“This is going to be our twentieth year as a band,” shouts Benjamin Kowalewicz from the stage of the Coliseum. It’s the first stop on Billy Talent’s Dead Silence Tour across Canada and the crowd could not be more thrilled. Even though the band formed back in 1993, it wasn’t until a whole decade later that their self-titled album first hit the shelves. Since then, three addition albums have been released including their latest, Dead Silence.
Looking rejuvenated and as excited as ever to be performing in front of their fans again, it’s no surprise that even after twenty years, when talent prevails, continued success follows. Lead guitarist, Ian D’Sa and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk sit down with us to chat about the new album, why four-band bills are important to them, and what their definition of a “Canadian luxury” is. The boys also spill the details on their special contribution to this year’s Record Store Day.
There’s a saying that goes, “the calm before the storm,” but your new album’s last track is more about the silence after the storm. Where was the concept born out of and how did Dead Silence end up being the album name?
Ian: That song ‘Dead Silence’ is written from the perspective of an innocent victim of a war-torn country. It just ended up being perfect for the end of the album. It’s kind of a glum ending to the album anyway so we figure we’ll put it at the end and it’ll cap off the whole theme of the album.
Aaron: The artwork started flowing in for the record and we got this image of an underwater city. It also looked like it’ll be really quiet if you were underwater in a city, in dead silence. It just ended up being the perfect name for the record.
The song ‘Viking Death March’ sounds like a call to arms. How have fans responded to the song and is it what you expected?
Ian: We put it out for our fans at first and it really took off on the Internet and radio. That’s really great because I think it’s a very empowering song for people and it is a call to arms in a way like being aware of your surroundings and that letting other people make decisions for you isn’t always the best answer.
Aaron: The fans are reacting to it amazingly. It’s one of those songs I think we always have to play it in every set no matter what because it’s just getting such a good reaction.
The lyrical content of ‘Surprise Surprise’ deals with what you call a “first world epidemic” like superficiality and reliance of technology. Why was it important for you to comment on these kinds of social phenomena?
Ian: I think anytime you’re writing, it’s really important to stay relevant and current. That’s just what we were noticing around us at the time, especially in this generation. It’s like the Internet generation. That song is a commentary on what’s going on right now.
Is that commentary negative?
Ian: I think there are a lot of positives. The information aspect is really positive. People have access to information and access to educate themselves really easily at the touch of a laptop, so that’s really great. But, also there so much advertising involved with the Internet. I feel like people need to be aware that they’re not getting sold on stuff as well.
A lot of your music still has that signature aggressiveness in it. What’s more revitalizing for you – getting to belt out songs to your audience or having the audience scream it back at you word-for-word?
Aaron: It’s pretty equal, man. We’re really lucky to have some of the best fans in the world singing these songs back to us, especially new songs.
Ian: But the in-ear monitors take it away [laughs]. You kind of have to when you play big stages like this. You don’t hear as much of the crowd as you want, but the great part is what makes you play better is feeding off the energy of the crowd. So the two are yin and yang and they work together that way.
For the Canadian leg of your tour, you’ve got three supporting acts – Sum 41, Hollerado and Indian Handcrafts, which is not that common. Was this a deliberate decision by the band and why?
Ian: Yeah, we’ve always done four-band bills since we can remember, especially for our Canadian tour. Whenever we do a Canadian tour, we like to bring a couple of well-known bands and a couple bands that people may not know about. It’s an opportunity to showcase that band in front of our fans. It’s a really cool thing to do because people did that for us back in the day.
After so many years of performing, has anything changed in terms of pre-show rituals or preparations and hitting the stage each night?
Aaron: You’re kind of looking at it.
Ian: This is a jam room.
Aaron: It’s a Canadian luxury.
Ian: There are all these extra rooms in the arena so why not bring our old gear and let every band use it to jam whenever they want to. It’s a really cool thing because everyone can warm up before their set. They can also sit here to write and jam with other band members. It creates a nice, creative atmosphere on tour.
One of your most thematically important songs is ‘Nothing To Lose’. Is there a solution, in your opinion, to the unfortunate realities of bullying?
Ian: It’s sad that it’s taken a whole new form with Internet bullying. I think it’s something that is always going to be there, but I think we have to make people more aware of it and make sure the people who do it are called on and found out. I think that’s the only way to prevent it from happening in the future.
Aaron: What we’ve done is that we have guest lists for every show. Those guest lists can get from thirty people to fifty people to a hundred people sometimes. What we’ve asked is that every person that is on our guest list, there’s a mandatory minimum $10 donation from each person that goes to Kids Help Phone. We’re trying to help the organizations that can help the kids through it all.
Billy Talent’s beginnings is one many people can relate to – working day jobs to fund studio time, etc. What was the driving force behind that period and what motivated you to push through the struggle?
Ian: It’s a real want and passion. You don’t want to do it. You have to do it That was basically our attitude for a long time. We worked in other jobs and careers and at night we’d rehearse as a band. That was the primary focus – try to get on some sort of label and have our music out there somehow.
Aaron: We grew up in a very influential time too. We were teenagers going to concerts when it was like The Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, Nirvana. It was all such a great time to be a teenager and to be in a band and to see these bands play.
If you could pass off some advice to struggling musicians who aren’t seeing any results, what would that be?
Ian: First and foremost, write good songs. Write songs that are honest and that affect people. Secondly, if you’re performing in a band, make sure that everyone in the band has the same end goal as you do because some people might not want to do this for a career. They might just want to play in a band. It’s really important to align yourself with people who have the same end goals as you have.
Aaron: The worst thing is to work at something for four years and one guy wants to be a dentist.
Record Store Day is coming up on April 20th this year. Do you plan on participating this year or in future years?
Ian: Yeah! We’re going to have a special release for Record Store Day. We’re super proud of it. [To Aaron] Are we allowed to talk about it?
Aaron: Yeah, yeah. We just did a 7-inch picture disc for ‘Stand Up and Run’.
Ian: It’s our new single and on the B-side, we got our good friend to do a special dub remix of ‘Sudden Movements’, which was from our last album.
Do any of you still get mistakenly called ‘Billy’?
Aaron: All the time.
Ian: Totally. All the time.