In one of his few pearls of wisdom, Bono once stated something to the effect that every band is allowed to make one bad record; it’s when they release two bad records in a row that bands should become worried. While Bono ought to be worried sick by now, Ben Kowalewicz isn’t that concerned. The lead singer of Toronto-based punk rockers Billy Talent understands that while some of the band’s fans felt a disconnect with their Juno-award winning 2009 release, Billy Talent III, he’s still proud of it. Kowalewicz just knows that there are some things that are out of his control.
“I don’t know?” he laughs, after being asked if he felt the disconnect. “Disconnect might be a little dramatic, but people like to put you in a box,” says the 36-year old, reached on the phone from an Amsterdam tour stop. “They like to say, ‘this is you. This is the kind of music you play.’ And whenever you stray away from that, people get confused. I love the record though, I stand by it,” he continues. “It was a different record; I’m glad we have it in our Rolodex of a career. I think this record is going to re-establish that connect. The second record was cool, because it was heavy. We just wanted to go down those roads and explore them a little more, as we did on this record. But not in an alienating way.”
With their fourth album Dead Silence on the horizon, Billy Talent remain focused towards moving on, despite recent setbacks. This desire can be heard in spades on Viking Death March, their recently released lead single. Utilizing blunt force to assure fans their harder edges have not been smoothed over, Kowalewicz details how the song came to fruition, including the effects that recent Occupy movements had on the writing of the song.
“Lyrically, it’s quite serious. Having been home for the last year and working on the record, we witnessed the Occupy movement in Toronto, and we also had the G20 gather in Toronto. The whole city turned into a complete militant state before our eyes. The song is about empowerment and standing up for yourself. As we’ve seen all over the world over the last two years, the power of change is possible. You can stand there, speak your mind and change can happen. As much as we think about that happening in a ‘60s, nostalgic way, it still works. It’s been pretty eye opening for us to witness that. It’s just us tipping our hats to those people who speak their minds and try and make the world a better place.”
Kowalewicz speaks with the pensive clarity of a man who is indeed ready to use his band to better the world. It’s been three years since Billy Talent’s last release, and the only time Kowalewicz becomes defensive is when he’s questioned about the rumoured delay of Dead Silence. The Billy Talent camp was recently dealt a serious blow to their future. It’s the kind of hardship however, that makes a band stronger in the long run.
“I wouldn’t say we delayed it,” he says pointedly. “(Drummer Aaron Solowoniuk) had open heart surgery. And there’s any reason to wait on anything, I’d say that’s it. There’s wasn’t any crisis with the record so to speak. The problem with bands nowadays, not to point my finger, but there’s an emphasis on maintaining relevance in this disposable society that we’ve become, so bands rush albums. We just believe that good food takes a long time to cook. We’d rather give our fans a quality record than a record that meets a label’s quarterly, fiscal quota. I think some people that work with us on different levels jumped the gun a little bit.”
If there’s to be a renewed energy on Dead Silence, it wouldn’t be a stretch to credit the band’s new lease on life. They’re appreciating what’s truly important, and fans have reason to be excited. “At the end of the day, (Solowoniuk) is my best friend. We grew up together. So first and foremost, when you see your buddy having to go through something like that, it opens your eyes. And as you get older, and you start to lose people and all the other things seem very trivial and insignificant. Your friends, family and your wellbeing are what remains important. And we’re a band of brothers. We now more than ever appreciate our opportunities.
“I don’t know if it’s our age, or if it’s because we still have the privilege of playing rock and roll shows and writing records that people want to hear and enjoy. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel thankful. I’ve sacrificed a lot to get there and maintain what we do. It becomes a bizarre, cosmic kind of thing where you stop and say, ‘Wow, what am I doing?’”
What the band is doing is marching along with the same emotional mustard that they showed on their breakout debut, Billy Talent I. Yet now, clichéd as it may sound, the band is stopping to smell the roses. Or in their case, stopping to smell over 100,000 sweaty bodies and still enjoying themselves.
“The other day we co-headlined a festival in Germany with Metallica in front of 110,000 people. I turn back and see my best buddy playing drums, laughing his ass off, when two months ago he simply couldn’t move. There’s moments like that when you get a bit overwhelmed with emotion.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
Billy Talent roll into Billboard on Sunday, August 12. Their new record, Dead Silence, is out September 7.