Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Billy Talent Lash Out at Hipster Culture, Say It's 'Just Being Sold to Them'

Dustin Rabin
Billy Talent are a walking contradiction. Punks with gold and platinum records; aggressive rockers with regular radio play; socially conscious musicians with a fan base that includes teenage girls with Twitter accounts dedicated to their love for lead singer Ben Kowalewicz. But no matter how you frame them, the Toronto quartet will always find a way to dodge labels and dash expectations.

Take their latest record, Dead Silence. Eschewing the numbered title scheme of their last three records, the band took the time to actually title the album. And after tapping Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen's go-to knob-tweaker Brendan O'Brien to produce previous effort, III, the guys wanted to take the DIY approach for their fourth offering.

"This record was us wanting to prove ourselves," guitarist Ian D'Sa tells Spinner, explaining why he opted to produce Dead Silence himself. "I have a fairly distinct overall vision for my band."

Unfortunately for fans, the decision meant that the record took much longer to make than previous efforts. Written and recorded over the course of a year and a half, recording got underway at the Armoury Studios in Vancouver where the band laid down drum tracks last November. Returning home to finish off the record's 14 tracks, sessions eventually stretched into the summer, finally finishing up in July.

"Doing something on your own, you have the time to do this stuff. It's literally like doing research," says D'Sa. "We didn't want to give ourselves any time constraints. I didn't have a team of organized people behind me. It was literally me and two other engineers planning stuff, renting gear ourselves. It was great to figure out a formula of how to do this ourselves."

Recording was also interrupted by a health scare after the band's drummer Aaron Solowoniuk underwent heart surgery early in the year.

"That really freaked us out. Our focus changed to is Aaron going to be okay? And thank God everything worked out."

The band again pressed pause after completing the Dead Silence's intricate guitar work to finish writing lyrics. The group found themselves motivated to comment on current events from the impending end of the world theories (see the album's post-apocalyptic underwater scene), American politics and economic inequality ("Viking Death March") and crass commercialism ("Surprise Surprise").

"It's definitely more pertinent to what's happening right now than anything we've done before," says D'Sa. "The whole hipster counter culture phenomenon is just being sold to them by advertisers. It's very different from any other counter culture of the past because it's based around money, it's based around advertising and American Apparel."

It's been 10 years since Billy Talent burst onto Canadian radio with their infectiously schizophrenic single "Try Honesty." After slugging it out in the Southern Ontario punk scene as Pezz, the quartet -- which includes bass player Jonathan Gallant -- changed their name to 'Billy Talent' in honor of the fictional lead guitarist played by Callum Keith Rennie in Bruce McDonald's punk film Hard Core Logo. The band realize they're not kids on the scene anymore.

"After the record was all done, we went to mix the record and that whole week, we were like, 'Wait, a second, we've been a band for a decade in the public eye. And we've been a band for 19 years,'" recalls D'Sa. "That's when it really sunk in. It's been a decade and we're officially old."

Despite this realization, he says it's not something anyone in the group likes to focus on.

"It detracts from the what you do in the present," he says.

That present includes a lot of touring, taking any opportunity to play to new fans that comes their way.

"You don't want to just fade away or reach some level of success and stay there complacently."

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