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Billy Talent conquers fear on epic new tour

By Nieva Burns

While drummer Aaron Solowoniuk will be kept off the tour due to a battle with MS, he’s still very much a part of the band.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner

VANCOUVER — It’s pretty hard to believe Billy Talent has been around for 23 years. It probably makes the fans who’ve been around since 2001’s “Try Honesty” feel old. But when BeatRoute caught up with Ian D’Sa, lead guitarist, backup vocalist, songwriter and producer for the band’s newest album Afraid of Heights, it’s obvious that this is a band that’s only getting wiser with age.

Afraid of Heights has been hailed as a return to the original Billy Talent sound after a minor stray with Dead Silence. “As a band, we’ve definitely developed our own sound over the years, and when you really have a strong sense of that identity, it is a little bit easier to go in and know what the drums should sound like or the guitar should sound like, and it gets easier as you get older,” D’Sa says.

He discusses the long process of putting together the new album, recalling “we had put out a greatest hits record, so there was almost a four-year gap [between Dead Silence and Afraid of Heights].”

A lot has happened in those four years, some of it scary, hence the name of the album. “Things change in your life and in the world as you’re working on something […] This album was definitely affected by things going on, everything from Brexit to what is going on with Trump right now made its way lyrically to this record.”

Afraid of Heights reflects on mature ideas, says D’Sa: “It really is a metaphor for us as humans — being afraid of progress and change and doing the right thing. The way I look at it is when (you are) younger, you care about those things and you feel those things but you’re kind of in your own little bubble …then as you get older you start seeing the impact of these things globally.”

The album also touches on fear of commitment. When asked if it’s scary being in a band for so long, D’Sa laughs, “it’s kind of like a marriage…The four of us for 23 years now. That’s longer than a lot of marriages. It is a commitment and you do have to sacrifice a lot to do this for a living.”

The band has their roots in Pezz, which was founded in 1993 with the same four original members, Ian D’Sa, Ben Kowalewicz (vocals), Jon Gallant (bass) and Aaron Solowoniuk (drums). Afraid of Heights is the first tour and album without drummer Aaron, however he’s been able to stay involved in the process despite the shocking news in 2016 that his battle with multiple sclerosis (MS) was going to keep him off the drum kits and the tour. Jordan Hastings from Alexisonfire was hand-picked to play instead.

“We may not have had 23 years with him but we love him the same and he’s a part of a band…that we consider brothers. It was a hard shoe to fill for Jordan, but at the same time it’s incredible that he’s doing this and he’s incredibly sensitive to Aaron’s situation as well.”

Solowoniuk was still heavily involved in Afraid of Heights, “When we were making our record he was around.” Aaron also directed the “Louder Than The DJ” music video, a popular song off the new record that pokes fun at the rise in electronic music and the aging rock scene.

D’Sa comments, “the video turned out amazing and he had a lot to do with that. It’s always great having him around.”

Billy Talent fans have a lot to look forward to on this tour. “We’ve been using a big set piece and production which we’ve never really done before.” The set will feature design elements from the album cover, drawn by comic book animator Igor Hofbaue. D’Sa, who used to have a career in animation and enjoys choosing artwork for the albums, expresses, “I love being able to find a style that will match the music …It’s kind of got an old Eastern European propaganda style to it, which I love.”

This will be Billy Talent’s first big Canadian tour since Dead Silence. They just returned from a European tour, “we were pretty much all over Europe, we did a big tour in Germany and Austria and Switzerland and before that we were in U.K. for a month.” Billy Talent has a huge fan base in these countries, as well as in Canada where they sold 53,000 copies of Afraid of Heights in the first week.

“We have an idea of what really works well and what doesn’t work well. This album we still want to push the envelope lyrically and musically, but we have an idea of what we’re really good at and what our limitations are as well. But I think probably that just comes with age.

Billy Talent perform at the Abbotsford Centre in (you guessed it) Abbotsford on February 16th, the Grey Eagle Event Centre in Calgary on the 18th, the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton on the 21st, the Brandt Centre in Regina on the 22nd and the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on the 23rd. More Canadian dates can be found online.

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