Billy Talent is a Canadian rock band from Mississauga, Ontario. They formed in 1993 with Benjamin Kowalewicz as the lead vocalist, Ian D'Sa on guitar, bassist Jon Gallant and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk. There have been no lineup changes, although Aaron is currently taking a hiatus from the band due to an MS relapse, and Jordan Hastings from Alexisonfire, Cunter and Say Yes is currently filling in for him. In the 25 years since their inception, Billy Talent sold well over one million albums in Canada alone and nearly 3 million albums internationally.
|Also known as||Pezz (1993–99)|
|Origin||Meadowvale, Ontario, Ontario, Canada|
The band existed for almost a decade before mainstream success. The members met and played in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary 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 an employee of Warner Music Canada's A&R department landed the band a record deal and launched them into mainstream success. Since then, Billy Talent has made three multi-platinum records in Canada, and continues to expand their success overseas, this included touring for 20 months supporting their second album. They released their third album, entitled Billy Talent III, on July 14, 2009, and their fourth album, entitled Dead Silence, on September 4, 2012. Dead Silence was followed up by a full UK tour over the course of October and November 2012. To commemorate the longevity since the release of their first studio album, the band has released a greatest hits album entitled Hits on November 4, 2014. The band regrouped and began to prepare material for its fifth studio album. Just prior to entering the studio, drummer Aaron Solowoniuk made the difficult decision to sit out the recording sessions while he continued his longstanding battle with multiple sclerosis. Fellow Canadian Jordan Hastings was quickly recruited to play as Solowoniuk's studio stand-in, and in early 2016 the group completed work on Afraid of Heights, which was released that July.
Origins as Pezz (1993–1999)Edit
The band got together during a high school talent contest. 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. 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.
D'Sa studied classical animation at Sheridan College, and even worked on Angela Anaconda as an animator. Gallant almost finished a business degree. Kowalewicz was in between jobs, one which included working at 102.1 the edge. Solowoniuk worked at Chrysler Canada. But during this, each member found the time and finances to max-out their credit cards, and record their first full-length album in 1999. They laid down twelve tracks at a studio called "Great Big Music", collaborating with Juno-nominated music producer Brad Nelson. Kowalewicz started singing in melody with D'Sa. The music began to transform from "raw rap-rock" songs into "catchy and angst-ridden pop punk anthems". With that, Watoosh! was born and independently released. While popular within Toronto's indie scene, it did not reach large mainstream sales levels.
Billy Talent and success (1999–2004)Edit
In 1999, the Canadian Pezz received documentation from an American band named Pezz proving that the latter had held the name internationally since 1989. The Canadian band had no legal claim to their old name and thus changed it to Billy Talent, 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. This, however, still led to fans mistaking Kowalewicz as being named Billy Talent.
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 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.
In 2002, the band met with record executives, and ended up signing a co-venture agreement with Atlantic Records and Warner Music Canada. In the fall of 2003, the band released their full-length self-titled album, Billy Talent. The album found considerable 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. The band received a 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.
A track from the album titled "This Is How It Goes" was about Aaron Solowoniuk's fight with 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 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."
Billy Talent II (2005–2007)Edit
Billy Talent's second album was mostly recorded at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, British Columbia, which was produced by Gavin Brown again with Ian D'Sa co-producing for the first time, and mixed by Chris Lord-Alge.
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. It also enjoyed significant success in Germany, where it also debuted at number 1 in the album charts in its debut week, and was one of the top 10 selling albums in the country. As of June 15, 2007, the album has sold almost 700,000 units worldwide, 215,000 of them in Canada making it certified 2x Platinum, and 200,000 shipped units in Germany achieved it platinum status there. However, the success did not duplicate itself in the U.S. The band has expressed that they know they are a new band there, and they are choosing to concentrate their attention on Canada, Europe, and other places overseas instead.
The album contains less anger and profanity 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.
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.
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. 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. Also during the tour, the band had to miss their Southampton show "due to a death in the family". The whole band returned the following month to play the show.
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.
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 with good friends Alexisonfire, Cancer Bats, and Attack in Black. Plus the Quebec City Summer Festival with Alexisonfire 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, 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. 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." 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).
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 are staying put in Canada until the album is finished, and that their promotional tour for II has come to an end. Their song "Red Flag" was featured in Burnout:Revenge, SSX on tour, and NHL 06.
Billy Talent III (2008–2011)Edit
The single for "Turn Your Back" (a collaboration with the band Anti-Flag) was released on September 15 in the UK and most of Europe, on September 16 in the U.S. and Canada and September 20 in Australia and was also featured in the video game NHL 09.
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. The band embarked on a supporting tour for the fourth album, starting in Australia in the Soundwave Festival in February. Also, they played two sidewaves, one in Sydney, and one in Melbourne, with Emery and Face to Face opening for them. After Australia, the band headed to North America, where they played the three-day Coachella Festival. Ian revealed that the new album is to be called Billy Talent III.
