Don Pyle (Shadowy Men), Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, and Daniel Romano. To get the perspective of both generations featured, we chatted separately with both father Bruce and son Dallas Good.
Pleased with the initial reaction to the album?
I really am. I haven't felt a buzz like this for a while on anything we've done, so this is very exciting for me. I kind of understand why, because it is quite different. You never know what to expect, one song from another, when you're listening to it. I'm really pleased.
Is this collaboration something you'd been thinking about for a while?
Yes, we really had. First of all, the Good Brothers did a tour in Europe almost 20 years ago. It was with the three brothers and Travis plus Dallas, who played bass. So there were five of us. That got me thinking how much I'd love to do something with my sons. Then Margaret and I did a tour with the boys through England, Scotland and Wales almost ten years ago. And that really got it going. That was close to the line-up as we see it today, except for the addition of D'Arcy Good and my brother Larry playing banjo as well. It is something we always wanted to do, and the boys especially wanted to do something with their mum. She had been singing for years and years. She actually gave up singing to be a mum and a wife. She sacrificed a possible career in music way back then, 40-odd years ago. She would often join the Sadies onstage, as you know. Both Margaret and I had recorded with the boys on their live project, so it was sort of a natural evolution for this to happen. Once we started, about a year ago, it has taken a full year to come to fruition. We did little bits here and there, whenever we could, between our schedules. The Good Brothers are still performing and touring, and as you know the Sadies are one of the busiest bands in Canada. They really are workaholics. They record with, it seems, anybody who asks, and some who don't [laughs]. There is a joke I have contoured to the Sadies. The old joke is "Why did the chicken cross the road?' My answer is "To record with the Sadies!" It has been a great project, watching it come together. I've really enjoyed watching the boys and their work ethic in the studio. That's something I've never had the chance to do before. As proud as I am of both of them, I'm particularly proud of Dallas and how he likes to take control. As he should, because he knows exactly what he wants and where he's going.
As well as Dallas, you have the cream of the crop mixing, mastering and recording, with the likes of Michael Timmins, Peter J. Moore, Don Pyle and Daniel Romano.
Yes. They're all really great guys and they work well together, so it really was a project that should have happened and it has happened. Better late than never.
The album has a warm and spontaneous feel, so I wondered if it had all been recorded quickly, in one session.
A lot of the bed tracks, like the bass, drums and rhythm guitar, autoharp and a vocal went down in one day, but then there was a lot of work to be done here and there in the studio. A lot of touch-ups after the fact. So it was a year in the making, but not a year's worth of work. All about the scheduling and getting it done. Some of it was done at Blue Rodeo's studio, the Woodshed, some at Don Pyle's place, Romano's place, the mixing at Timmins' place, and so forth. I've never done an album where we moved around this much, but I'm happy with the results.
To me, it doesn't sound pieced together though.
No, it doesn't. To me it is an album loaded with surprises. You don't know what is coming next. Hard to say if that's a good or a bad thing, but in this case I think it's a good thing. It shows a variety. The common bond is the family and everything we're doing. When we decided to make a record, we said, "OK, let's start writing, everybody." That is exactly what we did. In some cases we wrote together, in others, individually, but we all played off each other. Again, Dallas has an incredible knowledge of what he wants, and he knows music. He has become a pretty decent writer over the years. He was there to make suggestions on most of what was written. I was very proud of both my boys and how they worked together. As brothers, they don't always get along or see eye to eye, but in the studio it was a different ballgame. They know what they bring. Quite frankly, I was a little surprised. I thought "This'll be interesting, seeing how they lock horns in the studio," but they didn't at all. That was a pleasant surprise, to see them work together so well.
Think it was important to deliver new material for this? Not just re-work older Good Brothers or Sadies material or do country and bluegrass classics?
Everything was written specifically for this project. I think the only song that might have been done earlier was one the Sadies have performed before, "Taller Than the Pines." But they did a re-write on it and an all-new production. All done again from scratch. We were looking for a nice balance of country, country-folk and bluegrass, and I think we have a pretty good mix of that.
A striking thing is the strong female presence on the record.
Exactly. they perform half the record, five of the nine songs, then there's the instrumental. Each of the Good boys have a token song on the record [laughs].
Hard to choose who sung what?
