“Perfecting Process” with Mike Belitsky of The Sadies
The Sadies are crossing the country right now in support of their fantastic new record, Darker Circles. Here in Chicago they’ll be playing Schubas on Friday, August 20. The last time I saw them there they blew the lid off the place with an explosive 90-minute set of musical TNT packed with original and traditional material. The show is not to be missed.
The Sadies are an example of a band that keeps on getting better and better with each album. Mike Belitsky, their drummer, gives insight into their remarkable musical progress.
Mike Belitsky holds the drummer’s throne for one of the hardest working bands in the world, The Sadies. In 12 years, they have covered a dizzying amount of terrain – physically and musically. Taking an opposite trajectory than most bands—i.e.: burst onto the scene and then fizzle out—they keep popping up with more cohesive albums and surprising collaborations.
Dip into their catalog at any point, and you will sense a confluence of styles, particularly in the rhythm section. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Ten More Songs,” the epic final cut on their latest album, Darker Circles. Cymbal rolls swell into an airy 6/8 waltz, which washes out and then back into turbulent drum fills that finally crash into a galloping tom roll.
Belitsky’s musical adaptability is more impressive in concert. He makes hairpin turns from driving straight-ahead rock to swinging country waltz. What could tie all these loose ends together? These shows all drip with punk sweat.
Punk intensity is at the core of Belitsky’s beat. “I was inspired mostly by punk rock. I played along to all the Ramones records.” When he was 16, one of his sister’s friends came back from England with a suitcase full of punk records and punk fashion. That sparked a group of kids in his neighborhood to start a band. They drafted him to play their garage-sale kit and the gigs immediately started rolling in. Nevermind that he’d barely held a set of drumsticks. “I told them, ‘I’ve only been playing for a couple of days.’ They said, ‘It doesn’t matter, its punk rock. Just show up.’”
He did show up, and he’s been showing up ever since, with greater success each time. He jobbed and toured around the Eastern Seaboard for a few years with Jale and Pernice Brothers. He also had a band with Andrew Scott, who also played in a number of groups, including the Sadies. In 1998, Scott left to commit to Sloan full-time. He recommended Belitsky to replace him.
Barely a year into The Sadies’ gig, he already faced situations that might scare off most drummers. They teamed up to record some raw soul with the brazen Andre Williams. A high profile tour followed. “There was a particular show we did with Andre at Roskilde Music Festival,” he recalls. “That was an early highlight. You look out and its just a sea of people. Everything just clicked.”
Whether it’s a sea of people at Roskilde or 200 sweaty shoulders packed into Chicago’s Hideout, they do more than “just show up.” Their tenacity has many artists lining up to collaborate. That has resulted in atmospheric country with Neko Case, high-stepping honky-tonk with John Doe, and even impromptu jam sessions with Neil Young.
And now the payoff with the Darker Circles is greater than ever. “The whole process of writing and recording this album was really rewarding,” he says. Working with founding Jayhawk Gary Louris again, they continued to swirl a broad palette of influences into a signature sound.
Darker Circles’ hard-won maturity results from dedication and communication. The new album was born from an environment of honesty and humility. “We’ve gotten into picking apart each other’s work,” says Belitsky. “Once you open yourself up to that, it has to be a two-way street.” In fact, some of his proudest contributions to the album are guitar licks he came up with. “We’ve been perfecting the process of how we work together.”
You can catch The Sadies’ ever-perfecting process when they support Darker Circles with a Northeast/Midwest tour in August.