Jul 17, 2009 | « back

Billy Talent powers up for act “III”

If you’re not one of the thousands intimately familiar with Billy Talent’s music, there’s a good chance you’ve dismissed the foursome for being too pop punk. It’s a tag that band has been saddled with for years, and one they’ve always felt was unjustified.

“People always lumped us in with the next pop punk band that was just around the corner that no one cared about,” says bassist Jonathan Gallant at the Four Seasons in Toronto. “We never felt those comparisons were fair.”

“It was absolutely frustrating to get pigeon-holed like that,” adds singer Ben Kowalewicz. “It was very hard at the beginning, but now we don’t care.”

While the band has gotten over the name calling, many fans still avoid Billy Talent because they don’t see a difference between the Toronto-based group and acts like Sum 41 and Simple Plan. But, they’ve never really sounded like these bands. Their music was always more brash and more rock than most pop punkers, and their third disc should prove it.

Billy Talent III is a major step up from the group’s previous albums. With Sabbath-like riffs and a more metal-meets-hard rock sound, this record has the power and guts that’s mostly eluded the band. Their tunes are still as catchy as ever, and the Kowalewicz/Ian D’sa vocal attack remains intact, but the band is definitely treading new ground.

“We took a step back (after hearing Ian play the songs) and thought, ‘This is pretty riffalicious,’” says Kowalewicz. “This is definitely a throw back record to a lot of mid-’90s bands we were listening to. It’s very Soundgarden-esque in a lot ways.”

Part of the reason for that ’90s sound has to do with their producer, Brendan O’Brien. He’s worked with everyone the Stone Temple Pilots to Bruce Springsteen, but it’s his long stint as Pearl Jam’s producer that’s made him famous.

Needless to say, Billy Talent was excited about working with the grunge legend, and he regaled them with plenty of stories about some of alt-rock’s greatest acts. (“We’re not privileged to share any of them,” says Kowalewicz.)

But Kowalewicz still gets excited about one particular moment with O’Brien. “At one point he said, ‘Sorry guys I have to fly to Seattle and go see Pearl Jam,’ and me being the biggest Eddie Vedder fan, I was like, ‘What?’ Eddie ended up giving him a lighter and then Brendan gave me the lighter. It’s on my mantle.”

This record likely won’t turn Kowalewicz into the new Eddie Vedder, but it’s a sure bet that the disc will bring in new fans, even the ones who disliked the band in the first place. And if you still can’t stand Billy Talent after this? Be prepared to hate them for a long time.

“For people that do like us, we hope they can cut through the BS detectors and appreciate a good song for a good song,” says Kowalewicz. “Because we’re going to keep writing records until we’re 70.”

Bryan Borzykowski
July 17, 2009