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Exclusive! Skydigger Andy Maize reveals "the last thing I'll ever write ..."

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Skydiggers Celebrate 25 Years

If the Skydiggers were a movie, they would be fawned over at the Sundance Festival. If the Skydiggers were a book, they’d be a well-worn paperback written by some revered and reclusive ex-pat living in a small village in the south of France.

If the Skydiggers were …

Well, you get the point: the Skydiggers are hip without trying to be hip because they simply do what they do for all the right reasons. As the iconic group celebrates its 25th anniversary with a cross-country tour and the seasonal release of four new offerings this year, lead singer Andy Maize took some time to discuss writing, the business of art, and the ebbs and flows across a quarter century of creation.

The Toronto-based musician says like most artists he has prefered to “keep moving forward” to the next word, the next line, the next song. It wasn’t until the band started sorting through old material for a retrospective project several years ago that Maize really stood back and took stock of the work with a fresh set of eyes.

“That was the first time in a long time that we had gone back and thought about the albums to that degree,” he says. “You know what the great thing is about time? All the stuff that really bothered you goes away and what you’re left with are the good memories. It was a nice exercise in letting go.”

Maize spends most of his hour-long interview praising others he has collaborated with – such as superbly talented songwriting partner and stalwart guitarist Josh Finlayson, original ‘digger Peter Cash, and about a dozen other players both current and former. While a true group effort in supplying material for each album took pressure off him as a songwriter over the years, he says he knows well the writer’s fear that each finished piece may be his last.

“Every time I write something I think, well that’s great. It’s great that I was able to do that. And it’s the last thing I’ll ever write,” he says with a laugh. “And then it comes up again.”

Words are important to Maize, especially “the order of words”, but so too is sound. He says the first few R.E.M. albums were a strong influence. The Skydiggers share much with that hip little outfit from Athens, Georgia, including early success on campus radio as well as reverence for beautiful harmonies.

“I’ve always loved counter melodies in songs. Like a kid back in elementary school singing rounds …”

If writers are a misunderstood bunch, sys Maize, it’s perhaps because sometimes people misinterpret long periods of quiet reflection. “They’ll think you’re doing nothing, but you actually need the time and space to clear out your head, to think or to daydream.”

Any artist who also wants to eat has to be concerned with the business end of the venture at some point. Maize says the landscape has changed for emerging artists compared to when his band built up a steady following show by show, saved pennies to record an EP, and then finally got a first full-length album. The advent of digital technology has turned every bedroom into a recording studio.

“Twenty-five years ago there were certain steps that I thought were well defined. If you did this it led to that. It was all in the service of building a career, establishing a fan base,” he says. “The digital revolution has democratized the process in a great way but it has also taken away the building blocks.”

Quality is certainly more important to Maize than quantity. His is a band whose album tracks you just don’t skip en route to one or two chart-toppers. Every song, every outing, every infrequent full-length album is an offering. Their music has matured and evolved through the addition of members with new instruments and talents (Michael Johnston on keys, Noel Webb on drums), deeper and more complex arrangements, and perhaps even new perspective provided by a long mid-career break.

“There was a time ten years ago when we weren’t really very active,” Maize says, adding several band members started families while some were busy starting up Maple Music. “We kept trying to make starts on new things and we weren’t very pleased with what we were doing. We sort of lost whatever it was that was moving us forward. And then we found it again.”

Maize deeply appreciates the contributions of every artist who has played with the Skydiggers over the years, musing that perhaps that is the reason why the band dropped its official ‘The’ somewhere along the way.

“We realize how fortunate we are to be part of a community. And so everybody is a Skydigger, past, present and future,” Maize says.

As Maize and company get set to cross the country they expect to play primarily to a core fan base that was in university and college in the late 1980s as well as some new fans – “we’re starting to see children of our original fans coming out to shows, which is pretty fantastic.”

Consider 2013 officially proclaimed ‘Year of Skydiggers’.

To find out more about the 25th Anniversary of one of this country’s greatest bands, visit: www.skydiggers.com

(C.B. Forrest’s latest novel is The Devil’s Dust.)

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is the author of the literary crime novels The Weight of Stones and Slow Recoil.

Go to C.B. Forrest’s Author Page