No, it was just the way it turned out, and I think it turned out great. Margaret had written a song back in the late '70s and she dusted it off. She'd never recorded it, just demoed it, back in 1978. That is the explanation for Terry Clements being on the record. [Clements, the long-time guitarist for Gordon Lightfoot, died in 2011.] She'd demoed it with Terry in his basement back then. Between her and Dallas, they thought it'd be great to capture Terry's guitar part. It took a lot of time and effort to do it. Dallas managed to put it together and have Terry's electric guitar licks on that song. A little thing we wanted to do, as Terry was such a good friend of ours. We didn't want to lose that moment. Thought it'd be interesting to have that on the record.
One fact to check: D'Arcy is the daughter of Brian Good, right?
Yes, Brian. Now although the Good Brothers are still touring lots and the summer is coming in great, I've been playing with my brothers so much, especially Brian, who is my twin, all my musical life. That's 45 years as a professional musician now. Brian had also done a project with his wife a year ago, a CD. It was the same thing. He wanted to break away and do something different for a change, and that is exactly how this one came down. There is still a very good chance that if the Good Brothers are anywhere near the Good Family that Brian would join us onstage for a few songs. As you can see, there are eight of us on there now. If we went with every member of our family who perform, there might be 18 of us onstage!
So no dirt to uncover about Brian's absence?
No, nothing there. Just the way it went. That is one of the most asked questions, though: "Where's Brian?" That's another thing. We have so many guitar players on that stage, and that is what Brian plays. That's not really the reason though. And the Good Brothers are all intact. In fact we are playing the Northern Lights Festival in Sudbury, with the Good Family playing in the afternoon and the Good Brothers at night. Then the Sadies leave after the Good Family show and head south to play at Mariposa with Randy Bachman in the evening!
I imagine festivals will be after pairings like that. Two for the price of one?
Well, three actually, between the Sadies, Good Brothers and Good Family. Scheduling it is another thing, but we hope to do a lot of live performances. Perhaps not that many this summer, but next summer. Especially on the folk scene. I think it's a natural. Whenever you mention "family" the people who book folk festivals listen up. It has that vibe.
I'm curious about D'Arcy's musical background.
Her story is probably the most interesting story of them all. Quite frankly, she has been to hell and back. She moved out to B.C. about ten years ago. Frankly, she got swept away by the drug culture out there. She was there for three years, and it was a family intervention that brought her back home. She had dabbled in music prior to going out there. When she came back she was not very well at all. She is one of the rare cases who came back. D'Arcy's mum passed away about four months ago, but at least she saw her daughter come back on the right road. In those seven or eight years since, her new drug has been music. We all had a sneaking suspicion it might be music, and that is exactly what it is. She has dedicated her time to her children and her music, and she is really a success story. It is fine to mention this. As a family we have talked about that. I think it is an important message, that it can be beat and how wonderful music really can be. To us, D'Arcy is not a tragic story. She's a success story and we are so happy to have her back. She is so loved by her family and friends. She is a wonderful woman.
Is she a natural performer, like the rest of the Goods?
Yes she is. She always had that ability, just had never dedicated herself to it. Now she has that monkey off her back, the music came in to save the day. We are very grateful to that. Between family and music, D'Arcy is back. I have watched her progress and get better, almost by the week. Singing or on the fiddle or guitar. I know she is really excited by this project.
Will these upcoming Ontario dates be the first real shows by the Good Family?
Yes, they will be. We have only done a very few shows with the full band. We have been rehearsing and more to come. We really want to be show ready by the Dakota. I haven't felt this excited for many many years. I guess I took it for granted after playing so many years in the Good Brothers. Knowing all that material, hundreds of songs. Now here are a couple of dozen songs we're going to perform and for the first time in a lot of years I'm kind of nervous! In a good way.
We shouldn't be surprised if there are more Good Family albums to come?
Let's see how it goes. We do the best we can with what we've got. If it should lead to another recording, that'll be great. We'll look forward to it, and now we all have the experience. Especially Margaret and D'Arcy, as this is very new for them. I am enjoying watching them enjoy the process.
I already interviewed your dad and now it's your turn.
So now you're calling me for the truth! [laughs]
He mentioned being impressed that you and Travis got on so well in the studio
Unlike him and his brother!
Are you pleased with the initial response to The Good Family Album?
There was a point where I was too busy to give it much thought. I've been focusing on things in little cycles, and that record ran a little overtime. It dug into making the Sadies album for a little bit, so I was over-saturated with it a couple of months ago. It never occurred to me, the review and evaluation process for this record. If you did hate it, think how awkward Christmas is going to be! It is already going to be awkward because of the number of family members we didn't have on there! No fault of their own, but how many banjos can you have? A cousin Spencer, Larry's son, is also an excellent banjo player.
