Monday, September 27, 2004
Steady touring pays off for Billy Talent
By ANGELA PACIENZA
TORONTO (CP) -- From emptying stinky airplane septic tanks to getting stuck in frigid Saskatoon snow drifts and then strutting
the Juno stage as Canada's best new group, it's fair to say the members of Billy Talent have been through all the typical
highs and lows on the quest for rock stardom.
Frontman Ben Kowalewicz, who worked at Pearson International Airport before the band got its record deal, credits an unrelenting
tour schedule for the Toronto group's steady growth -- which saw them break double platinum last week after clocking sales
of more than 200,000 CDs in Canada.
In the past 12 months, the punk-pop band has crossed Canada four times and toured Europe and the United States five times.
They've opened for Jane's Addiction and Buzzcocks, and been part of the Vans Warped Tour. The guys from Bad Religion are fans,
having worn Billy Talent T-shirts on stage.
"It's just been absolutely insane," said Kowalewicz, who is as zippy over the phone as he is onstage, his voice
bouncing all over the place with endless energy. "I don't quite understand it and I don't think I ever want to."
This week, the foursome will climb aboard a swanky, fully furnished tour bus for their fifth jaunt across Canada before
hunkering down with the task of writing a second album.
"We've now graduated to a bus level in Canada," Kowalewicz says excitedly.
The non-stop shows, he says, helped the band earn a Juno for best new group and a MuchMusic trophy for best rock video
for Try Honesty.
The popularity of that song helped make them one the country's biggest radio success stories of past year.
"A lot of bands always ask 'How do you make it?' You write good songs and you tour your ass off," he said. "We
did a lot in a short period of time . . . by the time you start one place and finish in another you have to start back up
again in order to maintain your relevance."
Billy Talent is made up of four friends originally from Mississauga, Ont.
Kowalewicz, guitarist Ian D'Sa, drummer Aaron Solowoniuk and bassist Jonny Gallant met 11 years ago in high school at
a battle of the bands competition.
After milking the local watering holes and dingy pool halls for all they could, the foursome decided they'd have to find
real venues to perform at if they wanted to make a living from music.
Naming themselves after a character from Bruce McDonald's pseudo rockumentary Hard Core Logo, (based on a novel by the
same name), they recorded a four-song disc -- featuring their screaming vocal style -- to shop around. It eventually earned
them a publishing deal with EMI Music.
"We've been together for 11 years. For us to finally have a little bit of success and momentum and people actually
give a shit about what we're doing is pretty crazy," said Kowalewicz, who is often called Billy by fans who don't realize
the band's name is from a novel.
The foursome, all in their late 20s, plan to spend November through January writing new material. Kowalewicz think he'll
be able to once again capture the mood of today's youth now that he's visited other countries.
"I feel more connected with reality than I ever have. I've been to so many different places and listened to so many
different point of views," he said. "I feel more connected to the earth and my surroundings. Now I don't think the
world is big and scary and as hopeless as I once thought it was."
Band proves 'screamo' music makes it with the kids
By LIISA LADOUCEUR
Special to the Toronto Sun
The Docks, Toronto
Friday, October 8, 2004
3 stars and a half out of 5
TORONTO -- Thank you, Billy Talent. Thank you for selling out the The Docks nightclub on Friday night. Thank you for proving
that a cool, new Canadian band can make money, even if they scream really loud. Because not so long ago, I heard a man responsible
for the evil mediocrity that is Nickelback declare that "screamo" music would never make it. Dude, you were so wrong.
There were so many kids at the sold-out show it was practically unbearable for adults, trying to squeeze through thousands
of sweaty boys and girls on their way to and from the front of the stage.
Some as young as 10 were probably attending their first concert. Not Nickelback. Not Avril Lavigne. Billy Talent, a loud,
smart-assed foursome from Toronto whose platinum-selling, self-titled debut is far more daring than most of what passes for
alternative rock these days, what with the primal screaming and all.
Even from the back of the massive room, the band's energy roared from the first guitar riff like a group rebel yell. Singer
Ben Kowalewicz was his usual hyper-active, charismatic self. He cultivated his pin-up status with sexy, trashy talk, while
maintaining a 'nice guy' image. "Take care of each other out there," he told the moshing crowd in his whiny voice.
"We're not Limp Bizkit."
True, Billy Talent is considerably smarter than most blockhead nu-metal. But they're close enough to what's popular for
kids to relate. Drummer Aaron Solowoniuk's rhythms can verge on funky rap-rock, Ben sometimes does dual vox with guitarist
Ian D'sa, ala Linkin Park. A few slower songs even sounded a bit much like '80s hard rock. Still, it felt new and exciting
to see Billy Talent's mass acceptance by a new generation. This is not their parents' music, or even their older brothers'.
