Billy Talent proud of new album

The members of Billy Talent are (from left) Jon Gallant, Ben Kowalewicz, Ian D'Sa and Aaron...

The members of Billy Talent are (from left) Jon Gallant, Ben Kowalewicz, Ian D'Sa and Aaron Solowoniuk. Their new album is in stores Tuesday.

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:09 AM ET

For once and for all, there is no one in Billy Talent named Billy.

You'd think this error would have been corrected, after 13 years of bandhood. Yet, on the eve of the release of their sophomore album, fittingly titled Billy Talent II, this misconception still drives the band nuts.

"Please, please stop calling me Billy," says singer Ben Kowalewicz, over a Yonge Street lunch with the group.

"F---! No one in the band is named Billy."

In fact, the name was lifted from Hard Core Logo, the book-to-film story of a group of screwups touring as a Canadian rock band. Not an accurate comparison, here.

Since first meeting at their high school talent show in Mississauga, the group -- rounded out by guitarist Ian D'Sa, bassist Jon Gallant and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk -- has accelerated fairly rapidly along the rock-band road to success.

Their self-titled debut album went double platinum in Canada and subsequently took them around the world. They've racked up numerous awards from the Juno, Casby, and MMVA camps -- the MMVAs alone gave them five nods last week. And now they're perfectly primed for the second-album curse.

"To us, it's just another record, but there is a lot of pressure to match the success of the first record," D'Sa says. "That's part of the reason we decided to take our time with the album. We came home from touring in December 2004 and we were expected to go into the studio two months later. We decided not to rush it and ended up going into the studio eight months later, which was really important to the writing process."

So what did they do during that time?

"We just got together at the rehearsal studio every day, jammed up the songs and just hung out with our friends and family," D'Sa says.

Adds Kowalewicz: "It was nice to be normal."

That explains why bumping into the guys around town last year was not uncommon.

Not so any more, as the group just recently bid their farewells to friends and family and hit the road for another two years in support of the new record.

They'll do Europe in June and start the Warped Tour in July (with a Toronto-area stop at Park Place in Barrie, Aug. 12).

When pressed for the most difficult challenge they face, all members agree: Homesickness.

"Sometimes you just want to be home," Kowalewicz says. "You don't care if you're playing, you're not feeling well, or you're having a bad day, or something's happened at home and you can't be there. That sucks. That's really the only downfall of this job. Everything else is really good."

Make no mistake, though -- these cats love what they do.

And they're proud of the new album -- a 13-track collection of catchy hooks and accessible melodies. The sound is recognizably Billy Talent in its staccato, call-to-rise youth-punk sensibility, but there is a noticeable progression: There are harmonies here. And a retro-punk feel to some of the songs. There are hints of The Police, Buzzcocks and even Axl Rose, as Kowalewicz shifts more of his screaming to singing -- something he says was a challenge for him.

"To find different ways of expression through your voice without always having to use an exclamation point through screaming was challenging," Kowalewicz says. "Now I understand a little bit more of what the voice can do with storytelling. It was definitely hard for me, but so far, so good."

His bandmates agree the vocal shift was in order for the new songs.

"I don't think screaming would've been the right thing to do for a lot of the songs, so I'm pretty happy (with the singing)," says the mild-mannered songwriter, D'Sa. "We used to get lumped into the screamo genre and that's something we're trying to stay away from. We're just trying to pick our moments now, when it comes to screaming."

But it's still distinctly Kowalewicz's voice.

When the voice is described as "distinct," Kowalewicz, in a characteristic display of self-deprecating humour says, "Or annoying, you can interchange words there."

They've made some changes lyrically, too.

"We ended up delving into topics we never would have talked about before because we might have considered them a little too over the line," D'Sa says. "On this record we approach topics that people might think are controversial."

The first single, Devil In A Midnight Mass, was written about a priest in the Boston archdiocese who was accused of sexual abuse by more than 130 people.

"It was an awful story that really affected us," says D'Sa. "For some reason, artists aren't supposed to talk about that stuff and bring it to the light. The message of the song is to not stay silent if you are a victim of abuse."

Here's the thing about Billy Talent -- despite the angst and the screamo bit, the music is inherently positive.

"We like to be hopeful and tell people that, you know, sometimes things in the world do f---ing suck and sometimes there are horrible things that happen on a daily basis that are unbelievable, but to know that we all stand together," Kowalewicz says. "Whatever happens, no one's alone."

They seem to stay pretty grounded, despite their quick plunge into the spotlight.

Spoiled rock stars, they aren't.

"We lead the stereotypical rock-star lifestyle, you know, we drink, f---, fight and take Jack Daniel's in our Cheerios every day," Kowalewicz says, sarcastically. "Not really. We don't do much at all."

From the sounds of it, the band stays pretty low key. Both Gallant and Solowoniuk are married, the latter with a new baby. Again, a far stretch from Hard Core Logo.

"We read, watch DVDs ... we like Lost. But we definitely don't lead the late '70s/early '80s rock-star lifestyle of doing a whole bunch of drugs, drinking your face off and banging chicks in different hotel rooms every night," Kowalewicz says. "That's kind of a parody and doesn't really exist anymore. The work ethic for bands is a lot harder now. Bands tour a lot more than they ever have before and you can't do all that stuff and play very well."

They've also got added incentive to keep their lifestyle on the healthy side: Solowoniuk has multiple sclerosis (This Is How It Goes, the first song off their first record was always said to be about one of Kowalewicz's friends with MS -- it's about Solowoniuk).

The drummer and his bandmates have worked hard to prevent the disease from getting in the way of what they do.

"We're brothers now," says Gallant, the more reticent of the bunch. "It's something we just can't live without, being in this band."

Adds Kowalewicz: "It's crazy, we've been together for 13 years now and I think we'll be together for a whole bunch more. I really can't see us doing anything else."


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