THE SADIES: YOU’RE BRINGING OUT THE BADASS IN ME
Stream: The Sadies “Stop The World And Let Me Off” (with John Doe)
The Sadies are Canada’s magnificent responding echo to California country and just finished a set of shows with Black Mountain. Their new album (featuring John Doe, one in a long line of Sadies collaborators also including Andre Williams, Robyn Hitchcock and Jon Langford) is out now on Yep Roc and drummer Mike Belitsky speaks now before the van goes tearing away southward. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Why do people call you ‘Snake’?
Mike Belitsky (drums): It’s kind of really not as tough as it sounds. I don’t know if you ever saw that movie Escape From New York—Snake Plissken is in that movie and I moved to Toronto from New York and the Sadies’ road manager was like, “What’s his last name—Plissken?” Because my name is Belitsky—he’s like, “Plissken from New York? Snake Plissken!” So they started calling me ‘Snake.’
I’m glad it didn’t have anything to do with human anatomy.
No. Well, I mean—that’s a story for another magazine.
Do you still have the same ‘64 Ludwig kit that you used to sleep inside the kick drum?
I do still have it. I practice on it and I keep it in my basement now.
What kind of dreams did you have when you were inside? Was it like a return to the womb?
Pretty much. I think I did it mostly because I was so psyched. It was a bit of a Christmas morning kind of thing—I didn’t get ‘em for Christmas but it was like that to wake up and be so excited that I had something new and I wouldn’t even have to go downstairs. They were just right there—my head was inside of them.
From ‘Snake’ to ‘sweet’ in like two seconds. How many times have you thrown up on your own drum set?
Once. Have you heard about this? Is that why you’re asking? It was some food poisoning, I was feeling really sick and it was opening up for Whiskey Town when we played as Neko Case’s band. They were psyched. It was my kit, not his, and I was just thinking, ‘If I can just get through this set, I can go back to the hotel and crash out.’ But I couldn’t make it to the end of the set. I counted in the first song and right on the one I threw up.
But you came in on the one?
I still came in on the one—I just came in with some extra vomit.
Have you ever broken two laws at one time?
I have and I got arrested for it.
Did they charge you for both of them or did they give you a break?
No, just one of them. That’s the problem—if you do two you’re going to get caught for doing one of them. Stick to one and you’re doing alright.
What is the most number of laws you broke at one time?
You know, probably no more than three at once—but none of them were anything crazy. Like breaking and entering or drinking underage, that’s the worst I ever did—and the breaking and entering was in an empty warehouse. I mean, you have to drink somewhere when you’re 16.
You’re really growing into the ‘Snake’ nickname as the interview progresses.
Hey, man, you’re bringing out the badass in me—asking me about my criminal record.
Have you ever visited the Sudbury Nickel in person?
I have. It’s big. It’s like five stories high. It was funny because I drove through there a bunch of times before I ever saw it so I was kind of excited. Humbling? No, not so much but definitely a bit of a closure of a chapter. I’ve always wanted to see it and I saw it so now I can move on. I can move on to giant dinosaurs in the Midwest.
What’s the next landmark you’ve got to cross off on the list?
I kind of want to see the Chrysler building in New York. I also want to go to Madison Square Garden. I saw the Stray Cats there but I don’t remember it. It was just really dark. I want to go to a sporting event there.
Hockey, by chance?
Yeah, I’d love to go see hockey there.
I found a quote by [guitarist] Travis [Good] where he says during all the lifetime of the band you guys have just kept speeding up. Is that true? How does that weigh on you since you have to be the guy to put the speed in it?
It’s kind of true. I’m conscious of it—I remember shortly after I’d moved to Toronto to join the band, I realized how fast and good of guitar players those two guys were and at the same time I had injured my wrist—so in order to get through rehabbing, it made me focus on rudiments and by focusing on rudiments I was able to increase the speed at which I was able to play. I was very conscious of not wanting to be the reason why we were playing the songs slower.
What are you guys playing in the set right now? Everything?
We do a pretty wide variety of our recorded repertoire. I don’t think there’s any record that we don’t do at least one or two songs from. Naturally it’s a little bit more leaning towards our newer releases but there are some staples that haven’t ever gone away. There’s stuff for everyone. There’s been a pretty big style change from record one to now and if you like one kind you wont be left in the woods not hearing that type of music.
If anybody shouts out for Pink Floyd are you going to play it?
Maybe. We do a couple of numbers by them. We do ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Lucifer Sam,’ but yeah—we love that Piper At the Gates of Dawn record.
Of all the folks—like John Doe, Jon Langford, and Robyn Hitchcock—who have crossed paths with you, what sort of wisdom have they passed along?
I don’t think anything like word-wise, but the one thing that I find to be the most recurring quality in all those people is that they are really on the level. And if it’s not going how they want, they will speak their mind and not try to pull a fast one on anybody.
So what’s the lesson there? ‘Don’t fuck around’?
Yeah, that’s pretty good. You know—just be really upfront with people whether it’s about business or music. Unfortunately it’s a music business and that can be alienating to people in partnerships and it’s really important to be upfront and on the level about not only making the music but also the other side of it, too.
Is it true you guys all have your own separate iPods in the van?
We don’t really do a communal listen—we tend to keep it kind of individual. Every now and then somebody will hook their iPod up to the main stereo and share. The bands that we probably agree on are the Ramones, AC/DC, the Byrds, Love, Johnny Cash. Then there’s stuff I like that nobody wants to hear. I really like that AM ‘70s pop. Yacht rock seems more like Kenny Loggins and Messina and shit like that. I never really liked that too much. I’m more kind of like Poco-y stuff.
What is your most beloved California record?
I really like Forever Changes by Love—I think that was probably recorded in California. Dallas turned me on to that record and I really like it a lot. I don’t know if it’s my all time favorite, but that’s the one I’m listening to the most from California.
If you only have five minutes to make a good impression on Andre Williams, what’s a good way to get him going?
He really likes talking about women, for sure.
Any specific aspect of femininity?
I think he doesn’t discern. He likes all parts and anything that is woman. But he’s a great guy—I really love the guy. From the time that I spent with him there is not a day that goes by where somehow I don’t reference him or something he said.
What is the latest that you’ve ever stayed up with him?
All night. We were on a tour bus together, so that sometimes just happens. You get on a schedule where you’re working at night and you wind down after the show and everybody is just there. We had some great all-night bull sessions and he’s a great guy.
What’s it like to watch the sunrise with Andre Williams?
It’s incredible. I loved it. He’s really, really special. I think it might even be on videotape somewhere too. And it was in Sweden to top it all off, so that’s pretty neat.
How much of your wardrobe has rhinestones on it?
I don’t think anything, me personally. I’ve got some fancy snaps though—they kind of look like jelly beans.
THE SADIES ON TUE., MAY 26, AT SPACELAND, 1717 SILVERLAKE BLVD., SILVERLAKE. 8:30PM / $10-$12 / 21+. CLUBSPACELAND.COM. THE SADIES’ COUNTRY CLUB (WITH JOHN DOE) IS OUT NOW ON YEP ROC. VISIT THE SADIES AT THESADIES.NET OR MYSPACE.COM/THESADIES.