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Under the Influence 

The Sadies draw upon their country/bluegrass heritage for Darker Circles  

The Sadies don't wear their influences like trendy fashions; they sport them like tastefully elaborate tattoos, choosing when and how much to expose them. On 2007's New Seasons, the Canadian quartet — brothers Travis and Dallas Good on guitars and vocals, plus upright bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky — blended its traditional country/bluegrass heritage (the brothers' parents are the first family of Canadian country music) and surf-and-Americana-turf sound with flecks of '60s cosmic country and shards of "punkgrass." The result was one of the year's most amazing genre mash-ups.

On their new release, Darker Circles, they sound a little more melancholy. The good news is that the album wasn't inspired by any real-life drama.

"We made this record over the span of two and a half or three years, and we had made [the covers album Country Club] with John Doe in the interim, and topically I'm not going to write from several different perspectives," says Dallas Good. "But I can't say there's a distinct reason besides that we're happiest or most comfortable wandering around in darker themes. I wouldn't call the record a bummer; it's just the nature of what we do, I guess."

Although Good tends to stay on topic when writing, he's adamant that there's nothing particularly consistent about his muse.

"There's nothing consistent about my writing style, aside from I do my best, but there are certainly no tricks of the trade that I've learned," he says with a laugh. "[Artist/producer] Gary [Louris, from the Jayhawks] taught me tons for sure over the years, but really it was stuff that maybe I should have applied from high school classes. But the tricks he taught me for New Seasons would be the only ones I apply in terms of developing a muse or a comfort zone in writing. It's all about rhymes and the bouncing ball of the rhythm of the song."

While there are considerably fewer psychedelic moments on Darker Circles and considerably more shadows, Good doesn't see a huge alteration in direction between the last album and this one.

"There really hasn't been a shift," he says. "As a band we've been staying busy year-round for 12 years, depending who's counting. As long as we're doing what we're doing, we strive to do it better. The live show is improving, and we're still learning in the studio, so our only bit of philosophy is to do what we do, only better."

That philosophy has been trickling through the Sadies' work since Precious Moments, their 1998 debut on Bloodshot. Early on, the band's attention was on crafting material for the stage, since that was where they spent the bulk of their time. But as their familiarity with the studio grew, so did their confidence in writing songs that were intended for the insular environment of recording. The other part of that equation is in translating that studio work to the stage, another area where the Sadies have excelled. The bleaker perspective of Darker Circle's songs is no exception.

"It's been really great," Good says of the Sadies' recent live presentation of Darker Circles. "It's worked in the way that the new material is a little fuzzier and a bit of a step away from what has made up the bulk of our set list. It's been really kind of liberating to do the new material. For me, when I see a band, when they start playing the new songs, that's usually when I go get a beer or some fresh air. But it's been amazing how well the new record's been received. It's almost like people have actually heard it."

With a catalog that includes the Goods' time as the instrumental surf band Phono-Comb, their dozen or so years as the Sadies, and their family's long musical history, it's not particularly difficult to come up with a set list.

"When we started, we were comfortable with instrumentals, but we also borrowed heavily from the country/bluegrass tradition, and we weren't at all opposed to do a few covers," says Good. "Now we're a little more opposed to that. We save it for the encores. But it's been good. If you've seen us before, we're much better now. If you haven't seen us before, then you should definitely come see us. And if you've seen us recently and didn't like it, then please make a point of not telling anybody because you're probably wrong." 

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