Digging for the sky

After decades in the music biz, The Skydiggers still love it

The Skydiggers play two shows at The Grad Club this weekend.
The Skydiggers play two shows at The Grad Club this weekend.

It’s a terrifying prospect to interview a band for your first Journal article. That terror is only heightened when that band has received critical acclaim for their 10 CDs, been likened to R.E.M. and have been touring across Canada.

Skydiggers founding member Josh Finlayson is the exact opposite of a cocky rock star. When I talked to him, he described his career as very humbling and said he yearns to keep working and all the while a dog barks in the background.

Skydiggers are a folk rock band, formed in the late 1980s by Finlayson and Andy Maize, who were childhood friends and played shows together off and on throughout the years. When a residency opened up at the Spadina Hotel in Toronto, the two jumped at the opportunity. Things then began happening very quickly for the band.

“Within a year we had a record deal and within a year-and-half we released our first album,” Finlayson said.

The band has become known for their focus on vocals. Both Finlayson and Maize being vocalists, leading to many critics comparing them to R.E.M. However, when asked about the influences of the band, Finlayson is quick to shy away from such a comparison.

“R.E.M. brought singing back, but, the Beatles and the Byrds are more direct influences,” he said.

Over the past 20 years the band has faced the inevitable challenge of changing members, but Finlayson sees this as a necessary part of the growth of the band. He’s very relaxed about it all, welcoming the challenges and opportunities that come with change.

“It’s not about staying in one place, but about moving ahead,” he said.

The band now consists of Finlayson, Maize, bassist Ron Macey, pianist and vocalist Michael Johnston and drummer Noel Webb. In 2008 they released their 10th CD City of Sirens and are on yet another Canadian tour.

The band thrives on its tours around Canada. When asked about tour life, Finlayson laughs and inquires if I want to know how glamorous it all is. He said as he has gotten older, had a family and added new responsibility to his life that he struggles with the monotony of tour life.

“You work for two hours of the day and then you have to find some way to occupy those other 22 hours,” he said. “It is a terrific thing to meet people and see different things.”

“There’s still a song to write, a tour to do, something that I haven’t done,” he said.

However, he does note one moment that sticks with him that happened over a decade ago when the band was touring in the Yukon at the Dawson Music Festival. Throughout the tour, the band made numerous stops along the Yukon River to play for Indigenous communities.

“It was a terrific opportunity to see a part of the country that not many people see. It was very humbling. I realized what a terrific country we live in and how similar we all are,” he said.

When asked to describe his career in three words, his love for his work is abundantly clear.

“Pretty fucking good,” Finlayson said with a laugh.

The Skydiggers play at The Grad Club tonight and tomorrow at 8:30. Tickets are $23 and can be purchased at the doors, at Destinations or from ticketscene.ca.

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