After the band Billy Talent recently took home the hardware for Rock Album of the Year at the 2010 Juno Awards for “Billy Talent III,” most would say that the result comes as no surprise for a group that piqued the interest of fans from major music markets around the world as early as 2003 after the debut of their self-titled album (which has sold over 350,000 copies to date in Canada) and subsequent success of their smash hit and first single, "Try Honesty." The acclaim kicked them into high gear in 2004 after the single caught on in both the UK and European markets, within which their unique approach to rock-and-roll set them apart from many other up-and-coming acts. Since 2004, the band has received the following MMVA awards: Best Rock Video ("Try Honesty") in 2004, Best Rock Video and Best Video ("River Below") in 2005, the coveted People's Choice Award for favourite Canadian group in 2007, and in 2009, Best International Video by a Canadian ("Rusted From The Rain").
The Junos have also been good to the band with the following awards: Best New Group in 2004, Best Group and Album of the Year in 2005, and Best Rock Album and Best Group in 2007. All of these accolades are a direct reflection of the hard work put in by the band year after year. I can say that I personally have been a fan of the band since I first saw them play back in the early years. I always had a feeling that they were on their way to something big.
I can recall bringing a music colleague of mine to a show at Ted's Wrecking Yard shortly after the band change its name. At that point you could clearly hear the remnants of their new influences and feel the stylistic changes that they had been hard at work cultivating. During the show, my colleague declared, "I don't know what it is about these guys—I can't put my finger on it. But they sound really different, and the tunes are so catchy." By the end of the set, he told me how much he liked the band and that he would attend another show if given the opportunity.
And that's the thing about Billy Talent—once you see them, you want to see them again. And with three solid albums filled with hugely successful singles, there is enough identifiable material to make you quickly recognize many of the tunes from their growing collection. Billy Talent is a great big stage band that needs no gimmicks in order to convey its power at a live venue. For those who have been let down before while attending overly hyped shows and finding the band to be far less than they bargained for, Billy Talent is an antidote. The music stands on its own—that is to say if you aren’t additionally entertained by the antics and passionate engagement with the audience that frontman Ben Kowalewicz brings to the table every night in leading the charge.
With a great amount of showmanship and unique and infectiously catchy music, Billy Talent has established itself on its own merit. With an admirable work ethic, explosive rock show, and fresh-sounding, identifiable singles, the band quickly gets you thinking, Where did these guys come from? For those who don't know much about them, Ian D'Sa (guitarist), Ben Kowalewicz (singer), Jon Gallant (bassist) and Aaron Solowoniuk (drummer) are four Mississauga, Ontario natives who, in earlier years, were recognized by a small number as Pezz. After the threat of legal action from an American punk-rock band hailing from Memphis who claimed to be the original Pezz, however, the quartet was forced to undergo a name change in 2000. The new name, “Billy Talent,” was based on a fictional character from the book “Hard Core Logo,” written by a Vancouver-born author named Michael Turner. The book, definitely worth a read and adapted to film as a mockumentary in 1996, tells the story of a Canadian band’s last tour across Canada with all of the ups and downs and sketchy situations an independent band might experience.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to catch up with the very inspirational Aaron Solowoniuk, the man behind the drums in Billy Talent. Aaron, a man whom I respect greatly for his generosity and courage, decided to spearhead the F.U.M.S scholarship fund, which benefits young adults affected by multiple sclerosis. He created this scholarship after feeling a need to do something about this disease that was affecting so many young children and adults, including him. Early symptoms have been seen in children as young as 13 months, with diagnoses made in children as young as two, facts that affected Aaron deeply. His own battle with the disease started in 1997 when symptoms were discovered during a stint at Daimler Chrysler. Says Aaron, "That was a hard thing to deal with, so I took about three months off. And then I just wanted to get back into who I was and told the guys not to treat me any differently." During that challenging time, Aaron found solace in the band and deems the relationship "My own form of medicine." With the support of the group, Aaron kept rehearsing while visiting doctors and trying to figure out what would come next. At that point Billy Talent had not yet been signed to a major record deal. But despite being faced with adversity that would prove daunting to anyone without a firm support system in place, Aaron continued to press forward and chase after his musical dreams with unwavering focus. The support he received from his band and family, including wife Janet, was invaluable throughout his trying ordeal.
Since then Aaron has enjoyed much success with his band and has dedicated much of his time to creating awareness about this disease. “When I first started to promote [awareness],” he says, “I just asked some friends to come play a show. Everybody agreed, and tickets sold out in about six minutes, which was really special and really cool for me.” The show took place in 2006 on Boxing at the Opera House in Toronto, with the lineup including Moneen, Alexisonfire, and Billy Talent. Aaron now only experiences minor symptomatic setbacks that are manageable thanks to his prescribed medication. And he suggests that people not let difficult experiences like his ever stand in the way of who they are supposed to be. He describes his feelings in detail in an inspirational letter that he released to his fans in 2006 (and which can be read on the band’s website at www.billytalent.com).
I must say that if you do get a chance to catch these guys playing a show, it will be well worth your time. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Photograph by: Dustin Rabin
Billy Talent's Links
Ian D'Sa - guitarist
Ben Kowalewicz - singer
Jon Gallant - bassist
Aaron Solowoniuk - drummer