The sibling trio The McDades latest album, The Empress, is a further progression of their sound, which stretches back to the days of their youth when Shannon, Solon and Jeremiah performed with their parents as The McDade Family Band. The lessons learned then and the exposure to different genres of music still resonate in the music they’re creating today, taking the band beyond it’s Celtic base.
We grew up playing what we called Canadiana, which was a mix of American, Irish, Scottish and French music,”, said Solon from Montreal. “One of the more formative parts of that was playing at festivals that were very open to different genres of music. You would have this opportunity to hear people play that wouldn’t normally play together. It was very creative and exciting musically. So we started to think about music as being kind of frontier-less. We love Celtic music, and that’s definitely where our roots are, but there’s so much that we also love.”
Another important element of their musical development was the time between being in The McDade Family Band and the creation of The McDades.
“Solon and Jeremiah studied jazz in the ‘between time,'” said Shannon from Edmonton. “Solon did some tours with blues artists as a teenager. I was doing stuff with some other songwriters around town and always kept up a little bit with classical music. So when we came back together we were like, ‘Well it’s time we should record an album. What should we do?’ The first album (For Reel) was a little more traditional sounding, but even then we started to incorporate just a little bit of jazz elements and improvisation into the songs. By the second album (Bloom) we were thinking a lot more about different percussions and rhythms from around the world and amalgamating that with our own tune writing.”
As Solon sees it, these other influences are just as important to the McDade sound as the Celtic ones are.
“There’s so much that we also love,” he said. “We love improvising, playing with people from different cultures, and we love the sound of instruments from many many cultures. So the palette we think about when we’re composing or arranging songs is vast. We try not to limit it by the genre we feel like we have to fit into, which might work against us sometimes. I think there are people, who when they think of Celtic music, want it to be one thing. But as the global culture of music evolves, people are generally far more into hearing something new, something fresh, a new take on something they might be familiar with but there’s another colour in the palette of music [artists] are bringing into it.”
A prime example of this mixing of styles is found in the McDades’ cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s 'Sundown' which combines Jeremiah’s jazzy saxophone solo with a drum rhythm reminiscent of 'Touch Me' by The Doors. The song has been a part of their repertoire for at least 10 years.
“There are songs from that period we still haven’t recorded that we probably should because they’re quite popular when we perform them live,” said Solon. “There have been times where we [said], ‘This is something we do live but we won’t put on a record.’ Then some things we’ve put on records that we rarely play live.”
The Empress was produced by The McDades themselves utilizing the experience Shannon has gained over the years producing other artists, notably Maria Dunn.
“I’m kind of blessed in The McDades because my brothers are very talented in a lot of things. But the biggest thing is just being able to get it laid out from beginning to end once you’re in the studio,” she said. “Then [it’s just] detailed listening I suppose, deciding what’s going to make it to the finished product. In The McDades, it’s such a collaborative thing I don’t really think of myself as in that role [as producer] in the project.”
“Shannon’s being modest about herself as a producer,” Solon quickly interjected. “She’s a really great producer. It’s kind of neat playing with your family because you know each other really well, and you know what your tendencies, personality-wise, might be. Shannon is modest, and she doesn’t talk about herself as much as she probably should. She’s really good at getting musicians to give more than they [might otherwise]. She’s great at talking to them and getting them to feel confident and go the extra mile. The quality of the work she’s producing is very high. She’s too modest to talk about how good she is at that. I always feel she deserves more attention as a producer because the music she produces tends to be of a very high standard.”
In planning out the concept for The Empress, The McDades discussed everything from an album of all Canadian songs “McDade-ified” to something more akin to what the Seeger family (Pete, Peggy and Mike) would release.
“We ended up choosing a couple of things and went, ‘Oh these all fit really nicely together,'” said Shannon. “Then the original tunes, it was just time to record them.”
During their times as a “family band,” The McDades have crossed paths with other family groups, whether it be The Leahys or The Barra MacNeils, and as Solon explaineed, they’d noticed a few similarities.
“There’s certain personalities that maybe come out in families,” he said. “‘Oh that’s the one that likes to show off! That’s the one that’s very good but doesn’t show off!’ Whatever the case may be. So that’s always fun to kind of watch them and see what you recognize in yourself. Canada has so many good family bands, it’s amazing!”
“Maybe we have the same therapist?” joked Shannon.
For more information on The McDades and The Empress, check them out at themcdades.com.