From performing solo at local venues to a sold-out JunoFest show with his band, the up-and-coming artist has a promising future ahead
Chatting over a coffee in the performing arts area of Mount Royal University, Calgary blues singer Mitch Belot reminisces about the first gig he ever played with his band, just a year prior.
It was the CD release party for the Mitch Belot Band, a local group that describe their sound as ‘swampy blues rock’ with a few alternative and country elements. Held in a tiny tasting room in the upstairs of Village Brewery in March 2015, lead singer Belot says this first gig with the band was his greatest performance to date.
“It was packed; we had double the amount of people we were supposed to have in that room.” Incredibly modest, the suave performer admits he doesn’t much like talking about himself.
“The police showed up and there was people crowd surfing,” he laughs. They had been doing a routine drive-by through the usually quiet industrial area of Calgary, and went in to check what was going on, he adds.
“It was kind of scary for a second because we hadn’t even played yet. The second band was still playing. There were people jumping at one point during the show and you could feel the floor moving.”
Fortunately, the party wasn’t shut down and the band was able to perform as planned. “It was really fun. It was nice to see how many people came out to support us,” says Belot.
Dyllan Goodman, Belot’s drummer, says the band has had amazing chemistry ever since they first played together that night. “Our first show was the perfect example of what was to come of the band. We had the whole floor dancing and partying without anyone in the crowd knowing the lyrics, just hearing the music.”
Born and raised in Calgary, 23-year-old musician Mitch Belot has only been playing guitar since he was fifteen, but his swampy blues rock sounds like he stepped right out of 1930s Mississippi. His band is currently in the process of raising funds to produce a third album, and is planning a number of gigs this summer to help achieve this goal.
Belot has not always performed in a band, however. His musical beginnings were very much solo. “I’ve always liked music. I used to put on singing and dancing shows for my parents when I was really little,” he says. It’s not difficult to imagine the baby-faced blond entertaining at a young age, as it comes so naturally to him today.
At the age of fifteen, Belot was given his first guitar for Christmas. Most people start off with an acoustic, but not Belot. “I wanted to be ‘cool’ right away,” he laughs. “I got an electric.”
Eight years later, the instruments in Belot’s repertoire are impressive. In addition to both electric and acoustic guitar, he plays the ukulele, drums, and a medieval-looking instrument called a merlin. “It looks like a canoe paddle. The frets are oddly spaced so that no matter where you put your finger, it sounds good.”
Belot says he owes his musical talent to his grandfather, who was a skilled pianist. “He was one of the few people in my family who is really musical,” he says of his late grandfather. “My mom says I look like him. It’s kind of cool, I feel a little bit of a connection with him.”
Towards the end of high school, Belot decided he wanted to play music seriously. His friends were all choosing career paths in business or medicine, but as a performing arts student, Belot says he wanted to follow this route. “When I realized how much I love performing for people, [I thought] maybe I can actually pull this stuff off!”
Once he turned eighteen, the Calgarian native began performing solo at local bars across the city. “It’s the only thing I felt happiest doing,” he says.
Two years after graduating high school and having spent some time in Australia, Belot auditioned and was accepted into the music program at Humber College in Toronto. He says he had escaped to Toronto to explore and start afresh after a nasty break-up. “There’s so many talented musicians there that it’s impossible not to improve. It helped me phenomenally.”
Soon, however, Belot began to have second thoughts. “I had a really fun time, but that summer I came home and was playing back here in Calgary and didn’t know if I wanted to go back.” It was a great program, he adds, “but it just wasn’t for me.”
Now finishing his first year of Mount Royal University’s broadcasting program, Belot says he meets a lot of people who could help him promote his music. “Broadcasting is cool because it’s similar to the music industry… It’s another kind of performance.”
Belot says he stumbled upon his current band members by accident. “I met the guitar player at an open mic. He introduced me to the drummer and now the drummer’s brother plays bass for us.”
