Feature: Jack Foley
PUNK rock has inspired countless artists over the years, so isn't
it time for a band to bring that inspiration back around?
Blistering with energy, Billy Talent claim to capture the spirit,
attitude, and explosiveness that first launched rock's rebel cause.
Musically, the group captures a pressing sense of urgency devoid
of anything trite or gimmicky. Ultimately, Billy Talent is the
type of band that pops as much for its melodic sensibilities as
for its against-the-grain aggression.
For their first Atlantic album, band members Benjamin Kowalewicz
(vocals), Ian D'Sa (guitar), Jon Gallant (bass), and Aaron Solowoniuk
(drums) worked with producer, Gavin Brown, to record 13 songs
that underline the group's accessible melodies, distinct writing,
and balanced arrangements.
"When we started out, there was something different about
us," says Ian, who has a background in professional animation.
"Rather than trying to emulate popular bands at the time,
we embraced our uniqueness."
Benjamin adds: "Music for us depends on the individuals
you are playing with, and individually we are all at our best
in the context of this band. Our collaboration and chemistry work.
"For years we tried to find our sound, but everything started
happening when we simply accepted what we are. When you find your
voice, everything else follows suit."
As the moody music creates an emotional edge, the stories within
the songs are designed to deliver the knockout punches.
For instance, the track, Standing In the Rain, explores
the painful recollections of a heroin-addicted prostitute, while
How It Goes absorbs the roller-coaster emotions of a
friend diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Overcoming an abusive childhood, incurring deadly reactions to
teen ridicule, and doing horrific acts for one's 15 minutes are
other gripping issues that shape Billy Talent's stirring reflections
of modern society.
"Most of my inspiration comes
from listening to different people's experiences and points of
view," says Benjamin, who often writes during frustrating
fits of insomnia.
"Lyrics are about imagery, telling the story, and expressing
an emotion in which the music compliments the words and the words
the music. My inspiration comes when I'm not comfortable, when
I'm faced with situations and have to let everything out."
Flipping back the calendar, the members of Billy Talent met during
a high school talent show in which Ian played in a band different
from the others.
Following the event, the two groups began playing the local pool
halls and dive bars together, though eventually, as each band
reached its own artistic ceiling, Benjamin approached Ian about
starting a new band with Jon and Aaron.
"They are all really good guys and musicians who wanted
to do something new," recalls Benjamin, "while the guys
I was playing with just wanted to do rock 'n' roll. I was thrilled
to start a new band that focused on being more creative."
This new group, originally performing under a different name,
demonstrated an immediate new synergy as evidenced on their 1998
debut LP, Watoosh.
Inspired by a character in the film Hard Core Logo, the foursome
were re-christened as Billy Talent and soon recorded their breakthrough
EP, 2001's Try Honesty.
The four-song disc not only defined their style and voice, it
also nabbed the group a publishing deal with EMI.
Then, as local radio kicked in, Billy Talent solidified its spot
as a top regional draw, performing with groups like Goldfinger,
Sparta, and on MTV’s Campus Invasion.
In fact, their underground buzz led the group to fill in for
Busta Rhymes on the main stage at the Area: 2 tour's local stop
(featuring Moby and David Bowie).
"We are a great live band because we know that playing live
comes first and everything else comes second," says Aaron.
"Every show is different, never rehearsed. We feed off each
other, and the crowd really sets us off."
"People are looking for something tangible in music,"
adds Benjamin. "It often seems there's nothing for people
to attach to, nothing to identify with, no motivation, and nothing
inspiring. I'm a firm believer that inspiration does exist, you
just have to find it."
Photograph by Dustin Rabin