ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 9, 1995
When a couple of Skydiggers show up at the Georgia Straight office to chat about their latest CD, I’m expecting to see at least one goatee, but instead I get sideburns (courtesy bassist Ronnie Von Johnnie) and long, straggly hair (courtesy singer-guitarist Peter Cash).
The guy who’s front and centre with the facial fluff in those Skydiggers videos, vocalist Andy Maize, isn’t part of this particular promo visit, but that’s okay, because a quick check of the credits on the band’s new Road Radio disc indicates that Cash’s creative contributions to the band are just as prominent as anyone’s. He wrote and sang four of the band’s new tunes himself, and since they’re among the strongest ones on the CD, it looks as if I wasn’t snubbed by record-company weasels after all.
Besides his four solo compositions, Cash claims the cowriting credit for Road Radio’s catchy debut single and video, “What Do You See?”. He wrote it with his brother Andrew Cash, who’s made something of a name for himself on the Canadian pop-rock scene.
“He’s almost an extension of the band in a lot of ways,” relates Von Johnnie. “The trading off of songs and influence of playin’ together over the years, it kinda wears off.”
The Skydiggers also cover an Andrew Cash song called “You’ve Got a Lot of Nerve”, which Peter Cash and Maize share lead vocals on. It’s a rockin’ number that clips along in a jagged, Neil Young–type vein, and I hope it will make the set list when the Skydiggers take the Commodore stage on Friday (November 10).
“He’s able to write about a good range of topics,” brags Pete about his bro. “I remember when I first started playing the guitar and trying to write, and at that time he was writing real political songs—he was in a punk band. So I would try to write political songs too, and I found fairly quickly that I should stick to what I actually know about, like my life and things that happen, friends of mine.”
One of those friends is Peter von Althen, who joined the Skydiggers on drums late last year and made his recording debut with the band on Road Radio. His talents behind the drum kit helped make him a pretty good pal of rhythm mate Von Johnnie, too.
‘‘We’re really incredibly happy with Peter,” spouts the enthusiastic bassist. “He’s able to play uninhibited and unfettered in a lot of different styles, and he’s got really big ears. He can tune himself to the song, and whatever it takes to serve the song, he’s able to do it.”
Guitarist Josh Finlayson rounds out the Skydiggers lineup. He cowrote six tunes with Maize, handled bass on a couple of tunes, and also broke with tradition by singing lead on one track. One of the Finlayson-Maize compositions, “It’s a Pity”, was recorded at Vancouver’s Desolation Sound studio, but the bulk of the material was laid down at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover, Ontario.
“It’s a beauty,” offers Von Johnnie of the recording location. “The fellow who recorded this record, John Oliviera, used to be the house engineer at Grant Avenue, the studio that Daniel Lanois started in Hamilton. He went out on his own a couple of years ago and started a mobile studio, and basically the deal is: ‘You find a place you’re comfortable and we’ll bring the gear in. Or if you can’t find a place, I’ll find a place.’
“So they found a lovely 300-seat theatre in Port Dover, which is a fishing village on Lake Erie, and they brought all this gear in and we set up on the floor and used the wonderful room to make the sounds. We used the room rather than just close-miking everything, and we played with monitors this time, too, which helped get the live feel.”
Road Radio’s impressive number of potent tunes bodes well for the future of the seven-year-old band, which makes its recording debut on Warner Music Canada after leaving the Flood Ross Entertainment label.
“We’re looking forward to gettin’ into a groove with Warner,” says Cash, “in that we put out this record and do the playing and promote the record and work hard—and then do another record. Whereas before it’s been make a record, do the playing, do the promoting, and then end up talking to lawyers about things we don’t want to talk about.”
At that, Von Johnnie rolls his eyes, scratches a sideburn, and mutters something about not mentioning “the war”. Sounds like a pretty good time to let this little interview ramble to a congenial close.