Canada’s punk favourites open up about their success, their secrets, and the game called Scrambles
A sunny, beautiful April afternoon in downtown Toronto is the perfect backdrop for a long-awaited homecoming. Inside the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, beyond a small black curtain that’s been hung to hide the band’s sound check from accidental onlookers, the stage shakes with the sounds of new songs—and a new era—for arguably one of Canada’s most popular acts, Billy Talent.
This afternoon, they’re previewing new tracks for fans, contest winners, and music industry types. It’s just a few hours before their evening performance, and the quartet appears ready to go.
Bouncing around on stage with an effeminately coloured, yet sturdy mic stand, singer Ben Kowalewicz’s energy resembles that of an unneutered cat that’s been stuck in a cage way too long. Around him, the rest of the band—Ian D’Sa (guitar), Jon Gallant (bass), and Aaron Solowoniuk (drums)—are doing their best to ensure that each track will be performed later that night with the perfection and intensity they’ve been known to deliver – because for BT, small clus in T.O. ar where it all began. “We’d always play in the city, and pwole would come and check us out. We’d be lucky to have 40 people at our show,” recalls Kowalewicz from a sidewalk behind the Horseshoe.
For about a decade this sort of scenario was nothing new to BT. Then something funny happened. The band signed to Warner Music Canada in 2003, released their self-titled debut disc, and made a video for their lead single “Try Honesty.” Before they knew it, MuchMusic was all over them, radio play was plentiful, and lineups for usually modestly attended gigs started to grow considerably.
With a fan base that mixed disenfranchised youth looking for a band to believe in and adults that wanted some excitement in a Toronto band with a knack for mixing metal riffs with punk rock attitude and tremendous, melodic moments, BT was off and running.
Before they knew it, they had sold over 200,000 albums in Canada, put forth four successful singles, headlined their own Canadian tour, and won two Juno Awards in 2005 for Group of the Year and Album of the Year.
The band clearly now knows success, but what are their impressions of it? “I don’t understand it,” says Kowalewicz. “I don’t accept it. I don’t think that I’m successful; I’m thinking fortunate.” He continues, “I see guys from high school and it’s ‘Hi buddy, how’s it going?’ I’m like, ‘You’re not my buddy, you used to throw stuff at me and punch me in the face. Now, just because you see us on the television doesn’t make us friends.’” Redirecting his train of thought, Kowalewicz adds, “It’s hard work and if you work hard for something, then it feels good to get a little bit of a tip of the hat once in awhile.”
Amidst the success the band began to experience, BT was also hiding a secret. In March 2003, Solowoniuk let the public know—via a letter on the Billy Talent website—that he has been living with Multiple Sclerosis.
“We call Aaron ‘Rambo’ now, because he’s the hero,” says Kowalewicz with much pride. “Aaron’s had MS for about seven years now, and he decided to come public—and God bless him, because he had a lot of rough times and a lot of hard goes, and it’s not over yet. But he’s at least telling people that ‘even if you have any kind of problem, you can succeed, and you can get through it. It is possible.’”
Kowalewicz gushes, “He’s definitely our biggest inspiration in the band—we love him the most.” Citing in the letter that this revelation “changes nothing about my band or me,” Solowoniuk and company are forging ahead with their new record, Billy Talent II. Available to the public on June 27, this 13-song collection runs the gamut from the speedy, hard-hitting opening track “Devil in a Midnight Mass,” to the beautifully toned down, yet equally powerful tune “Surrender.”
Having not expected such recognition with their debut album, Kowalewicz admits that he can’t focus too much on what audiences are expecting from Billy Talent. He’d rather leave everything up to chance and live with the consequences, good or bad. “It’s just like Scrambles,” he says. “[I’ll make] a cake, and I’ll just throw it in the air. It’ll hit the ground, and whoever wants it will take some, and if not, they’ll leave it. I can’t worry about it. Really, all we’re doing with the record is going ‘Scrambles!’ If it works, it works, if it doesn’t work, then we’re happy still.”
Billy Talent fun facts (raise your BQ)
* The name “Billy Talent” comes from Hugh Dillon’s character in the feature film Hard Core Logo.* The band was originally known as Pezz, and in September 2005 the long-lost album they released under that name, Watoosh!, was re-released to the public.
* After playing the third stage at Edgefest 2002 with such acts as Theory of a Deadman and Three Days Grace, the band went on to headline that very festival in 2005.
* For a number of weeks, amidst the release of the single “Nothing to Lose,” BT donated $1 to the Kids Help Phone each time the song received radio or video play.
* In July 2001, they had to cancel a show at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace after Aaron suffered multiple injuries in a “freak tubing accident.”
* In 2004, BT performed at the notorious Glastonbury Festival in Scotland. Former Beatle Paul McCartney and Oasis were also on the bill—not bad company, eh?
* BT will be on the road throughout July and August as part of the Vans Warped Tour.
Here’s the deal with Multiple Sclerosis
What is it?
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that goes after the protective covering of the central nervous system, the myelin. It causes inflammation, often destroying the myelin, and affects the brain, the spinal cord, and the central nervous system.
What are the symptoms?
MS symptoms vary from case to case. They include extreme fatigue, balance difficulties, blurry vision, stiffness in muscles, coordination problems, speech issues, and troubles with
bladder and bowels. MS is often disabling and in extreme cases, people who have the disease could experience partial or complete paralysis.
I’m too young to worry, right?
MS can happen at just about any age, but it’s usually diagnosed in people who are between the ages of 15 and 40, and is twice as likely to occur in women as in men.
What types of treatment exist?
At the moment, there are a handful of medicines that are available to those with relapsing or remitting MS. These medications help reduce the severity and frequency of MS attacks. There isn’t a designated cure at the moment, but for further information on MS and how you can get involved in the cause, visit www.mssociety.ca.