The coolest of the kids also dug openers Death From Above 1979 and the Metric, two other local buzz bands who consistently
kill live. DFA's powerful, two-man fuzz rock assault bewildered some of the crowd, while the Metric got lobbed by several
water bottles when not playing their hit Combat Baby. Saucy singer Emily Haines responded with an extended ad-lib rant on
closer "Dead Disco" that lambasted dumb mob mentality. Point: Metric.
Thanks to Billy Talent for bringing thousands of young people to see those two bands and for headlining a show that cemented
the new wave of Canadian music taking over, big time. Whether the folks pushing Nickelback like it or not.
Formed in 1999, Billy Talent is one of the few bands to take hardcore punk, polish it up and still make it sound dirty enough
to appeal to diehard punk fans. After a year of touring alongside
Formed in 1999, Billy Talent is one of the few bands to take hardcore punk, polish it up and still make it sound dirty
enough to appeal to diehard punk fans. After a year of touring alongside The Buzzcocks and major league rockers on Lollapalooza,
their latest self-titled record was released in September on Atlantic Records. Life In A Bungalo got the chance to speak with
vocalist Ben Kowalewicz during some downtime on their US tour.
One of the highlights of your album is Standing In The Rain, which doesn?t seem to get mentioned much in the press. What
were you thinking when you wrote that song?
A lot of people don?t like that song. We were recording our album in Vancouver, a very big port city where a lot of drugs
flow?especially heroin. There?s a small area of about four blocks that is the most polluted, desolate area that has just been
raped and pillaged by heroin. It?s almost hard to believe that it exists in North America. Prostitution and crime is also
very high right by where we were recording. I remember walking, and I saw this girl. She was about my age, she was a prostitute,
and it looked like the world had given up on her. It was weird, because I locked eyes with her, and saw her quite a few times.
Ian wrote a song, and brought the music to Standing In The Rain. It was dirty, but beautiful and very hopeful and triumphant.
While writing lyrics for it, I thought, ?How did Sting ever write a song about prostitution without the stupid ?80s way of
doing coke and banging hookers?? He wrote Roxanne in a very insightful sort of way. I went home for a couple days, and wrote
Standing In The Rain with a napkin and a pen while flying back from Vancouver.
Did you ever talk to that girl?
No, I never actually spoke to her. A lot of times, being a singer and lyricist is very cool because one of the best ways
I like writing is from the third person point of view. Just seeing her in her environment, and being there long enough to
absorb it was enough.
On the opening track This Is How It Goes you hit these insane high notes, on par with a sloppy Bruce Dickinson?it really
gets operatic?do you even care that it?s not clean? What were you thinking when you were pelting that out?
I have a really hard time in the studio. I don?t like studios. I think studios are not made for me. I like playing live,
and I don?t think the music has to be perfect. If there is energy and emotion then that?s all that matters. The bands that
blow my mind away are the ones that just don?t give a fuck. They are in that moment, and that moment is the only one that?s
relevant to the people there. When you are in the studio you have to be very conscious of what you are singing and how you
are singing. I like the finished product, but I don?t like the method. Some days I just didn?t feel it, and some days I would
just walk in, hit record and bang! That?s what was great about our producer?even if we were in our 15th hour of overdubs,
if I was able to sing, he would let me sing. The booth was always ready to roll. I think I sang most of the album back in
Toronto, in a little shithole studio that wasn?t even a studio. I sang pretty much half the album in two days, after trying
to do it for three weeks.
Your record definitely has a raw hardcore punk sound that hasn?t been heard since the mid-1990s. Who do you draw your
For me personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from all the older bands. Vocally, I love Perry Farrell from Jane?s Addiction,
David Bowie, Robert Smith, even Kurt Cobain to Mike Patton. I draw a lot of influence from what my brother was listening to
growing up, and then forced me to get into. So if it weren?t for him, I wouldn?t be listening to this kind of music at all.
Your vocal style is very different. It goes from singing to a screeching chorus of angry noise.
Ian, our guitar player, sings just about as much as I do. We have a lot of shouting vocals, and it?s a little bit of all
of us?not just me. We do a lot of call and response harmonies, which are very Fugazi, Clash influenced. They say a line, then
I say a line, and it all meets at the end.
Billy Talent has been lumped together with the so-called screamo genre. What modern bands do you identify with?
I like Thursday, and all those bands are out there doing what they do, but the funny thing about our band is that we have
never really been accepted into any kind of scene. Growing up we played a lot of punk shows, hardcore shows, and ska shows.
