Ben Kowalewicz and Aaron Solowoniuk of Billy Talent are soft-spoken and calm, which is a flip of character once the two of four Canadian punk rock veterans take the stage. Now, they give us their tricks of the trade and why, after 14 years, they've never given up.
Hello! Iím sitting here with Ben and Aaron of Billy Talent. Letís start off with your name and what you play in the band.
Aaron: My name is Aaron and I play the drum set.
Ben: My name is Ben and I play the voice.
You guys met at a talent show, didnít you?
Ben: We met at a gay online chatroom.
Aaron: About 15 years ago.
Ben: It was the first gay chatroom in our hometown ever.
Aaron: No, we met in high school. And in high school they have talent shows. And we were in a band, and Ian was in a band. And our band was terrible and his band was awesome. And Ianís band broke up and our band broke up and we sort of melded together.
So did Ianís band win the talent show?
Ben: No, we did. We were cuter than his band. We had the girlsí hearts back then.
Where along the time line did you realize this was something you wanted to pursue full time and really go full throttle?
Aaron: From the very beginning.
Ben: We canít stop. Weíve been together for 14 years. Weíve fought through a lot of adversity to get to where we are today. We appreciate looking back at all that shit weíve had to go through.
Thatís incredible. 14 years. Was there ever a point where you were just like, ďIím done. Iím throwing in the towel?Ē
Ben: Yeah, I think eventually you want to beat your head against the wall. Itís been nine years and weíve done every possible trick and gag in the book to get noticed and no one cares. You play shows and ten people show up. Itís January and itís freezing. The thing about being in the band is that one little piece of good news or positive energy creates a forward tumble. That kind of keeps you going. There were times, speaking for myself, where I was like, you know what, this is really tough and I donít know if I can really take it.
Iíve heard the story before, but refresh my memory. Where did you get the name from?
Ben: There was a book called Hard Core Logo and it was adapted into a film. It was about a fictional Canadian punk band that reunites for one last tour. The guitar player in that band was named Billy Talent.
The first time I heard you guys, I picked up a two song sampler from Hot Topic. I canít remember when it was. 2003, maybe? Were you on Atlantic then?
How did this deal come about?
Aaron: The deal with Atlantic?
Ben: The deal with the Devil?
Aaron: The deal with the Devil.
Aaron: We always dreamed of signing an American record deal. We got some interest from some record labels in Canada, and they opened the doors to shopping our band around the states. We looked at Atlanticís track record of all the amazing rock acts that they had, and we decided to go with Atlantic, who is now an urban label.
I sense some hesitation. Do you feel comfortable on Atlantic?
Ben: No. I mean, itís not a matter of Atlantic. Major labels, indie labels, whatever. That aspect doesnít bother us at all. Itís the fact that we are on Warner in Canada, weíre on Warner in Europe, and internationally. Australia, Japan, Germany, U.K., Austria, Italy, Spain. Weíre doing very well over there and were doing well in Canada, but thatís because the label actually works us, and they actually try. They try to support us and they understand what we are doing as a band, that we wear our hearts on our soles and we move and we try our best with everything that we do. Our American label has just kind of fucked us and never followed through and always let us down.
Aaron: Itís such a big big big country and big big record company. Everyone that we fell in love with when we signed with them doesnít work there anymore.
Ben: And then the new batch that we got to know, they all got fired. And then the new batch, some of them got fired.
Aaron: Itís a revolving door.
Ben: Itís their fault and then itís our fault. We do everything that we can. We try our best. We write as good records as we possibly can and have as much fun as we possibly can.
This kind of makes sense, in a way. When I was reading other interviews, I noticed that most of them were from different countries. You have a great, solid fan base outside of the U.S. and obviously Canada. What places in Canada or overseas are where youíve played some of your best shows?
Ben: Montreal, Berlin, Hamburg, London, Spain.
Aaron: Weíve played Europe and there were some amazing shows. Sold out for like six weeks. Because they play our videos over there.
Youíve been everywhere. Have you ever been to Japan before?
Ben: Yeah, we were there last time, and thing weíre going back. Weíre going to Australia.
Whatís been your favorite place to play? One place.
Aaron: There has been a lot of places. Amsterdam I fell in love with. The show was cool, but the just the place was cool. But places to play? Montreal, Quebec City.
Can I talk about some drama? Is there a feud going on between BT and Fucked Up?
Ben: We donít talk about that. There is no feud. There is a lot of other people wanting there to be a feud. But between our two bands, we are civil. We support what they do and wish them all the best.
What sorts of quirks do you have as a musician? Like, rituals you have before a show and so on?
Ben: I donít smoke or drink before I go on stage.
Aaron: I really donít have any of those things.
