After losing singer and guitarist Dallas Good, the Sadies talk healing, touring and what’s next

It’s hard to think of an event in recent memory that has torn a more gaping hole in the soul of the Toronto music community than the sudden death of Dallas Good this past February.

Not only was Good one of the most gifted, versatile and egoless players ever to grace a stage anywhere on this planet, he was a genuinely warm, decent and altogether lovable human being. All of which are qualities long shared by his equally talented and equally easy-to-get-along-with bandmates of nearly 20 years in the Sadies — big brother and fellow singer/guitarist Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky — and which, no doubt, collectively add up to why the relentlessly hard-working quartet has been consistently called upon by indisputable cool cats from Neko Case, Rick White and Greg Keelor to Jon Langford of the Mekons, Jon Spencer and X’s John Doe to the dearly departed Andre Williams, Justin Townes Earle and Gord Downie as recording and/or touring collaborators pretty much since formation in 1994.

When Dallas left us at just 48 years old on Feb. 17 to “natural causes while under doctor’s care for a coronary illness discovered earlier this week,” then, it was a double-blow: not only did a lot of people lose a friend overnight, but the grim spectre of a future without the Sadies — a truly ripping live band that will go down in the books one way or another as a Canadian national treasure — also became reality.

For the moment, the Sadies are cautiously feeling their way into that future. The July 22 release of new studio album “Colder Streams”, a heartbreakingly accomplished dose of gnarled Gothic/lysergic cow-punk darkness that ranks as one of the Sadies’ best efforts — Paste magazine immediately declared it “far and away the best the band has ever sounded on record,” while No Depression raved with “no exaggeration” that “this is the stuff psychedelic dreams are made of” — completed in June of 2021 with deft production help from Arcade Fire guitarist Richard Reed Parry and the Luyas’ Pietro Amato behind the mixing board, was a first step. Talking about the future, one suspects, is the next.

The remaining Sadies haven’t done an interview since Dallas’s death, and Dean eventually, understandably begged off this one at the last minute because the wound is still too raw. So this writer is grateful to Travis and Belitsky — who had to have surgery for a torn ligament in his wrist a month ago, further derailing any return to the road until at least the fall — for reluctantly granting me some time a few days back. I know it wasn’t easy.

Dallas and Travis were two of the first Toronto musicians I met upon moving to this city in 1998, just as the Sadies were releasing their first album, “Precious Moments,” on Bloodshot Records. One of my favourite rock ‘n’ roll memories ever, in fact, is Dallas complimenting me on my Elevator to Hell T-shirt during that initial interview at the old La Hacienda on Queen West, then quietly excusing himself to the apartment he held upstairs with an impish grin on his face and returning with … Elevator to Hell. We were neighbours for years and he was a pal and always a great hang and this wasn’t easy for me, either, so I’ll just let the Sadies do the talking.

Q: I’m sure it was kinda weird putting out a record last Friday, but it’s a really, really solid piece of work and I hope you feel that way about it, too. So, I guess, what’s the mood and how did it feel putting out a new album after all that’s gone on?

Good: It’s mixed emotions. It’s highs and lows. It’s not a celebration, really, but it kind of is. Dallas left us a pretty good record, y’know? I know he was proud of it, and I am. I’m proud of the record. But it was weird when it came out because usually when they come out we hit the road right away and because of new circumstances we’re not able to hit the road right away. Usually, when a record comes out, that’s the beginning of a really endless tour schedule. That won’t start up for us now until September because of Mike’s wrist injury.

Belitsky: Given Dallas’s passing in February, the release of this record feels (like) it has been building to feel like a real tribute to him, in a way, or at least some kind of testament to the work that he put into it and to the fact that he won’t be able to do another record. As Travis said, it’s not really a celebration of a great thing, but it is a great accomplishment on Dallas’s part and I kind of think that’s what’s being honoured here.

Q: I’m sure Dallas wouldn’t want to overshadow everything, but it is a pretty great accomplishment on all your parts and it kind of captures the best essence of everything you guys are good at in every direction. It’s the sort of record I don’t think a band can make unless it’s put in some time figuring out what it does and figuring out how all those different parts cohabitate. Does it feel that way to you?

Belitsky: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think it’s also learning how we work best as a band in the studio, and that’s often through just doing it over and over again and getting better at it.

Good: It was a different sort of experience, too, because of the COVID and all. We were in Montreal, it was heavy lockdown and we were socially distancing in a small studio. We were going in often in pairs, not as a band. It was stretched out over a really long period of time and we really took our time. And also, I guess, with COVID and not touring and stuff all the time, we really enjoyed each other’s company, y’know? It was nice to get together. It wasn’t a daunting task, which squeezing a record in between tours often is. So it was a different sort of pace that was really nice. We had really big periods between sessions. We would go months at a time and we would talk about what we were gonna do next. So, yeah, we were really focused.

Belitsky: There was more time to pass a demo around and get really comfortable with a part and more often than not Richard, as a producer, would have some suggestions. But everyone was really familiar with the skeleton structure of each song, and that’s something that’s often not possible, time-wise — to get as comfortable with the numbers as we were this time.