During summer 2009, Billy Talent toured North America with Rise Against and Rancid. On February 26, the band was announced for Download festival in the U.K. They also played in Columbus, Ohio at Rock on the Range in May 2009. During the Melbourne Soundwave show, Kowalewicz announced they would tour Australia again in August. Billy Talent also played at Reading and Leeds Festivals 2009. Following the twin festivals the band toured the U.K. in late October/early November before moving on to tour the U.S. in support of their new album. In an interview with UpVenue, bassist Jonathan Gallant announced that the Canadian tour would begin in winter 2010 but would be an extensive one.
Billy Talent kicked off their 2009 European tour on October 19, commenting before the tour that they "can't wait to come over to Europe and the U.K.". They followed the European tour with a Canadian tour in March 2010, with Against Me!, Alexisonfire and Cancer Bats supporting. On February 1, "Saint Veronika" was released as the third single from Billy Talent III.
In August 2010, Billy Talent played 3 tour dates in South Africa, one in Cape Town, Durban and at Oppikoppi along with other local bands such as Taxi Violence, Zebra and Giraffe and Jack Parow. The band then played the main stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in the summer, along with bands such as Blink-182, Guns N' Roses, Arcade Fire, Paramore, Weezer, Green Day, Lostprophets & Young Guns. This was the band's last performances on the Billy Talent III Tour, and it was announced by Kowalewicz that the band were going to take a break before beginning work on their next album.
Dead Silence (2012–2014)Edit
In April 2011, Kowalewicz stated that "At this point there is no time frame for touring, as our main priority is finishing writing and recording this new record". Kowalewicz also stated "the songs this far are unlike anything we've ever done before yet it still seems to capture the urgency of our first record". Kowalewicz stated, in an interview, that the first three albums would form a trilogy and that the new album would not be named Billy Talent IV. In August 2011 it was announced in an interview with the band that their new album will be recorded in November. The album was produced by Ian D'Sa and engineered by Eric Ratz and Kenny Luong who worked on Billy Talent II. The album's first single "Viking Death March" was digitally released on May 25, 2012. The music video for the track was recorded at Germany's Rock am Ring Festival and at Melkweg Amsterdam. The album's second single "Surprise Surprise" was released on August 7, 2012 on iTunes. The band released the album Dead Silence on September 4, 2012 on their SoundCloud account.
The band embarked on a Canadian tour with Sum 41, Hollerado, Indian Handcrafts, and Monster Truck (replaced Sum 41 when they dropped out of the tour for the last show in Halifax due to medical reasons).
On August 22, 2014, the band announced a release of Hits, a "greatest hits" album including two new songs. On September 25, 2014, Billy Talent released "Kingdom of Zod", one of the two new songs on the band's Hits album. On November 4, 2014, the band released their first compilation album Hits.
Afraid of Heights (2015–present)Edit
On May 9, 2015, the band announced at SiriusXM Indies that they have been in the studio for the past few months working on their new record. They also announced that the album will be released in 2016. On November 26, 2015, Ben announced that they will be entering the studio to start recording January 4, 2016, and should release their new album before summer 2016. On January 15, 2016, Aaron announced via the Billy Talent YouTube channel that he would be taking a hiatus from the band due to an MS relapse. Jordan Hastings from Alexisonfire, Cunter and Say Yes was announced to be filling in and doing the drum work on the new album in his place. Official band photographs in promotion of the new album feature both drummers.
On May 12, 2016, the band announced their album Afraid of Heights which was released on July 29, 2016. On the same day, the band aired their first single from the new album called "Afraid of Heights". On July 16, 2016, the band opened for Guns N' Roses at the Rogers Centre. Solowoniuk joined the group at their February 27, 2017 show at Toronto's Air Canada Centre to perform two songs. The band was also joined by Jeremy Widerman from Monster Truck to perform a cover of Nautical Disaster in dedication to Gord Downie.
Billy Talent's musical style has been described as punk rock, alternative rock, post-hardcore, and pop punk. Watoosh! saw the band mixing multiple genres and making diverse songs on the same album, stretching from hip hop to indie and ska punk. 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 not been described by the band as their defining sound and that it was something that appeared to them after experimenting with different styles. 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, things that were known factors behind their debut. In their music there are raw and frequent backup vocals heavily collaborated by main vocals, quick changes between loud and quiet, and Kowalewicz's characteristic vocals which are the key elements that emphasize that assertion.
Billy Talent has received a significant amount of recognition in Canada, winning 10 awards from 32 nominations at the MuchMusic Video Awards and 7 awards from 20 nominations at the Juno Awards. The band has also been nominated at the MuchMusic Video Awards every year since 2004. Overall, Billy Talent has received 21 awards from 56 nominations in Canada. The band also had the number 1 rock song of 2009 "Devil on My Shoulder" on Much Music's holiday wrap, along with the number five song "Fallen Leaves" for much music's 99 best music videos. They are also the most nominated band in Much Music Video Award history.
- Studio albums
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- "Before They Were Famous". "The Ongoing History of New Music". CFNY. November 11, 2005.
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- "Personal letter from Aaron". March 17, 2006. Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved September 2, 2007.
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