So we always were bouncing through all these different kinds of genres, and we made friends with all these different bands.
There are all these bands that we really got along with, but we were never accepted by one scene. I think what we are trying
to do is just write good songs, and let the music speak for itself. Whatever way you need to dip the aspirin in jam to digest
it is fine. Surprisingly, we?ve never really played with any of the modern screamo bands. We?ve played with Boy Sets Fire,
Sparta, Mars Volta and The Blood Brothers, but we?ve never actually had a tour with one of the newer emo/hardcore bands.
Your moniker is taken from a character in a book that becomes a huge Canadian punk rock star and then crashes hard. Do
you think your band is cursed to go that route, because of your name?
How it came to be, was I had seen the movie version of ?Hard Core Logo,? and we were looking for a band name. The guy
that played Billy Talent is my favorite Canadian actor Callum Keith Rennie, and not even thinking about what the character
did (sell out and go to a major label) we just thought it was a cool name. It was Canadian, and we like the Ziggy Stardust
thing, where the band?s name is a real name.
Any worries that down the line people are going to start calling you Billy like they do to the lead singer of Jimmy Eat
That happens already. People chant ?Billy? when they see me, but we did put in the liner notes that Billy Talent is a
fictional character from a book. All of our names are also in the notes, which is kind of lame as well. I can relate to the
guy from Jimmy Eat World?poor bastard.The Buzzcocks and major league rockers on Lollapalooza, their latest self-titled record
was released in September on Atlantic Records. Life In A Bungalo got the chance to speak with vocalist Ben Kowalewicz during
some downtime on their US tour.
Tuesday, 8 p.m., Burton Cummings Theatre
Billy Talent's Ben Kowalewicz hopes people will take his advice when talking about him: Try honesty.
Since the release of the band's debut last September, the vocalist has heard stories about him that would make Paris Hilton
"I heard I'm a gay heroin addict, which is awesome," he laughs. "People just create things in their heads
about us. I don't care -- my friends and parents know who I am so I don't have to justify anything to anybody."
Kowalewicz has learned to take the pros and cons of being in the national spotlight in stride. He was dumped by his long-time
girlfriend for being away on tour too much and misses family and friends in Toronto, but for all the heartache, Kowalewicz,
28, and his bandmates have had more than enough good times to make up for it.
"There's peaks and valleys, high and low times, but we've become friends with bands we've respected for so long and
met so many amazing kids that it blurs into one unique, amazing, unbelievable experience."
Those experiences include: Selling 200,000 copies of their album; winning a Juno for best new rock band; winning a MuchMusic
Video Award for their breakthrough single, Try Honesty; touring Canada four times; touring Europe five times; being asked
to open for Jane's Addiction in England and The Buzzcocks in the U.S.; spending a month on the Vans Warped tour; partying
with Bad Religion's Jay Bentley and NOFX's Fat Mike.
Now, the punk quartet are making one last trip across Canada before getting down to work on their sophomore release. They
graduated from a van to a bus for the tour -- which sold out the Burton Cummings Theatre in two hours -- and got to pick their
opening acts: synth-pop group Metric and noise duo Death From Above 1979.
"That's the one thing I want to stress every time I'm doing an interview -- come down early for down and dirty, loud,
sexy rock 'n' roll," Kowalewicz says. Presumably with honesty.
I never heard of these four dudes before their "self titled" debut record on this major label. Well, where the heck
have they been? These guys really rocked me away: think of how I met them. Got the CD, put it in the stereo and I have been
blown away since the first guitar chords and drum fills. It's like a rock'n'roll band but with post-hardcore influences. Now,
as far as I hate labels and comparisons, I cannot not think about bands like Refused or The Icarus Line, or even the newest
idols as The Kinison or Tora!Tora!Torrance, but at their top. Billy Talent can really put out the finest rocking music from
their instruments, and even tough they are young, these four Canadians have really a lot of shots under their belt. Such tracks
as "Line And Sinker", "The Ex", "Nothing To Lose", "Lies" and the singles "Try
Honest" and "This Is How It Goes" show the band playing different and amazing music: from the fast and furious
hardcore chords and screams to the softer rock'n'roll, almost poppy punk music. It's good to see young bands like Billy Talent
and it's clear Billy Talent will go far.
Billy Talent are a relatively new name in the UK. It will probably come as a surprise to learn they have been together
for over 11 years. Together since high school in battle of the bands competitions they played for a number of years under
the name Pez, before changing to Billy Talent, a name inspired by a character in the 1996 film, Hard Core Logo.
"We released four tapes, remember those, and did an independent full length album under the name Pez," explains
Kowalewicz. "Under Billy Talent we released a four track independent EP thing as well."