Q: The interweaving elements that have always bred within the music of the Sadies seem to coexist very peacefully on this one. It does feel like you’ve grown into yourselves and put your best feet forward in all directions.

Good: Yup, we finally got our s–t together right at the very end. It took us 11 records to really get our s–t together. We’re slow learners.

Q: I’m sure Friday (July 22) was a tough day, but I hope there was some joy in it.

Good: Oh, there was. And the more we listened to the record, the more we played the record, the more comfortable we felt with it. At first, it was hard just to listen to the record, as you can imagine. And then, after awhile, it really got my attention. More than any other record.

Belitsky: Really, it was so finished before Dallas died. Like, everything was finished. The artwork. He had written the liner notes. It was supposed to come out in November and just because of the whole supply-chain fiasco and the backlog at pressing plants it kept getting pushed and pushed. So it really is a completed Sadies record. And if we can be happy about anything, that’s certainly one thing we can be happy about. It’s not like we had to go in and finish it thinking “What would Dallas have wanted this guitar sound to be like?”

Q: What’s the plan of attack now that it’s out? Obviously, playing music is what you guys live and breathe to do, so what is the status of the Sadies?

Good: Well, the three of us were planning on doing it. We had some shows booked. We had a Europe tour booked. We did three shows on the east coast in the States with Jon Langford and Sally Timms about a month ago and, up until Mike blew his wrist out, we thought we were gonna go out and promote the record. We owe that to Dallas and ourselves, to follow this record through and see what happens, and we were starting to feel pretty good about it. So hopefully, once Mike gets on the mend we’ll get it back together, get out and bring the songs to life. It’s always been about the live show for us, really, to a degree. And hopefully it still will be.

Q: Mike, how long are you “in recovery,” as it were?

Belitsky: I had the surgery on July 4 and I literally started to teach myself how to play drums with just my right hand and two legs on July 6 so I’m getting alright at it. So I’ve had that as a good way to burn my days because I can’t really do much else. I still have to keep my arm elevated so I just have a stack of pillows on a table next to my drum kit. That’s kind of where I’m at. I’m really just playing the waiting game. I’ve seen the surgeon a couple of times since the operation and he’s looked at images of it and it couldn’t have gone better, so now it’s just a matter of waiting until everything meshes back together and doing physio. I’m just excited for the next challenge of learning how to re-use my left hand.

Q: For a band that’s always had its records judged against its live shows, I really do think this one – even though it’s not a live-off-the-floor, knocked-out thing — captures the essence of the Sadies better than a lot of the previous recordings. How did that work? I can’t imagine you guys locked away in isolation booths like Pink Floyd doing “The Final Cut.”

Good: I agree and I’m not even sure how we did that because we were in smaller groups due to COVID. I guess Richard and Pietro had a lot to do with that, just capturing the sounds. But it’s not a big studio, either. It’s a small room. There were no booths.

Belitsky: Being comfortable with the songs, there’s less hesitation on the track. Certainly, on the bed or basic drum tracks, anyway. And that’s kind of where it would start, with that feeling of freshness where you’re not doing 40 takes just to learn the song. Having already known what the structure of the song was and having some ideas about what I wanted to execute, there was a little more of that spontaneous, first-take feel to it, I think, and that’s maybe what had been missing in the past. Certainly on our earlier records, there was no time and we would just bash through them so that was pretty much “live” but maybe we weren’t just very good then.

Q: I can’t imagine how it must feel to move forward with a limb missing, but you do have this beautiful piece of work and I don’t think there’s anything disingenuous about honouring your brother — and I just assume you’re all brothers after this many years of living in vans together — by going on and seeing this thing through without him. Do you feel that way?

Good: Very much so, yeah. Y’know, when we first got together after Dallas died, when we started playing the first time we couldn’t really touch the old songs. It was just too weird. So the first thing we were drawn to, to learn to play, was the new record. It was a new start. To try to revisit old things was just too painful. So it really got us off the ground.

Belitsky: Yeah, and there hadn’t been a precedent to do them live. We had just started to rehearse them and, in a way, that gave us a little more freedom in how to present them in a live scenario. But still, not hearing Dallas’s parts did require us to sometimes pull back from trying to fill that space and to just leave that space empty.

Q: Do you guys want to involve different people to fill that space? I know it would take a nation of millions to fill those shoes but by being able to play pretty much anything with anyone, you do have the advantage of being able to carry on this legacy and honour the songs and the spontaneity and musicianship of it without doing it in an icky way.

Good: That’s what we’re trying to navigate right now. Hopefully the curse is almost lifted on the Sadies. We’re known for collaborating with people and I could see that happening down the road. Not replacing Dallas ever, but doing different projects with different people. We’ve got a pretty big stable of friends that we’ve worked with that we could do it again. And if we can get to the point where we don’t think Dallas is rolling in his grave, we’ll keep doing what we do. For as long as we can.

Ben Rayner is a Toronto-based journalist and a frequent contributor to the Star’s Culture section. Follow him on Twitter: @ihatebenrayner


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Leave a Comment