Billy Talent - Interview

23 March 2004

Billy Talent
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Billy Talent - Interview

We caught up with Billy Talent’s Ben Kowalewicz…. in the dressing room before they took to the stage at Leeds’ Cockpit. After a scar feeling episode, thorough inspection of their rider filled fridge and general laugh, we can confirm that the Toronto quartet are some of the politest punks in rock.

So you’re coming to the end of your UK tour, you’ve only got Leeds and Birmingham to go, how’s it been going so far?
Very very good, very good. You know it’s weird we’ve been kind of taken aback. We played London last night and walking on the stage and seeing so many people there is still pretty amazing to us, we appreciate it a lot.

So was that the highlight so far?
Yeah I guess so, it’s been really good. The others were really good too, but last night was kind of special.

Is this your first headline tour in the UK?
We were here in October/November of last year, we played here actually and we did the festival stuff.

Billy Talent’s - Interview
Billy Talent’s - Interview

Are you doing the festivals this year?
Yeah, we found out yesterday, we’ve got Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury. I like the festivals, you do your performance then you get to walk around and meet really cool people, that’s the best part about it. That’s what summer is about.

How are the British fans compared to the Canadian fans?
It’s really weird I find a lot the British to be very similar to Canadian fans, I don’t know why. It’s weird, I got the same vibe last night as I do when we play in Toronto at home. It was the same kind of interaction and the same kind of vibe. It’s really cool.

A Homecoming gig on the other side of the world?
Exactly. Is crazy isn’t it?

So, what do you prefer; touring or being in the studio?
I think it’s like having children, you love both of them but you can’t love one more than the other. It took me a long time to get into studio singing. I’m not the best singer in the world and I don’t really like trying to be perfect and hitting everything right on, I like the organicness of rock ‘n’ roll. Playing live and doing stuff that is real and tangible. But the studio time makes you a better performer and singer.

Do you get nervous before you go on stage?
I don’t get nervous I get more excited, it’s the worst like five minutes before you go on stage, I get like ‘Come on!’..and I don’t really know what to do, but we quite enjoy playing live…

We’ve heard that your live shows are pretty intense, on your part and the crowds as well, apart from the possible mutilation of your drummer, what are we in store for night?
Oh not that!

Is he alright?
He’s fine yeah; I think I suffered actually more than he did. I felt so so bad. He’s my best friend too in the whole wide world, we had a terrible night. It was just one of those things that happen and we were in the hospital. I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.

The single is out at the end of the month, can you tell us a bit more about it?
‘ The Ex’ well, ‘the ex’ is a song about Aaron and I being in long-term relationships for about two, three years and needless to say we were broken up with and we just got together one day and came up with that.

Do they know?
Oh yeah, yeah. We’re really good friends still. Yeah, she thinks its funny, she’s got a good sense of humour, she’s a wonderful girl.

The single has had really good press and great reviews, how much importance do you place on critical acclaim?
Fuck critics, I couldn’t give a shit about critics. We’ve met a lot of people who are fans and they’ve told us what’s really impressed them about the show. But a critic, well sometimes they can get really malicious, I think it’s very easy to say “oh well that band sucks!” because they don’t realise that this is someone’s art, it’s someone’s musical sacrifice.

If you don’t like it, that’s fine but a lot of the time you don’t have to be really mean about it. I think a lot of critics tend to be really harsh just to be funny. No-one likes to be made fun of and no-one likes to be poked at in any aspect of life, just because you’re a musician…

I’ve learned to not care as much anymore. I’ve gone through the grind, a lot of people don’t like my voice, at first I was like ‘that’s not very nice’ but now I’m like ‘you know what, fuck you!’ you know I have enough people and enough fans for support. I don’t play for magazines.

You guys met at a talent show? How do you feel about talent shows like American Idol and Pop Idol?
Yeah pretty much, it was like a talent show at high school. I think Pop Idol’s pretty much everything that is wrong with modern day society. I think they’re taking a preconceived notion of how rock ‘n’ roll used to be and fame and women or men or whatever it may be and this outlandish lifestyle of fame, you know…but music is not made for those reasons. Music is made to experience things on a wider scale.

I don’t think anyone should aspire to be this rock star, drug addict, painter. You paint because you love to paint and if people appreciate it and all the accolades come with that and so be it, but you should be painting for yourself. I think those things like Pop Idol are taking the essence of something really beautiful and making it really ugly.

What do you think of the resurgence of bands and ‘real music so to speak?
I think there’s a lot to be said for pop music. But things like ‘The Making of the Band’…I’m like well ok, you can sing karaoke really well? You look good in your shiny shirts? And everyone is happy? Gimme a break! I can go to my local pub and see a guy do that for free. Fuck!

There’s a lot of college punk and skater punk around at the moment but you guys seem to be taking a more traditional route. Is that intentional?
Not really, I mean, the bands that we grew up listening to like The Clash; the Buzzcocks. I don’t think we were like hey, let’s go with that, it’s just the way we write and how we play.

So, what’s on your rider?
Well this isn’t really our full rider, this is like a half rider. Usually we have some fruit and some veg platters, nutria-grain bars, some gum, tea, coffee.

That’s pretty clean living for a punk band?
Well no, cos we have some beer, some vodka, some Jack Daniels (walks to fridge and reveals a vast array of alcohol!) Red Bull…

What sort of music are you listening to on the tour stereo?
Well we don’t really listen to the same music. We just all kind of sit in our own world’s with the walkmans on. I’m listening to Hoxley Workman, who is a kind of a beautiful singer/songwriter from Toronto, where we’re from and it’s just this beautiful, beautiful kind of music. Chet Baker I’ve also been listening to...and The Distillers album...and I love her and she will love me one day….and The Strokes album is really good…

Billy Talent release ‘The Ex’ through eastwest/Atlantic Records on March 29th. Their debut album, ‘Billy Talent’ is out now.

Words and Pictures
Jude Stone & Jemma Volp-Fletcher


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