Interview: Andy Maize

skydiggers

Rising up from the streets of Toronto during the “80’s days” of Blue Rodeo and Cowboy Junkies, Josh Finlayson and Andy Maize, absent from their own bands, joined each other on stage performing showcases and rekindling a childhood friendship. Could they imagine 20 plus years later they’d be looking back over a career that has spanned two decades? Their recent release “The Truth About Us: A Twenty Year Retrospective” allowed them to do just that. This is their 11th CD, a recording every two years, a work ethic that doesn’t seem to quite as they gear up and get ready to travel across the country to promote the “album”. I first interviewed Josh Finlayson on the heals of their 1993 release “Just Over This Mountain”. This time I caught up with singer and co-founder of Skydiggers Andy Maize. We talked about the new CD, family, the music business, the involvement in MapleMusic and why people scratch their names into picnic tables…

Mb: Hi Andy. So what are you up to today?
AM: Well, I’m running a few errands this morning. Checking out the Leaf’s roster for the
upcoming season… that sort of thing.
Mb: Are you a big hockey fan?
AM: Well, no.. well sort of. I guess I am. It’s a long season to get too involved in, too early.
Mb: Is hockey a hobby when you’re not touring recording and being a rockstar?
AM: I keep an eye on what’s going on. I’m a baseball fan as well, so I keep an eye on what’s going on with the baseball.
Mb: Do you play?
AM: No, I don’t. I have a 10 year old son and he’s playing, so I’m throwing the ball a lot these days. Gotta keep the arm in shape.
Mb: Just in case the music thing doesn’t work out?
AM: (laughs) That’s right!
Mb: Are you out touring these days or….? Tell me what’s going on.
AM: We played a bunch of festivals over the summer in support of the “Retrospective” album we
just released. Starting in about 2 1/2 weeks time we’re going to be hitting dates around south
western Ontario and then out to Winnipeg, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and heading
east in early December. We’ve got a busy fall planned.
Mb: How does it feel putting out a retrospective at this point in your career?
AM: You know what? It’s been great. We put out a new record ‘City of Sirens” in 2008 and to follow that up with the retrospective which has the songs on the CD and the DVD component that we shot for CMT with Joel Stewart for a show called “The Dakota Sessions” which we shot right around the time we released ‘City of Sirens”. It’s just been nice. It’s been nice looking back, but at the same time we’ve been moving forward, so it’s been this nice combination of past, present and hopefully future.
Mb: When you revisited the songs, how did it make you feel? Old? Young?
AM: I guess, maybe both! To think that we’ve been doing it for 20 years seems like a long time, but it’s all gone by so quickly. I guess we’re in the time accelerator machine. Things are just flying by. It really doesn’t seem that long ago but when you sit down and think of everything we’ve done over the past 20 years, the places that we’ve been, the shows that we’ve done, the
people that we’ve met, the albums that we’ve made… we’ve done a lot and that’s gratifying.
Mb: Ever have any regrets? Think to yourself “There were other things I wanted to do in my life… and I never had the chance because I had to be a star…”
AM: No, not at all. It’s been really great. One of the best parts of doing what we do is that we’ve been to almost every part of the country and that is a real privilege… and meeting people from all parts of the country. I think if We all had the chance to do that, maybe the house of commons would be getting along better. We’d be working more together than against each other.
Mb: You’re sounding political…
AM: It’s hard not to be. Our whole lives are political.
Mb: Do you get involved in politics at all?
AM: You know what? I haven’t been. But our old friend Charlie Angus is an NDP Member of Parliament for Timmins and he used to play in L’Étranger years ago. Andrew Cash was also in L’Étranger. Peter was a Skydigger for years and we’ve recorded Andrew cash songs and Andrew has just announced that he’s going to run in Toronto in the next Federal election for the NDP. So I’m hoping, anything I can do to help out I will.
Mb: Seem a lot of musicians gravitate towards the NDP. I wonder why that is.
AM: I think there’s a sense of fairness, when I think about the platform of the NDP and everyone loves the underdog.
Mb: Maybe it was the implosion of the musician’s union years ago.
AM: Maybe!
Mb: So it’s all been about music for you and you’ve been able to maintain a family through all of it.
AM: Absolutely.
Mb: That must have had its challenges.
AM: It did. We didn’t do a whole lot of playing between 1999 and 6 or 7 years. Other fellows in the band have kids as well and it was good time to be at home and everybody was doing different things, doing a little bit of production and writing and we were involved in starting Maple
