Some things were just meant to last. That can certainly be said of the friendship between Joey Serlin and Daniel Greaves, who have been making music together for over 30 years. The Winnipeg natives rose to prominence during the indie rock revolution of the early 1990s as guitarist and lead vocalist, respectively, of The Watchmen, a band that would go on to become one of the most successful and beloved Canadian acts of the decade, earning two JUNO nominations, along with one Platinum and three Gold certified albums.
But as life’s other demands eventually shifted their focus away from The Watchmen, Joey and Daniel found themselves starting new families, new businesses and new musical projects on their own. That didn’t mean The Watchmen were ever finished; the band has periodically reunited to play their classic material for special events and occasions.
Creating new music was a different story though, as the process gradually became more personal for each of them. Still, over the past couple of years their unshakable bond inevitably led Joey and Daniel to realize that working together again would be the most effective way to share this chapter of their lives.
The fruits of that renewed collaboration are contained on Sad Songs For Sale, their first album as Serlin Greaves, and a collection that reveals many new facets of the pair’s musical personalities. As Daniel says, “Given how long Joey and I have worked together, it stands to reason that this record sounds like us. But when everything began telling us the timing was right, this became a real passion project where we could try some different approaches and see how things unfolded without any pressure at all.”
After refining most of Sad Songs For Sale during writing sessions at Motel Bar, the watering hole Daniel owns in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, work shifted to Joey’s Vapor Music studios, where Ryan Chalmers took on recording and drumming duties, and Dustin Anstey contributed on bass. For Joey, it was the ideal situation of being able to cut tracks completely on their own terms. “I hadn’t written songs for quite a while, so when I started coming up with some ideas I liked, it was natural for me to imagine Danny singing them,” he says. “Fortunately, he thought they were some of the best songs I’d ever written, and that motivated him to show me some great songs he had. I think both of us felt like we didn’t have anything to say for so long, and then all of a sudden this music just started pouring out.”
As could be expected, some of the aggression displayed during their early days has been tempered by experience and a more acute sense of melody. That’s at the core of songs such as “Porch Light,” “Radiator,” “Teenage Heart” and “Shooting Movies,” which, despite lyrics forged in painful life lessons, find Joey and Daniel rocking as effortlessly as they ever have. By contrast, the weight of maturity provides the foundation for the album’s acoustic-based standouts “Love You Less,” “Morning Song,” “Seasick,” “At Home” and “2 Days.” The common thread with all of the material is the simple fact that, as musicians, Serlin and Greaves have found something within themselves not captured on record before.
“I don’t really believe it’s been a case of feeling more restricted as I’ve gotten older,” Daniel says. “I think it’s just the opposite in terms of finally understanding when my voice sounds its best, and making sure I can get it to that place and keep it there for as long as I need to. I do still try to push myself, but in a more controlled way. Knowing my voice has helped a lot with my songwriting as well, and I’m proud of how those two elements really connected on this record.” Joey echoes that sentiment, saying the amount of acoustic material on Sad Songs For Sale is a reflection of his desire to expand his range both as a songwriter and guitarist. “I wouldn’t call this a concept record, but there’s definitely a sequence to the songs that tells a story about a life journey,” he says. “But I have to admit that I’m really partial to the acoustic tracks. I don’t know why it took us so long to record in this manner, but I’m really glad we’re doing it now.”
To have a relationship that has lasted as long as Joey and Daniel’s is special in and of itself. But to also have that relationship still able to create powerful music after three decades puts them in rarefied company. In that sense, Serlin Greaves’ Sad Songs For Sale is more than a gift to those listeners who have stuck by them all these years. It’s also the perfect entry point for those poised to discover their rich body of work.