You've had collaborations before, I know.
We've had shows like this for many, many years. Whenever the opportunity arises, we'll do a show called the Good Family. To be honest, they are sets largely or almost entirely comprised of cover material. Borrowing a little from the Good Brothers and the Sadies but generally pretty generic. I got the idea a long time ago that we should do something like this, but the question was how and what. I knew it would take a long time, as no one could drop everything to write and record an album. Little by little we could assemble an album's worth of material. It started by my writing with my cousin [D'Arcy], then my father and I, my mother and I, throwing songs around to get them into shape. It was a slow process, but it was worth doing slow. No one needs another generic traditional May the Circle Be Unbroken album, right? So it was nice to give everybody a fair shake at writing, without over-exerting anybody.
On the song credits, it mentions Sadiesmusic as co-writers.
Sadiesmusic is the four of us. We're an equal partnership. In this particular case, even if my writing part was more substantial, it is still as part of what is called Sadiesmusic. D Good in the credits is my cousin D'Arcy. Where it is Dr. Good, that is because me and Danny [Romano] wrote a song that essentially he plays live ["Life Passes (And Old Fires Die)"]. The Sadies had an arrangement on that, but he and I are the solo songwriters on it. I'm not protective about the songwriting. If we didn't have the Sadies, a song wouldn't sound like that, hence the Sadiesmusic credit.
So it was important to have original material for this project?
Absolutely, and exclusively. The one song my mother wrote in 1978 ["Same Old Song"] obviously wasn't done with the aforethought of recording it with her sons [laughs], but even that song, my mother gave me liberty to tweak a couple of verses here and there. It was really collaborative with everybody. Everybody was really great in making this happen.
Your father said he'd never worked on an album that used as many studios and recording personnel as this one. That down to logistics and schedules?
Entirely. For the first three-quarters of making this record, it was entirely self-financed. Don Pyle and I have worked together for so long. Basically everyone stuck their neck out. We cashed in as many favours as we could, burned a lot of bridges along the way. But it all worked out in the end. There was one day in particular, and I recalled this to Peter Moore today — I was working here at home with Guillermo [Subauste] while Michael was working at his studio on the mix to another song, and Don was recording my father and uncle, just up the street from me. So yes it was definitely a melting pot of studios.
But to me it doesn't sound pieced together.
It was certainly recorded with continuity in mind. We were constantly paring instruments wherever we could, to give it as much of an organic feeling as possible. Overdubs were necessary as we were dealing with so many acoustic instruments simultaneously in very small recording situations. All of the songs were pretty fully realized going in.
Tell me about the link with Latent, Michael Timmins' label. Did he hear about the project?
In all fairness, and I hate to give him credit where credit's due, but it was Josh Finlayson [Skydiggers] who suggested Latent to me. In the process of asking him if it was OK for him to give me his email, Michael made it clear he was very interested and that he wanted to do it. It was great synchronicity on that front. One of the Good Family performances that comes to mind over the past ten years was that we did two nights opening for Cowboy Junkies at the Horseshoe for their Christmas show quite a while ago. He has been great to work with so far.
Michael mixed the record. Think it was good to have outside ears involved?
Yes. It scared the shit out of me, but I was very happy with what he came up with. And it was good to have someone else as the ultimate argument-settler.
The album shows the feminine side of the family, with D'Arcy and your mother singing half the tracks.
Then mission accomplished. The other thing I was trying to put into words just before was that the Sadies have put out so many records, always from chipping away at things slowly. It is a lot of pressure to put on [Sadies' label] Outside as a label to go "Oops, forgot to tell you, but we have another thing here." It was nice for the Good Family album to have its own legs. To function in a slightly independent way from the Good Brothers and the Sadies. Obviously, that will never really happen, but if we can create some independence, it is kind of nice. Some breathing room for everybody.
Your father said that for you a motive behind the album for you and Travis was to work with your mother?
Oh yes, exclusively. My father was an unfortunate side-effect of having to work with my mum [laughs]. Greg Keelor wanted to make a solo record with my mum years ago, which is why they were collaborating on a song ["Secrets"]. But we got tired of waiting and I got caught up with the other things. And I feel D'Arcy is so incredibly talented too, but for her to be expected after all these years for us to go "Bang, we need 12 songs. Let's make a record, go go go," would not be fair to her or my mum. So I see this as a great starting point for whatever they are going to do next. But I'll tell you one thing. I won't frickin' be involved. Drives me crazy [laughs].
I think D'Arcy will be seen as a secret weapon here.
