Billy Talent's Take "II"

"If we could equate our records to coffee, the first one would be bold. You know when you go to Starbucks and it's bold. And this one would be full-bodied," jokes Billy Talent's Ian D'Sa. "For the second record we weren't afraid to show our feelings."

- Dara Hakimzadeh
photos by Sheila Busteed

posted February 26, 2007

Billy Talent interview

Before performing at the Civic Centre in Ottawa as part of the band's first cross-country arena tour, Billy Talent's Ian D'Sa and Jonathan Gallant sat down to talk about "Billy Talent II," the band, and their place in the Canadian music industry.

"If we could equate our records to coffee, the first one would be bold. You know when you go to Starbucks and it's bold. And this one would be full-bodied," jokes D'Sa. "For the second record we weren't afraid to show our feelings."

"Billy Talent II," the follow-up to the band's self-titled 2003 debut, has gained widespread attention in Canada. Yet, while the record has gone two times platinum there, it still remains out of the top 100 radar in the United States.

"We never ever thought we'd get to this level, and maybe that shows you something about the Canadian music industry. When Canadian music fans like something that is truly Canadian, they really support it 100 per cent and they're fans for life," says D'Sa. "We can see that with our band; it's a perfect example."

Billy Talent interview

Much of the interest could be derived from singer Ben Kowalewicz's expanded vocal range and self-described "personal" lyrics this time around.

"Some of the keys on this album are a little higher and he nailed everything in the studio pretty well. I think it was all just the last couple of years of touring and him singing every night – he's really increased his range," says D'Sa. "He hasn't been taking any lessons."

The song 'Pins and Needles' is "about pushing a girl away that's really important in your life" and 'Surrender' is "about being in love with someone that considers you a friend," notes D'Sa.

After touring for two years, the band took roughly a month off before working on "Billy Talent II," says Gallant. D'Sa wrote guitar tabs on his own while drummer Aaron Solowoniuk and Gallant jammed together, and then the entire band would practice. "We did that for eight months until the record was ready to go," says Gallant. "We practice a lot…We spent a lot of time in this band where it wasn't a full-time job and we'd work all day and rehearse at night. And now that we get to do it full-time I don't think we ever want to take that for granted."

The transition from small bars in Germany to stadiums in Canada in less than five years might be daunting for some bands but it feels right for Billy Talent, says D'Sa. "People think it's like that or like this," he says while moving his hand to depict a steep-climbing curve. "But, it's honestly been slow and steady. It feels right. It feels like we've done every club, from the smallest ones to the ones right in between. We haven't skipped any steps."

D'Sa credits much of the band's early success in Germany to playing at alternative music magazine parties for Visions and Uncle Sally's. "I think we gained momentum on the festival circuit and those magazine parties and we just ended up getting a live following even before we were on MTV in Germany," he says.

Billy Talent interview

"In Europe, we made our fans one-by-one almost," he continues. "It wasn't really because of the Internet but because our band name was being spread by word of mouth and in the clubs the DJs in the alternative clubs were spinning our tracks. We weren't even getting played on radio. It was really cool how it worked really organically over there."

"Our German website is pretty good," says Gallant.

"Yeah, but I don't think it broke us," suggests D'Sa. He uses the example of Danko Jones, a Canadian musician, who is successful in Europe: "It's not really anything to do with MySpace or the Internet; it's just he literally went over there and the band kept going over there," he says.

"It's not going to come to you through the Internet, which a lot of people and a lot of bands think that just because there's MySpace and it gets them the exposure that they can sit at home and wait for someone to contact them via email," says D'Sa. "That's not the way it works. It's good to get your name out there through the Internet but it's equally as important to go play shows and make a name for yourself as a band."

Through extensive touring, Billy Talent has unofficially become the punk rock ambassador for Canada, a nation known for its growing indie music community in Montreal and Toronto. "We have some great bands and I think it's great," says D'Sa.

But he cautions that some people within the community take music too seriously, a topic examined on the album's track 'Where Is The Line?'

"We wanted to make a poppy jingle," says D'Sa about the track. "It's kind of tongue-and-cheek irony. We were going to put in a disco drum beat at one point but never actually did."

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"People have a sense that they've lost ownership of the band because at one point it was their band; they liked it, they were trying to tell everybody about it and now everybody knows about it and they're like, 'Oh wow! This isn't mine – anymore,'" adds Gallant, who cites the release of Metallica's The Black Album as a moment when "everybody loved them and I was like, 'Aw, man!'"

He laughs at this thought. "I wouldn't behave that way now, but as a kid you invest a lot of your personality into something like that. Then when it latches onto a whole pile of other people, you don't feel as individual anymore," says Gallant.

"When the band becomes really popular then all of a sudden that connection is betrayed because you're not the only kid who has that record," adds D'Sa. "I think it shouldn't matter."

"See past the whole ownership thing then just like the music for the music and be happy that you were given great music and bought great music," concludes D'Sa.

Billy Talent interview