Music as well. So we were active making that happen. People are holding up their cell phone or camera and they’re taking a 30 sec clip. It’s like visual digital graffiti in a way, like someone writing on the wall that they were there. Like carving your initials in the picnic table at the folk festival. It’s a way for people to say “I was here and here’s a taste of it”.
Mb: Tell me more about Maple Music.
AM: Well we were involved. We own a small piece of Maple Music. The original idea was based on maplemusic.com which is an e-commerce site that sells Canadian artists’ music and merchandise online. We were lucky enough to meet a fellow who had a vision for what that could be and he needed our help in making contacts in the music business, meeting managers and artists, and explaining to them why it would be a good idea for them to be involved. That’s been our role in the company. It’s been very rewarding. It started with about half a dozen groups and on maplemusic.com now there are, I believe, nearly 600 artists.
Mb: It has been a big success.
AM: Ya, and it’s been re-energizing as well. Out of maplemusic.com we started a record label and it’s been fun to be around people who are starting out and you remember a lot of things that maybe you’ve forgotten along the way… and how exciting it is to be starting out and when the future is all ahead of you, how exciting that can be. For me, I’ve been energized by that and inspired!
Mb: Did you see the digital future of the music business at the time?
AM: With maplemusic.com, anything that brings the artist and the audience together is a good thing. That part of it has been very positive. Everything else? You know, the labels always controlled the means of distribution and once they lost control, they lost what it was that allowed them to dictate the terms of how music is bought and sold. It’s an interesting time and there have been interesting times before and the history of recorded music is fairly new
compared to the history of music in general. People will adapt. Things will change. New ideas will emerge. In the meantime, you do what you can do which is write songs and go out and perform them.
Mb: I’ve heard it likened to the advent of the player piano!
AM: Sure, or radio. Our next album is coming out on a wax cylinder! (laughs)
Mb: How about video. Like being on camera?
AM: You know, it was never why we started doing it. I think we were always a little bit reluctant video participants. the idea that you’re lip synching is not what we were ever too fond of. But having said that, we’ve made a couple of videos that went a long way to furthering our career. Now that videos are on the wane, or at least people aren’t spending as much money on them… With cameras and YouTube, you can do stuff really cheaply and I think that’s the future of video, rather than the video channels which aren’t really playing any videos any more.
Mb: Are you involved in the video creative?
AM: Have done, but we haven’t made a video since 2003 and the chances of making a video again… if someone had a great idea and we could do it for a shoestring then we’d consider doing it. It would only be for online at this point.
Mb: Which of course is the whole world!
AM: Ya, people have cameras at most gigs now so when we do a gig a couple of things will show-up on YouTube… bits and pieces.
Mb: In the “old” days it could be considered a great compliment to have their shows bootlegged.  How does it make you feel to find yourself online in that way?
AM: It’s fine. It usually doesn’t sound like anything. It usually sounds pretty bad but I think people are just used to it now. I think people know what it is. People are holding up their cell phone or camera and they’re taking a 30 sec clip. It’s like visual digital graffiti in a way, like someone writing on the wall that they were there. Like carving your initials in the picnic table at the folk festival. It’s a way for people to say “I was here and here’s a taste of it”. Everyone knows what it is and they aren’t expecting it to sound great or to look great. It’s a compliment for sure. Having said that, we did do the DVD component of the “Retrospective”, half a dozen songs that we recorded for CMT and it looks and sounds really good. We were really pleased with the way it turned out. For us, that’s as good as any video that we’ve made.
Mb: Right. That’s more of what I meant about getting the visual image out there, rather than recreating the sinking of the Titanic…
AM: “The Dakota Sessions” stuff really looks good and it sounds great and we’re actually playing and that’s what we want.
Mb: You just don’t want to be lip synching!
AM: (laughs) Well…. we can play!
Mb: And everyone still getting along after so many years?
AM: That’s why we’re still doing it. Because we reached a point where we couldn’t help ourselves. Not because we have to. It gives us something that we can’t find anywhere else. It’s the rush of playing these songs that we’ve written over the years… and songs yet to be written.