Ben: I warm up before I go on stage. Weíre getting old.
How old are you guys?
Thatís not that old!
Ben: Itís different than 21, let me tell you that. When you turn 31, well talk. Haha. When you back does hurtÖ
A lot of your fans, myself included, say your songs get them pumped. On that note, which one of your songs get you the most pumped?
Ben: Good question.
Aaron: ďRed Flag.Ē
Ben: We have a song called ďSurrenderĒ that is a slower song than we have written. That song just strikes me a different way.
Between your first self-titled and Billy Talent II, was there a shift in a way you approached writing your songs?
Aaron: Definitely. The first album was written when we all had day jobs, and we were all struggling to be musicians. We were trying to pay rent. And then, when we got to write Billy Talent II, we got to write as our job and do it everyday. You spend four or five hours working on one song.
Ben: I was so fucking bored most of the time. I just had to sit there. Iím always last to go.
Why did you decide to name the album Billy Talent II?
Ben: To be honest with you, because tried we a bunch of different ideas. And then we were thinking kind of led Zepplin-ie, one through four. Itís very simple. I find a lot of times now that bands have The Wingless Angel Eye Death On The Doorstep of Humanity! And you know whatís funny?! We thought that, by naming it II, no one would talk about it. But everyone asks us! Why did you name it II? Some people get really mad about it!
Does that mean that the next album will be named III?
Ben: Yup. Well, we might name it IV. And then people will be like, ďWhereís III?Ē
Ah, nice idea.
Aaron: No, we donít know what itís going to be called.
Ben: I think III.
Aaron: All right, itís called III.
Ben: At this rate, we might as well go to IV. Then Iím going solo and leaving you guys in the dust.
Aaron: And do a techno album.
This is all going in the interview, haha. People are going to take this seriously.
Ben: This is for AbsolutePunk, right? Haha, everything has to be bang on. Theyíre on a major and they are doing techno?!
Haha. This album, Watoosh. I saw it online some time ago, and I had to pick it up. Now itís available overseas and picking up popularity. Have you noticed now that everyone is now obsessed with your back catalog?
Aaron: They actually request some songs on that.
Ben: The funny thing on that is that when we decided to max out our credit cards again, we went into a couple different studios, and we did all the artwork. We released it and we maybe sold about 100 of them.
Aaron: Yeah, we made about 500 of them.
Ben: Yeah, only our good friends would have these things. And then people would be asking about it, and yeah, I guess we will give it to people if they want it. But, it is a bit different and it is a bit of discovering ourselves. Itís a good first chapter, a good opening. You can definitely see the progression from that to our first record and this record. I think this record is more like the Pezz record than the first record. There is a lot more depth to it.
This tour with Cancer Bats and Drive By. Is this your first US headlining tour?
Ben: We did one three years ago, which was terrible. Not terrible in that sense, but no one came. Yeah, this is our first headlining tour in a very very long time.
Aaron: And the Cancer Bats are awesome. Have you seen them?
No, I havenít.
Ben: Theyíre great.
You just started this tour, right? Has it been OK so far?
Aaron: We did. This is our third show.
Ben: Yeah! Buffalo was great. Yesterday was a bit rough because there was a snow storm. We sold 300 tickets but like 100 kids came.
Thatís still pretty good, though.
Ben: Yeah, yeah it was. It was still very fun. We were very thankful.
What has been your favorite tour so far in all your 13/14 years?
Aaron: Hmm. Favorite tour?
Ben: I donít know. There are good parts and bad parts of every tour, you know? I really like the summer festivals in Europe. There are like 40,000 people, and Queens of The Stone Age, Gogol Bordello and Wilco are going on before you. Thatís amazing.
Aaron: We just did a tour with Alexisonfire in Europe that was a lot of fun. Being overseas with good friends was really cool.
Ben: And weíre playing for five to ten thousand people a night. Itís crazy.
Aaron: And then our first U.S. tour was with The Buzzcocks, which was one of our most memorable. We really learned a lot from those guys.
I read somewhere that you guys were big Buzzcocks fans. It must be incredible to go on tour with a band you respect and admire.
Ben: Absolutely. And they were cool. Itís definitely a true thing that the bigger the band, the nicer they are.
On the note of that, what future plans do you have for recording, or touring, or anything?
Ben: After this tour, we are on our way to Japan. And I think we are just doing festivals all across Europe and Japan. Oh yeah, we have a couple shows in Chicago and Columbus. After that, I donít think we are back in the states for awhile. And then we start recording in December. Weíll be gone for 18 months straight.
And we will be waiting for Billy Talent III. Or IV.
Hah, nice. I believe thatís all I have. Do you guys have any last words?