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Billy Talent - Rather than trying to emulate popular bands at the time, we embraced our uniqueness


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

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