Skip to main content
lives lived

Joni Sadler: Drummer. Indie advocate. Postcard-sender. Friend. Born Jan. 22, 1986, in Victoria; died May 30, 2021, in Montreal, of a brain aneurysm; aged 35.

Joni Sadler.

Meeting Joni Sadler was an unforgettable experience; her welcoming smile never felt like a stranger’s. Joni seemed to be lifelong friends with everyone, or anyone, anywhere. When her parents took her on a road trip to Tijuana, Joni formed an instant friendship with some girls on the street without knowing a word of Spanish. She was three years old at the time.

After many more road trips, and competing across Canada as a figure skater in high school, Joni travelled east to Carleton University in Ottawa. Her passion for independent music meant she was quickly known to all in the scene, working in the local record store and as the energetic English music director of the University of Ottawa’s CHUO radio. She was proud of being voted Best Taste in Music at the College Music Journal’s gathering in New York, at the age of 23.

If you were her roommate, the early morning buzzing of her coffee grinder was as dependable and annoying as any rooster. Reports from some colleagues, of her shaking so hard from all that coffee that it looked as if there were two of her, were unsubstantiated but widely believed. When she took up the drums around age 25, her energy only seemed to increase.

When jamming, her freestyle drumming embraced Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground and Japanese rock band Les Rallizes Dénudés; when accompanying songs, her intuition and consistency exceeded them. Joni would often lead the songwriting process. Self-taught on the instrument, her specialty was a raucous, certified organic style; not pretty, but very nourishing. She combined a pots-and-pans-falling-down-stairs sound, with solid, behind-the-beat time. Never has anyone her size beat those drums harder.

Joni’s master’s thesis, on how to better support independent musicians and their creative environment, “drew attention to a scene that still receives too little in Canada. It broke new ground ... and led with its heart,” her adviser Sheryl Hamilton said.

Soon Joni was co-managing McGill university’s CKUT radio and supporting many up-and-coming Montreal musicians, either on the drums or as the organizer of memorable independent concerts which welcomed everybody. When Montreal’s Constellation record label offered her the dream job of communications director, she surprised them by turning it down because she wanted to finish her personal five-year plan of projects at the radio station.

Joni Sadler's passion for independent music meant she was quickly known to all in the scene.

She did so, then joined the label, and in the meantime, she was POP Montreal’s symposium director; started sailing, and distance running; learned how to code; learned welding. Her friends could be forgiven for seeing double; Joni was everywhere. In so many bands on top of this, she essentially had six jobs. Her music career coalesced in her inimitable no-wave band Lungbutter, who were planning an international tour to support their first LP.

Something was powering this new phase, something more than coffee. Her friends were shocked when Joni did something no one ever expected her to do – take a vacation. Judging by her smiling face as she held a smiling guy in photos taken in the tropics or at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, Calif., it was clear, love made her do it; she had time for that, too.

It all seemed to come together during those final years with Richard, we were no longer seeing double – the many Jonis became the one Joni. We can only imagine what she would be doing now.

A memorial bursary has been created in Joni’s name at Carleton.

Blake Hargreaves is Joni’s bandmate and friend.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide