Billy Talent
Billy Talent.jpg
Background Information
A.K.A. Pezz
Origin Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Genre Post-Hardcore
Alternative Rock
Punk Rock
Years active 1993-present
Label(s) Atlantic
Associated Acts To Each His Own
Benjamin Kowalewicz
Ian D'Sa
Jonathan Gallant
Aaron Solowoniuk

Billy Talent (formerly known as Pezz and often shortened to BT) is a Canadian post-hardcore band formed in 1993 in Mississauga, Ontario. The band consists of Benjamin Kowalewicz (vocals), Ian D'Sa (guitar/vocals), Jonathan Gallant (bass/vocals) and Aaron Solowoniuk (drums/percussion). They are mostly recognizable by their heavy yet melodic guitars and the unique timbre of Ben's voice.

Although they are often described as having punk rock roots, they did not "emulate popular bands at the time." The sound is original and unique, something different that they recognized when they first started playing together.[1]

"Music for us depends on the individuals you are playing with, and individually we are all at our best in the context of this band. Our collaboration and chemistry work. For years we tried to find our sound, but everything started happening when we simply accepted what we are. When you find your voice, everything else follows suit." - Benjamin Kowalewicz MuchMusic interview[1]

The band existed for almost a decade before hitting mainstream success. The members met and played in high school under the name Pezz and remained underground in Toronto's indie music scene until 2001. The band renamed itself Billy Talent after running into legal trouble with the old name. It was then that Kowalewicz's connection with a worker in Warner Music Canada's A&R landed the band a record deal and launched them into mainstream success.[2] Since then, Billy Talent has made two multi-platinum records in Canada,[3] and continues to expand their success overseas. As of July 1, 2008, the band has completed touring Canada and Europe as well as a tour with My Chemical Romance in the U.S, and they have returned to Canada to finish the new album.[4]

History[edit | edit source]

Origins as Pezz: 1993–1999[edit | edit source]

The band originated in Meadowvale and Streetsville, two neighbouring districts in Mississauga. In 1993, Ben Kowalewicz and Jonathan Gallant were part of a band called "To Each His Own", where Gallant played bass, and Kowalewicz was on drums. Kowalewicz moved to vocals, and Aaron Solowoniuk was recruited in his place. Then backstage at the talent show of their high school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary, they met Ian D'Sa, who played with a different band by the name of "Dragonflower".[5] The two bands started playing local pool halls and bars together. Eventually Kowalewicz asked D'Sa about starting a new band with him, Gallant, and Solowoniuk. He wanted to make a band that focused more on creativity, and D'Sa agreed.[1] This merger would bring on the name "The Other One" for a short time, and eventually "Pezz".[5]

Pezz began writing, performing songs, and gaining attention and credibility at first locally, and soon in Toronto's broader indie music scene. Their first recording was a cheap 4-track demo. It was recorded in Ian D'Sa's basement in July 1994, and was named Demoluca, after a friend of the band named Jason Deluca had stopped by the house, banging on a basement window while the band was recording. Soon after, in January 1995, they all put in money to record another demo of better quality with engineer/producer Dave Tedesco at the "Signal to Noise" studio which they called Dudebox.[5] Originally, two tracks from Demoluca and four newly recorded tracks were compiled onto it, but a year later the band recorded four more tunes live in the studio and re-released it. After these releases and their continued performances in the immediate area, Pezz was gaining a following in Mississauga and it continued to spread.[6]

Eventually the boys left high school and had to move onto other head spaces. D'Sa studied classical animation at Sheridan College, and even worked on Angela Anaconda as an animator. Gallant almost finished a business degree. Kowalawicz was in between jobs, one which included working at 102.1 the edge. Solowoniuk worked at Chrysler Canada. But during all this, each member found the time and finances to max-out their credit cards, and record their first full-length album in 1999.[5] They laid down twelve tracks at a studio called "Great Big Music", collaborating with Juno-nominated music producer Brad Nelson. Kowalawicz started singing in melody with D'Sa. The music began to transform from a "raw rap-rock" songs into "catchy and angst-ridden pop punk anthems". With that, Watoosh! was born and independently released.[6] While popular within Toronto's indie scene, it did not reach large mainstream sales levels.[5]

Billy Talent and mainstream success: 1999–2004[edit | edit source]

In 2001, the band was threatened with a lawsuit from an American band that was also called Pezz, which resulted in a name change.[7] Billy Talent would become their new name, inspired by the guitarist "Billy Tallent" from Michael Turner's novel Hard Core Logo. The film adaptation by Bruce McDonald would be the inspirational medium for the band.[5][2] However, this still led to fans mistaking Kowalewicz of being named Billy Talent.[8]

Now known as Billy Talent, their sound began to move in a more aggressive, punk rock direction. During this time, Kowalewicz ran into Jen Hirst, at 102.1 the edge, the Toronto radio station he worked at. She had previously seen the band perform as Pezz, and he asked her to check out the band's performance at a club. This would prove to pay off, as Hirst was later hired by Warner Music Canada to work in A&R. This connection would get the band their producer Gavin Brown, and a demo deal with the label. Before the demos were recorded, a local manager called Atlantic Records A&R executives, who were already in Toronto, to see the band perform in its tiny rehearsal space.[2]

In 2002, the band met with record executives, and ended up signing a co-venture agreement with Atlantic Records and Warner Music Canada.[2] In the fall of 2003, the band released their full-length self-titled album, Billy Talent. The album found considerable mainstream airplay and sales success. "Try Honesty" was a successful first single, and was followed by other singles "The Ex", "River Below", and "Nothing To Lose" into late 2003 and 2004. The band played sold-out shows in Canada and the United States and had success in Europe as well. The band received Juno, (They won two Junos, Best Album of the Year, and Best Band of the Year) and MuchMusic Video Award nominations and awards, and spent late 2004 and most of 2005 touring. Billy Talent went on to be certified 3x platinum in Canada.[3]

A track from the album was titled "This Is How It Goes", and it was about one of Kowalewicz's friends who had multiple sclerosis. On March 17, 2006, Aaron Solowoniuk revealed in a personal letter to fans that he was the friend in that song. Solowoniuk was confirmed to have the disease, which causes anything from numbness in the limbs to paralysis or loss of vision, in January 1999. His neurologist prescribed him medication that he would have to self inject three times a week, possibly for the rest of his life. Although it was a struggle for Solowoniuk to come to terms with the reality of the disease, going to numerous doctor appointments, and touring with the band with a mini-fridge in their van has become normal routine. The medication has let him continue drumming with the band, as it eliminated his symptoms, and he has stated that "this changes nothing about my band or me."[9]

Billy Talent II: 2005–2007[edit | edit source]

Billy Talent's second album was mostly recorded at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, British Columbia,[10] which was produced by Gavin Brown again, and mixed by Chris Lord-Alge. This time however Ian D'Sa got a chance to try his hand at producing.[11] Beginning in the fall of 2005, demos from the new album were purposely leaked by the band to gain publicity. This put about half of the record out in the public, "and then someone got the other half and then it was just all out," so the band purposely leaked it.[12]

Billy Talent II hit the shelves on June 27, 2006. It fared very well in Canada in its debut week, landing in at number 1 on the Canadian charts.[10] It also enjoyed significant success in Germany, where it also debuted at number 1 in the album charts in its debut week,[10] and was one of the top 10 selling albums in the country.[13] As of June 15, 2007, the album has sold almost 700,000 units worldwide, 215,000 of them in Canada[13] making it certified 2x Platinum,[3] and 200,000 shipped units in Germany achieved it platinum status there.[14] However the success did not duplicate itself in the U.S.[13] The band has expressed that they know they are a new band there, and they are choosing to concentrate their attention to Canada, Europe, and other places overseas instead.[12]

The album contains less anger and bad language than their previous self-titled album, as they had mellowed out and matured as men and as a band. More of the songs dealt with real-life issues, to the praise of fans and critics.[10]

"We wanted to do something completely different from the first record because we had changed dramatically and had learned a lot from personal relationships. Everyone in the band is partnering up and dealing with those issues.
The general theme of this record is trust, the lack thereof or breaking up. That seemed to fuel the record." Jonathan Gallant Ottawa Sun[10]

The band ventured off on another UK tour in support of Billy Talent II, but this one would include more shows in countries they had not performed in before.[13] During this tour leg, the gigs at London and Manchester, on September 8 and 16, respectively, were recorded live. Limited edition CDs were released as the band's only live album to date, Live from the UK Sept./2006.[15] Also during the tour, the band had to miss their Southampton show "due to a death in the family".[16] The whole band returned the following month to play the show.[17]

The band started their first Canadian arena tour with the bands Rise Against, Anti-Flag, and Moneen, performing in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and ending in Ontario. Following the Canadian tour, the band ventured onto their first US club tour.[18]

The band went on a large overseas tour, beginning on June 1, 2007. They temporarily came back in mid June to play shows at the MuchMusic Video Awards, the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, and the Festival d'été de Québec in Quebec City. They returned overseas, selling out multiple venues in Australia and performing at the MTV Australia Video Music Awards. They had planned to end their tour on September 3,[13] but the band played shows in St. John's, Newfoundland, Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia on September 5, 7 and 8, respectively.[19] As of September 11, 2007, the band has indicated that their 18-month tour has officially ended, and they are "home for a while to catch [their] breath a little before [they] start writing the next record."[4] In the meantime, a live DVD album called 666 was released on November 27, 2007, featuring footage and audio from the band's performances at London's Brixton Academy, Düsseldorf's Philipshalle, and Germany's Rock am Ring festival (at the Nürburgring).[20]

End of II tour and third studio album: 2008–present[edit | edit source]

In 2008 they opened for American group My Chemical Romance in the US with smaller group Drive By and attended several festivals and held concerts in Canada and Europe later on. Vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz stated on July 1, on Billy Talent's official forum, that they're staying put in Canada until the album is finished, and that their promotional tour for II has come to an end.

Before taking a break to work on their new album, the band has played a new song entitled "Turn Your Back" on several occasions in the last weeks of their tour. On most occasions, they were joined live by Justin Sane and Chris #2 of Anti-Flag. The single for "Turn Your Back" was released on September 15 in the UK and most of Europe, on September 16 in the US and Canada and September 20 in Australia, with Justin Sane and Chris #2 of Anti-Flag as featured guests.

The band entered the studio in November with Brendan O'Brien, who has previously worked with Rage Against The Machine, Incubus, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

They already started touring again, starting in Australia in the Soundwave Festival in February. Also, they played two sidewaves, one in Sydney, and one in Melbourne, with Emery opening for them. After Australia, the band will be heading to America, where they will play the three day festival, Coachella.

On February 21, at the Brisbane Soundwave Festival, the band unveiled a new song. Ian revealed during an interview that the new song is called "Devil On My Shoulder" and originally was a demo with Anti-Flag.[21] Ian also revealed that the new album is likely to be called Billy Talent III.[22]

During summer 2009, Billy Talent will be touring North America with Rise Against and Rancid[23]. On February 26, the band was announced for Download Festival in the UK[24]. During the Melbourne Soundwave show, Ben announced they would tour Australia again in August.

Their third album, Billy Talent III is expecting a June 9, 2009, release date.[25]

Style[edit | edit source]

Watoosh! saw the band mixing multiple genres and making diverse songs on the same album, stretching from hip hop to indie and ska. However, this evolved into a more collected sound that was a mix of fewer genres on their second album, Billy Talent. The result of this has been described by the band as a their defining sound and that it was something that appeared to them after experimenting with different styles.[1] Although they intended not to draw any inspiration from other bands, their new sound had similarities to the music of Refused, Rage Against the Machine, Jane's Addiction and Fugazi, bands that they have said they have great respect for. The similarities were especially related to a lighter post-hardcore genre and the music of Refused and At the Drive-In, but also the anger and hard rock from Rage Against the Machine as well as punk rock and the "Johnny Rotten-esque" stage presence and howls by the vocalist, Ben Kowalewicz.[6][26] This, as well as the use of fast drum beats, ongoing guitar and bass riffs and a sound that has been described as "in-your-face" and "fist-in-the-air rock 'n roll", have made the critics address them as punk rock revivalists.[27]

"We were really influenced by punk rock, rock and roll, hip hop and reggae, and punk bands like The Clash, the Pistols, the Buzzcocks and later on Fugazi. There has definitely been some punk bands that have influenced us. - Benjamin Kowalewicz interview on Norwegian radio program, Pyro[28]

Although there are faint similarities to their music, their mix and innovation of genres have made them unique and pioneering in the modern music scene. There are raw and frequent backup vocals heavily collaborated by main vocals, quick changes between loud and quiet, tempo changes and Kowalewicz's characteristic vocals which are the key elements that emphasize that assertion.[1] In addition to this, they are known for their significant usage of the dropped D tuning (DADGBe), and a vast majority of their songs are in the D Minor Key.

On Billy Talent II, the band altered their sound yet again, based on more mid-tempo and emotional compositions; a bit more collected than their previous work. It was also based on far less angst and aggression behind the production, something that was known factors behind their debut.[29] While this change was apparent on many of the songs, they kept the hints of hard rock, but with less screaming and more singing by Ben. "This Suffering" in particular shows the alteration because of its reminiscence of their previous album and difference from the other songs on the album.

As they grew on to be a mainstream rock band in several countries, played songs with intense vocals and often wore black clothes, they've been said to be related to the emo music scene, but this has never been convincingly reasoned for. The band has commented on this issue, stating that this characterization is ridiculous and that they have no connection whatsoever to the typical emo scene.[30]

Members[edit | edit source]

Awards[edit | edit source]

Main article: List of Billy Talent awards

Discography[edit | edit source]

Main article: Billy Talent discography

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Artist Bio: Billy Talent. Retrieved on July 12, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Bliss, Karen. "Billy Talent". Access Magazine (February 2003 - March 2003 issue).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 CRIA Gold and Platinum Certifications for January 2007. Canadian Recording Industry Association (January 2007). Retrieved on July 4, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Said by Ben on the official message boards (July 1, 2008). Retrieved on July 23, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 "Before They Were Famous". The Ongoing History of New Music. Aired November 11, 2005 on CFNY.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Bowman, Trevor. "BIO", Retrieved on September 4, 2007.
  7. Billy Talent Interview with Ian and Jon in support of Billy Talent II
  8. Wood, Sherry. "Billy Talent proud of new album", Toronto Sun, June 23, 2006. Retrieved on July 8, 2007.
  9. Personal letter from Aaron (March 17, 2006). Retrieved on September 2, 2007.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Armstrong, Denis. "Billy Talent mellows out", Ottawa Sun, January 31, 2007. Retrieved on July 8, 2007.
  11. Billy Talent II > Credits. All Media Guide. Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Aubin. Interviews: Billy Talent. (January 30, 2007). Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Bliss, Karen. "75,000 sing Billy Talent", JAM! Music, June 15, 2007. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  14. Brockdorff, Johann-Friedrich. Database for German Record Awards (June 9, 2007). Retrieved on June 25, 2007.
  15. EXCLUSIVE LIVE BILLY TALENT CD! (September 6, 2006). Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  16. Southampton, UK show postponed (September 6, 2006). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
  17. SOUTHAMPTON GIG RESCHEDULED (September 7, 2006). Retrieved on August 7, 2007.
  18. Wood, Sherry. "Billy Talent nervous about tour", Toronto Sun, February 1, 2007. Retrieved on July 9, 2007.
  19. Billy Talent flyers. The Billy Club. Retrieved on October 18, 2007.
  20. Billy Talent Embrace The Number Of The Beast In New DVD/CD Set. (October 24, 2007). Retrieved on October 28, 2007.
  23. Rise Against and Rancid Will Storm North America During Summer. Noise Press. Retrieved 2009-02-26
  24. Faith No More & Billy Talent for Download
  26. 2003 Concert Review in The GATE. Retrieved on April 6, 2008.
  27. Album Review on "II" at Retrieved on April 6, 2008.
  28. Radio Interview on NRK web TV. NRK. Retrieved on April 6, 2008.
  29. Official Bio at Atlantic Records website. Atlantic Records. Retrieved on April 6, 2008.
  30. Interview on Beat TV. Retrieved on April 6, 2008.

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