A fair, if somewhat bizarre comparison Billy Talent make is likening themselves to an episode of Seinfeld, the hugely
successful sitcom staring Jerry Seinfeld.
"We just have an obsessive compulsive, overly neurotic sense about us," explains Kowalewicz. "We just have
a really unique way of dealing with situations with the four of us. We manage to get ourselves into so many stupid situations
that could be easily avoided," he adds, choosing not to reveal any further details.
Not only having played together for 11 years the band have, until now, never had a record contract. Jumping directly into
the depths of a major label with Atlantic Records was certainly an experience for them. "We're learning," jokes
Kowalewicz. "It's different, but we're comfortable. Everyone, including myself, thinks of major labels as these big,
evil, faceless and mindless corporations. But now every single label from indie to major has just been hacked and slashed
because no one is buying albums or music anymore so they had to let a lot of people go. I've got a lot of friends in the industry
that have been fired. Trying to humanise the industry is what I've been trying to do. These are people and everyone at Atlantic
so far has been fine. When making the album no one was coming in suggesting stuff to us, all the artwork and music we got
to do ourselves. Any decision making was okayed through us. The thing the major label basically gave to us was the ability
to have CDs in stores."
It's clear from listening to Billy Talent that what they're doing is not original, they are in essence a punk rock band.
However there is a degree of freshness to their sound that is lacking from the music scene. The band have taken a tried and
tested formula, tweaked it, thrown in an element of Seinfeld and created an excellent product.
"When you're playing with people it is the dynamic between the people you're creating with. You could get someone
to come and play in the band but it wouldn't be the four of us," Kowalewicz attempts to explain. He continues acknowledging
that the band are not attempting to reinvent the wheel. "We're a rock and roll band. It's one those things with us."
In their 11 years together, Kowalewicz is quick to recall some of his most memorable moments in Billy Talent. The band
supported the Buzzcocks on their American tour and have recently played with Jane's Addiction, a band Kowalewicz grew up loving
and respecting. "I'm not really impressed with their new album," he argues. "I think it's dated. The reason
I liked Jane's was for the energy that came off their albums. The new one I find very polished."
A lot of Kowalewicz's lyrics come from listening to different people's experiences and points of view, venting their frustrations
through himself. The track 'Standing In The Rain' for example tells the story of a heroin-addicted prostitute.
"It's weird. I meet a lot of people; that's the beauty of this job," he begins. "I get to hear so many
stories and people's points of view on things I might have never thought of. You meet people you can relate with and people
that have lived through things I could never imagine. A lot of the time I like writing in third person but from the first
person view, if that makes sense."
This manifests itself throughout their debut album, in many sombre ways, revealed when Kowalewicz begins talking about
the track 'Nothing To Lose.' "I wrote it when I was reading a newspaper on tour," he explains. "There's a town
near where I'm from and there was a boy being teased at school because he had really bad acne. One kid said 'why don't you
go home and kill yourself?' That day he went home and hung himself at lunchtime. I realised there's more to life than high
school, so I wrote a song from his point of view."
It's difficult knowing where to continue when someone has just recited an event like that to you.
Conversation eventually returns to the band and to D'Sa, and his talent besides that of guitarist as an animator. "You
know that makes me mad," laughs Kowalewicz. "God pisses me off sometimes," he adds. "He gave this one
kid so much talent it's ridiculous. It's unbelievable how talented he is. Ian does all our artwork. He graduated at the top
of his class at background design. We wanted to go with a very cold, Russian, almost Communist look. We went almost opposite.
I went to Cuba then we decided to do like a Cuban revolutionary flag, which is what the cover is about."
Cuba was "absolutely unbelievably amazing," Kowalewicz exclaims excitedly. "The musicians on street corners
are unreal. There's no Americanism, no McDonalds or Burger Kings, no Kentucky fucking Fried Chicken. It's just how it was
left in 1953."
Conversation shifts back to Russia and how Americanisation is gradually creeping into the former Soviet country. An abundance
of McDonalds and other American corporations are already firmly routed in Moscow. Kowalewicz reveals it's the next place he
wants to visit. "The plague is setting in," he jokes, referring to America.
Returning to Billy Talent Kowalewicz begins talking about his aspirations for the band.
"The most important thing is simply playing. We'll live breathe and die by playing," he states. "It's the
best thing in the world. It's been a pretty crazy 15 months." After 11 years in the underground Billy Talent are finally
making their presence known and enjoying it. "Enjoying to the absolute fucking fullest, which is the only way you should
be," Kowalewicz concludes.
Billy Talent's self-titled debut album is out now on Atlantic Records.
Visit www.billytalent.com for more info.