Talent Quest

7 August 2012 | 8:13 am | Stuart Evans

"I’m a weird little man. Since we’ve been talking, I’ve switched chairs three times. I actually think it’s not just me as everyone’s fucking weird and everyone has a bit of obsessive compulsive in them."

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When Billy Talent singer Ben Kowalewicz calls, he says he's on the line from Amsterdam and that he's feeling relieved after receiving some good news. “Our drummer [Aaron Solowoniuk] is recovering from open heart surgery and thankfully he's doing well. Something like that gives you perspective. As you get older, you appreciate different things like how someone's well-being is the most important thing. When you're young you tend to think of yourself as this little invincible creature but when you start to question mortality things change,” he says.

Thankfully, Solowoniuk's on the mend as Kowalewicz's conversation turns to music. “One thing I love about this band is there's a lot of hopefulness and optimism. I think we're a good rock'n'roll band and we try to be good people and do the right thing,” he tells.

From Ontario, Canada, Billy Talent have been together since 1993 (formerly known as Pezz, they changed their name in 2001 after running into legal trouble with a North American band of the same name). Billy Talent existed for around a decade before tasting any form of commercial/mainstream joy.

The name Billy Talent was taken from a Canadian book and movie called Hard Core Logo about a fictional punk band who reunite for one last tour. The guitar player's name in the movie was Billy Talent. Clearly, the name change worked as since then they've produced two multi-platinum records in their native Canada. But the name wasn't the only thing that changed as almost seamlessly, the band's sound altered. Billy Talent's output was more aggressive and much more tilted towards traditional punk. Kowalewicz grants that the name change and success are not linked and more the work of coincidence.

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Around 2001 Kowalewicz worked at a Canadian radio station. He bumped into someone with connections to Warner Music – that connection paid dividends as the radio contact got Kowalewicz and co a demo deal with the label. By the end of 2003, they'd released their self-titled debut album with successful singles Try Honesty, Nothing To Lose and The Ex.

Okay, so Billy Talent may not mean as much in Australia, predominantly because their unassuming celebrity status remains quiet. If tales of debauchery exist, they haven't made their way down under. “We don't go out looking for attention,” Kowalewicz laughs. “That's not us. We're four like-minded individuals who share the same passion.”

Attention, it seems, comes to them. Rolling Stone tagged them as being a band that makes blood pump faster than normal. Kowalewicz is flattered by the positive prose but remembers the darker days when he and fellow band members spent time trying to get noticed. He's candid as he remembers the struggle. “It was fucking hard man. We can get a bottle of whiskey and we can talk about it all night long,” he laughs before the conversation turns. “I know it sounds hokey, but I knew in my heart of hearts it would happen and we'd get success. I just knew we had to keep going. We all had this innate thing in us to keep going. It wasn't like we wanted money or fame – it was about trying to get music in front of as many people as possible and that remains our aim.”

Although Billy Talent are highly regarded in their native Canada and throughout Europe, the sacrifices to get to this point aren't forgotten. Kowalewicz explains, “Any good story has a struggle. Anything worth fighting for is hard and being able to look back and reflect on everything can be confronting. When we were teenagers a few other friends of ours were in bands but gave it up for girls or whatever else came along. We didn't and have been in a longstanding relationship ever since.”

Trust is a reoccurring sentiment for Kowalewicz. He speaks highly of all band members and only has praise for all. The core and foundations of the band are built on doing the best for the band and not the individual. “We trust each other and if you're in a relationship it doesn't matter about your ego. No one outside the band will remember the fights and bickering – we learnt that at a very young age. It's about what's best for the band and the song.”

Kowalewicz got married last summer. Luckily, he warned his wife about what she was getting into. “She knows she really married three of us,” he jests.

But bands, and particularly lead singers, can be complex beasts comprising sometimes strange yet workable dynamics. Kowalewicz's no exception. He's also in no hurry to deny it. “I'm a weird little man. Since we've been talking, I've switched chairs three times. I actually think it's not just me as everyone's fucking weird and everyone has a bit of obsessive compulsive in them,” he laughs.

Regardless if Billy Talent's success is down to luck, coincidence, damn hard work or a combination of all, the band have released four booming albums to date: Watoosh (as Pezz), 2003's Billy Talent, 2006's Billy Talent II and 2009's Billy Talent III. They've also got new material on the way. Their latest sound, Viking Death March, has been released for digital download via their website and a new album is coming. Kowalewicz reveals that a new producer was involved in making the yet unnamed album. “Ian [D'Sa], our guitar player, produced it,” he remarks. “I'm really proud of him and the album. Although Ian co-produced previous albums, this time it was just us and two engineers in the studio. The energy in the room was great and it was really nice to feel that sense of calm and trust. Ian's been working diligently to make it sound as good as it can.”

The choice of D'Sa to produce the album was unequivocal. “We all said to him that you need to produce this fucking record. The excellent thing is to have seen Ian's transition from guitar player to producer as there is no fucking way that I could produce,” Kowalewicz laughs.