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Toronto roots-rockers The Skydiggers emerged from the city’s vibrant club scene of the late 1980s, when Queen Street West and its environs were bursting with young performers packing acoustic guitars and great songs. The band’s 1990 self-titled debut included the ballad “I Will Give You Everything,” the video for which earned them heavy rotation on MuchMusic and led the way for the breakthrough album Restless and a Most Promising Artist Juno Award. While many groups from Queen Street’s heyday have since disbanded, The Skydiggers continue to write and perform: their eighth studio album Northern Shore was released in April, with a national tour that followed. Singer Andy Maize tells Words + Music about the vocal and songwriting inspirations that produced the Skydiggers’ first radio hit.
Take me back to when the song was written: where were you in your career?
It was pretty much the first song I ever wrote, before the Skydiggers existed actually, around 1985. I had been singing with Andrew Cash and I remember he had one of the first portastudios, a cassette four-track studio. So I went over to his house with an idea for this song. That’s where it started. Later, when [guitarist] Josh Finlayson and I were playing as a duo called West Montrose, I showed it to him and we worked on the arrangement together. The Skydiggers formed shortly after and that was a song we were always working on.
The song has an unconventional structure, with only a few lines repeated throughout, almost prayer-like. What inspired you to write in that way?
It’s true there are only about 16 words in the whole song! I didn’t really think of it as unconventional. At the time I was a big R.E.M. fan. I loved the way they used counter-melodies and I realized that as a kid I would love singing rounds, like “Frère Jacques,” when you’d have two or three different parts of a song going. I guess that was something always inside of me. So when I used Andrew’s portastudio I got to try out all the counter-vocals and harmonies and I could see that they would work together. I didn’t have any proof before that.
How did a ballad become the Skydiggers first-ever single?
The fellow who first spotted us was Mark Smith, who saw us play our weekly gig at the Spadina Hotel. He was working for the Canadian branch of Enigma Records, which was run by Derrick Ross, and they had been given the green light to sign domestic acts. Derrick did all the radio promotion and he always had a vision for that song, right from the first time he heard it. He said, “I need some changes to take it to radio.” We were young and thought we knew everything, so we were initially reluctant, but we went back into the studio with [producer] Michael Phillip Wojewoda. He sped it up slightly, and we added another chorus at the end. And Derrick was right; it did very well for us.
The band will go out on tour this year with a new record. How does it feel to perform a song from 1985 in 2012?
We sing it at every show, and it’s a pleasure to do it. We’ve even played it at several weddings. The great thing about music is that we all have moments in our lives associated with certain songs, so when people come to see us we want to make sure we’re not only playing new material but we’re playing people’s memories