Lead guitarist Vincent Bundick says the band is great to perform with. “Mitch is a fantastic songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. He’s always killing it, in rehearsal and on stage. The rest of us have to be at the top of our game to keep up with him.”
Both contestants in 2014, Belot and Bundick met during the first round of Stampede Talent Search, an annual competition during the Calgary Stampede for amateur performing artists between the ages of six and twenty-one.
A few months later, Bundick says he received a message from Belot asking if he played slide guitar. “At the time I’d dabbled a bit, but really had no idea what I was doing. I told him I could.”
An hour before playing with Belot for the first time, Bundick says he learned as many slide licks as he possibly could. “The jam went well enough [that] we’ve been playing together ever since,” he says.
“They’re totally different feelings, solo and band,” says Belot, who still performs both. “I like the band because I get to move around and interact with the [members]. Solo is cool because you only have to rely on yourself to put on a good show.”
Belot writes all the lyrics to his songs, and says he draws inspiration from a variety of sources.
“I take that old blues stuff and that’s kind of the base, the old 30s and 40s. But then I modernize it a lot, make it kind of electric sounding. It’s very Black Keys.” Formed in 2001, this American rock duo has taken the world by storm. American guitarist Gary Clark Jr. is yet another inspiration to Belot.
His sound is not typical of most musicians his age, which Belot says helps him out a lot because people remember him more easily for that reason. “It’s not like I’m trying to be an old guy… there’s modern twists to it and I’m reimagining old genres.” Belot says the way he looks doesn’t parallel his style of music. “This tall, blonde kid comes on and plays blues music and sings the way I do… I think it surprises people a bit!”
Belot says it is important for him to write about personal experience because it has more weight. “I think when people listen to music, they can tell when something is real and when something isn’t.” The song Belot is proudest of is Jumping Ship, which also happens to be the one people enjoy most, he adds. He always closes his set with this song because it’s so high energy and it gets the crowd up on their feet, dancing and singing.
“I wrote it in a really personal place. I actually wasn’t going to put it out into the world because I was nervous about what people would think about it,” he says. “I wrote it as a really sad song. It’s more upbeat now, which is how it should be.”
Jumping Ship is currently Belot’s second most popular song on iTunes after Rock Me Slow, a hit from his first EP released in August 2013. His most recent album, Down the Rabbit Hole, is also available on iTunes and was released in March 2015.
“Mitch is very creative with the way he forms the songs,” says Goodman. “He is always wanting to try something new but keeping with his blues roots. He also has trust in us to make his songs come to life with the rest of the instruments and doesn’t try to micro-manage. We all respect each other and our suggestions and opinions.”
Belot says he has the songs ready and the band would love to release a third album in the near future, it’s just a small problem of finding the money to fund production. “We want to do a ten-song record. We’re just going to try and put on some shows that will help us raise some money, and also try to get a musical grant,” he says. Such grants are offered by the Canada Council for the Arts, which provides successful applicants between $12,000 to $24,000 a year to pursue their artistic and creative developments.
The Mitch Belot Band has come a long way since their first performance together last March, and are already making a name for themselves in Calgary and across the country.
Their most recent gig was JunoFest on April 1, 2016, where they performed to a packed house at The Blues Can in Inglewood. The band’s summer plans include Dog Patch Music Festival in Saskatchewan and the Canada Day Festival in downtown Calgary. “[It’s] super cool because tons of people go to that, and we’re the headlining band,” says Belot.
When asked where he’d like to see himself in five years, Belot answers instantly. “I would love to be touring around with a band and playing all over. I like travelling, but I always like coming home. I’ll be twenty-eight-years-old, so that’s getting closer to really becoming an adult if you’re not a successful musician by that time. Let’s hope I’m doing that!” he laughs.
Thumbnail courtesy of Brooke Cupelli
The editor responsible for this article is Dan Ball, email@example.com