Feb 25, 2010 | « back

Billy Talent: good humans of the music biz: Band scores with hot-shot producer, keeps it real for fans, fellow rockers

Music producers, like coaches in professional sports, rarely get their due.

Theirs is an intangible talent. According to the court of popular opinion, hockey coaches throw pucks on the ice and the hockey players do the rest. The same is true for producers working with veteran rock acts. Most music fans figure that producers simply press record and get out of the way.

But when singer Ben Kowalewicz of Toronto rockers Billy Talent talks about the influence producer Brendan O’Brien had on his band’s third recording, Billy Talent III, it is with the highest praise. As it should be: Upon its release in July, the recording debuted at No. 1 on the sales charts in Canada.

His resumé didn’t hurt the atmosphere, either. O’Brien has wrung magic out of some of the best rock acts in history — Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine, Bruce Springsteen among them. It’s a facet of O’Brien’s professional life that wasn’t lost on Kowalewicz.

“That’s the really cool part of a guy like Brendan. I’d walk into this room where Pearl Jam recorded Vs. and Vitalogy and No Code and where [Rage Against the Machine singer] Zach [de la Rocha] sang a lot of Evil Empire and The Battle of Los Angeles. There’s magic that surrounds that place. As much as I thought at first it might be intimidating, it only added to the mysticism of the record.”

O’Brien is the latest coup for the group, which also features bassist Jonathan Gallant, drummer Aaron Solowoniuk and guitarist Ian D’Sa. But he’s only part of the equation.

Billy Talent has been a serious presence in Canadian music since switching its name from Pezz (under threat of a lawsuit) to Billy Talent in 2001. With hundreds of thousands of records sold in this country and 11 Juno Award nominations, Billy Talent ranks among the most popular and well-regarded acts of the past decade.

Prior to its mainstream arrival, the band had been together for eight years, though with only moderate results. The name change seemed to inspire the group; soon after signing a split deal with Warner Music Canada and Atlantic Records in the U.S., the quartet got rolling with a mixture of screamo and stadium rock that ignited young audiences.

Back then, the key to Billy Talent’s success was the bond it shared with fans. Sixteen years after its formation, Kowalewicz takes pride in the fact the relationship is intact.

The band has similar feelings when it comes to all facets of their career, from tour techs to managers.

“The way our band has always worked, and the way we still work, is that the people we choose to do business with and work with are good people. Morally and ethically grounded, forward thinking and good humans.”

Kowalewicz and his bandmates strive to live by the same code. When it came to planning their upcoming tour of Canada, which begins Wednesday in Victoria at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, the mandate was to make it a reasonably priced night out.

“Times are tough and people have to be more selective. [Low ticket prices] are something we’re very proud of.”

The group also wanted to make sure it offered good value for the dollar. Along for the band’s 19-date arena tour are high-calibre rock acts Alexisonfire, Against Me! and Cancer Bats.

Members of Billy Talent have a relationship with each band on the bill, which lightens the atmosphere on and off stage. Kowalewicz said he will sing with both Cancer Bats and Alexisonfire during their opening slots, while Dallas Green of Alexisonfire will return the favour during Billy Talent’s headline set. Not only does it make for good entertainment, it creates good karma among acts who are all trying to sustain themselves by making music.

“It’s all about that. If I take a step up, I’m going to look back and help someone up. That’s how it works. We’ve sacrificed everything in our lives to do this, because this is all we’ve ever wanted to do.”

Mike Devlin
Times Colonist
February 25, 2010