Canadian punk-influenced rock ‘n’ roll band Billy Talent are making great shakes in their homeland and its geographically smaller Southern neighbour.
Although they’re still a fairly unknown quantity of Blighty’s shores, they managed to top end of year rock magazine polls for Best International Newcomer, so the future is looking bright.
musicOMH caught up with the band as they prepared to play a recent London show to discuss music, management – and manure…
It’s 4pm, we’re at London’s Islington Academy and Billy Talent are rocking out. Upon seeing us, the playing stops and we are attacked with (insert Canadian accents here): “Heeeyyy!”, “Hey there!” and even a “Helllooooo theeerreee!” All friendly so far.
Waiting for the band to finish or, more accurately, abruptly end their soundcheck, takes a couple of minutes before singer, Ben Kowalewicz, joins us in the upstairs bar. He quickly shakes hands before jogging to the side of the bar area and yelling, “Stop playing for like 10 minutes! We’re having interviews up here!” to the rest of the band who had restarted their practice. As the band quickly stops mid-song, Ben jogs back and flings himself over the sofas.
We compliment him on the rehearsal, and Ben laughs to himself as he claims that they’re just “messing around”. His remark could be modesty or else just a man attempting to create a defence for his band if ever they were to be criticised for their live performances. However their rehearsal did sound great, giving a taster of what was to come later at their gig.
According to the vocalist, Billy Talent like visiting Britain but find that there’s no real difference between British and Canadian fans:
“Nah, fans are similar: nice, polite and musically savvy. They’re definitely in the know.”
Of course that’s mainly because said fans are into Billy Talent, which is no mean feat for the average mainstream listener on the UK side of the Pond. Despite their impressive approach to 2003 with the release of their debut album, and tours with Funeral For A Friend and Million Dead, they’re still relatively unknown, though this is changing.
Their quiet status in the world of celebrity has not yet provided the band with countless stories of deranged fanaticism or even one case of such an event, as Ben explained:
“Nah we’re not that kind of band. We don’t usually draw that type of attention.”
Again, he begins to laugh to himself, possibly thinking / hoping of what the future has in store for Billy Talent.
Ben describes Billy Talent’s sound in the same way that he says he describes it to his fans – by giving a point of reference:
“… Like I always say, I list the bands that our band like, like The Clash, Fugazi, Jane’s Addiction, Pixies, David Bowie…”
Ben’s list of punk, hardcore and alternative arty rock demonstrates Billy Talent’s ambition to be more than just another North American pop-punk band. Their mixture of influences can be shown in their music and lyrics that range from desperation (Nothing To Lose) to the plain amusing / horny (Cut The Curtains).
“No-one has ever influenced our artistic creativity.” – Billy Talent vocalist Ben Kowalewicz defiantly asserts the band’s autonomy
At this point, drummer Aaron Solowoniuk enters the fray, and with Ben obviously not keen on hogging all of the spotlight, he’s welcomed with open arms.
The band’s debut album was self-titled. We wonder if this was the band’s decision or just management not bothering to pick a name for the album.
Ben and Aaron are both shocked by this. Maybe the question is too blunt as it provokes the formerly chilled-out drummer to react with:
“Harsh! That is so harsh!”
After some hesitation, Ben answers the question sarcastically (“Yeah it was our management”) but quickly alters it so as to not be misquoted or misunderstood:
“No, it was us, it wasn’t our management. Everything that we say or do, we do it ourselves. No-one has ever influenced our artistic creativity. We just thought that, you know, we wouldn’t want it to be called “Shadows In The Snow” or something – we just let the name speak for itself. Let the music speak for itself without the need for a catchphrase.”
Fair enough – Billy Talent are clearly a band who want their music and lyrics to do the talking. Speaking of which, Ben reveals how his lyrical contribution to the band comes about:
“It usually happens when I’m… lying in bed…” – What is Billy Talent vocalist Ben Kowalewicz talking about? Actually, it’s when he gets the inspiration for lyrics
“It usually happens when I’m… lying in bed, sitting and pondering the day’s events – it’ll just kinda come to me and I’ll have to get up and have a cup of tea or something.”
“The best songs are whatever songs you write with conviction and passion. You know what I mean, like it doesn’t matter what your song is about as long as you mean it.”
Suddenly the conversation ends and it becomes obvious that Ben has had enough with explaining himself and his music while Aaron has zoned out a while back. A change of subject is required. What were they doing before the band? Ben replies:
“I used to clean septic tanks in aeroplanes.”
Is the band an improvement?
“Barely! Nah, absolutely! We had started the band at that point but we obviously weren’t playing enough to make enough money to pay our rent so we all had to do some pretty terrible jobs.”
“Yeah I was working in an assembly line building cars!” exclaims Aaron. “I was putting sticks through a door every 45 seconds, 500 times a day.”
“I used to clean septic tanks in aeroplanes.” – Billy Talent vocalist Ben Kowalewicz explains how he used to have, quite literally, a crap job
Billy Talent’s past is an important factor in their present and songs such as How It Goes seem to refer to the hardships of the earlier stages of the band’s career.
Last question of the day comes in the form of a super band. If they had the opportunity to create the greatest band ever, the mother of all bands, which members from any group in the world would be involved in it?
Longingly expectant of some epic answer consisting of list upon lists of their idols and influences, we find Ben’s reply dissatisfying although not completely surprising:
“I’d pick these guys to be a member of my band.”
So you’re your own favourite band then?
Once again Ben is forced to chuckle to himself at his reply:
“Yeah, we’re definitely our own favourite band!”
Misquoting The Hives album or just a bout of egotism? Neither: Ben’s sarcastic and humorous approach to question-answering ensures that his comment will not be taken the wrong way. However, his honesty and pure passion surrounding the band’s music and relationship with each other results in a certain truth underlying his claim. Before you can ask, “Is your next album going to be called Billy Talent Strikes Back?”, everyone from the average rock fan to pop-chart fanatic ought to be singing along to their songs, not only because Billy Talent are nice, friendly people who make quality rock music, but because if cleaning faeces from aeroplanes is anything to go by, then boy do they deserve to.