Yes, she's the most talented one. She's great. Did my dad tell you that back before she was sick, she helped start the whole [Toronto] Silver Dollar bluegrass connection? It was my understanding that she and and her boyfriend secured that Wednesday night bluegrass night that then evolved. She was very very involved in that early scene, with Heartbreak Hill and Crazy Strings and so on. She is buddies with all those folks.
Since the record was finished, have you had many Good Family gigs?
No. All the performances over the last three years were what financed the album, and they were all spaced out quite well. We haven't played together this year. We'll be rehearsing in a couple of days. It is a barrel of monkeys with no lid! Eight people always talking and playing at the same time.
Think there'll be festivals looking at getting three acts for the price of one now, with the Sadies, the Good Brothers and the Good Family?
That is not going to fuckin' happen, I'll tell you that. Not for the price of one! But we have had that happen, up at Dawson City festival, with all three playing, years and years ago. But it is very important to me for this to have independence from both the Good Brothers and the Sadies.
The album is very stylistically diverse, but then again both the Good Brothers and the Sadies are noted for being eclectic.
Right, but I think it is pretty safe to say that based on our track record you'd know what to expect from this. It is not a left turn, though it is a curvy road.
Given the amount of work this record took for you, perhaps there's no hurry to make another Good Family record?
That is exactly what that means! You got it. I, meaning the Sadies, really put everything we've got into a current project. There is nothing worse than a genuine side project where you don't have enough time for it to come to proper fruition. It all boils down to time. We are old men. We're at the point in our lives where nobody is waiting on us. It gives us the opportunity to put everything we've got into that particular thing. It may take six years to get released. The Roger Knox record with Jon Langford that came out earlier this year, I can't remember half of those sessions, it was so long ago. But everything got its proper shake. But man this Good Family really went overtime. Similarly, I'm in no hurry to make a live record, but I feel we did it right when we did it, or at least the experience was fantastic.
But I sense this record will get a great reaction, and people will want to hear another one
Half of what I'm saying, I'm just deliberately teasing my family, right. Sure, if they get their shit together, I'll be willing to take offers. Let's just leave it at that. I'll be willing to consider it if they get their chops up [laughs].
Did want to ask about the new Sadies record. You're fully immersed in it I hear?
Yes. We're in day seven just of mixing it. Usually we make an entire record in that time. It has been great, the sound quality, and really fun.
Are you producing it yourself?
I don't really know. I haven't talked to the guys about it yet. Again, we're an equal partnership. I've kind of been handed the reins on this one. But yes we are. Not sure about the credits. I can tell you that Gary [Louris, the Jayhawks] has been involved on the album solely as our vocal coach. We haven't come up with the proper title for him yet. He came in basically to help with the vocal performances. Occasionally with the lyrics, here and there, even the melodies and harmonies. Helping my brother and I reach the confidence level to deliver a little more than we would without him. Whereas the music we had to work on in his absence, as he was unavailable for a while there. It was the best of both worlds. We were able to implement the tricks we learned from him in the past, but then run with our new ideas and take a bit more time to do it. I've been mixing it with Peter Moore, and that's been liberating. I miss Ken Friesen and all the other engineers I've worked with before, but the difference is that Peter has mastered most of my albums. To be able to mix in the same room I normally master in has been great. Really informative and gives me more confidence, just as I have a better idea what the finished product is gong to be ahead of time. Simple logistics, no slight to anybody else we've worked with before. I just get a sneak peek, and Peter and I are very close.
A release date set?
It's firm. I don't know the actual date, but it will be mid-September. We are a little ahead of schedule as it stands.
Busy summer for gigs coming up?
We do. We have a couple of gigs where we are supporting Randy Bachman, and the Sadies are busy from now until we get busy again in the fall. Things are good. It has been a bit slow lately for other members of the Sadies but I've been mixing 11 hours a day. That is why there haven't been a lot of shows on our schedule so far this year, but we haven't been wasting our time.
You guys don't know how to slack off.
Well, I'm not complaining at all. We get those tags of hardest working band blah blah. That's not true. We are the band that has been given the most opportunities lately and that's about all.
Is the new Sadies record a bit of a left turn?
No, it's more of the same crap. It has been a long time since our last record came out. We've used the opportunity to get to know the songs a little better before pushing "record."
No big name guests on it?
I will not jinx an album. Sorry, man. Let's just say I'm still holding my breath on a couple of things. Call me in a couple of weeks. It's at that perfect moment where anything I say will be used against me!