Aug 6, 2009 | « back

Grower, not a show-er

“If I like a record the first time I hear it, I get worried,” admits Billy Talent vocalist Ben Kowalewicz. He’s talking about the band’s tertiary effort, Billy Talent III, and how it takes some time to fully ingest.

In Kowalewicz’s mind, sometimes an album you instantly love eventually reveals itself as having little of merit — it winds up sucking, in other words. However, the opposite can apply as well. One may dislike an album at first listen, yet with more plays, it eventually becomes a favourite. Naturally, Kowalewicz believes this may be the case with III. Fans may be apprehensive at first, but with time, he’s confident it will become the band’s most enduring effort to date.

“When I hear a record, if I miss something and have to go back to listen, I know there’s something deeper to it,” he continues. “When you buy a record and you love it, it becomes a part of you. It’s the soundtrack to parts of your life because you create these memories and attach certain songs with certain points of your life. With a new record, there is no past. It has to be created. These songs don’t have those attachments for some people, but hopefully they’re going to develop them over time.”

Listening to the raucous energy and upbeat drive of III, it’s obvious that Kowalewicz worries too much. While the Toronto-based band (rounded out by guitarist Ian D’Sa, bassist Jon Gallant and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk) has clearly introduced fresh, more melodic elements to its uniquely edgy hard rock, III isn’t really that much of a stretch. It’s got the initial barbs to suck us in and, after repeated listens, reveals many layers that keep fans coming back for more.

Kowalewicz credits that expansive depth to the renowned abilities of producer Brendan O’Brien (AC/DC, Mastodon, Pearl Jam) for combining the band’s driving rhythms, contrasting vocals, singalong choruses and straightforward beats so smoothly. Yet it’s not all O’Brien’s doing. After 15 years of pushing forward, III finds Billy Talent stepping backwards in some ways.

“With this record, we’re still a loud band, but there are beautiful, amazing riffs,” he says. “We went with it and it’s natural. There’s more of a ’90s throwback feel to it. We grew up then; that was our bread and butter — Pearl Jam, Rage, Soundgarden, Nirvana and Tool. We’re reverting back to that. They’re the reason we picked up instruments. Because of that, I think there are deeper layers or textures to this record that weren’t so obvious on the first ones. While it may freak people out at first, the more they explore III and it adheres to the special moments in their life, the more they’ll enjoy it.”

It sounds like a lot of speculation, but with III flying off of store shelves, topping charts and pushing the band into what will easily become another two-year stint of touring, Kowalewicz’s overanalyzing seems moot.

“What can I say — I care,” he admits with a chuckle. “Musicians create music to entertain people and connect with them. After we finished this record, we had to sit on it for a couple of months until everything was ready to go. That’s a long time to sit on it. Some nights you lay in bed wondering if people will like it. It’s definitely different sounding, so we’re worried about if people will grow with us or not.”

“It’s a Catch-22 in some ways, though,” he notes. “If this album sounded too much like the others, we’d be nailed for doing the same shit. If you do something different, though, they give you shit for that. You can only have so many sleepless nights before you gotta say fuck it and do what’s right for you.”

Keith Carmen
Fast Forward Weekly
August 6, 2009