Billy Talent: Piss And Vinegar
As they mark a career milestone with their own Hits compilation, Billy Talent reflect on humble beginnings, cosmic musical love affairs and befriending a Foo.
Greatest hits albums are a wonderful enigma when you’re in a punk band – it’s a lucky group indeed whose songs even make it to the stage of being classified as a “hit”, and you better believe Billy Talent are fully aware of their good fortune. But having come this far, you’ve gotta wonder: did Ben Kowalewicz and co. ever realise just how much potential lay in “Fallen Leaves”, “Try Honesty” and the host of tracks that would eventually go on to bring them to global glory?
“God, no! We had no idea what was going to happen, and I guess that’s a good thing,” laughs the frontman. “This past August we celebrated the 21st anniversary of us four playing together, and of those 21 years we’ve been Billy Talent for about 12, but this crazy cosmic love affair that we have for making music together has always been the same, and that is to write the best songs we can and try our best to create something that moves us and will move other people.
“The beauty of being in a band with these three dudes is that there’s not a single thing that has happened to us that we’re not extremely grateful and appreciative for. We’re firm advocates of the saying that dreams can come true, because if it can happen to us it can happen to anyone, as long as you’re pure and honest and true to yourself.”
With retrospection and introspection in the air, we press Kowalewicz to point to some of the biggest moments from the band’s chronicle thus far – a tough call, given the multi-platinum records and umpteen Canadian music awards that have punctuated their storied career. For Kowalewicz though, it’s always been about the shows. Well, that and the occasional chance to rub shoulders with the elite.
“We’ve been able to tour all over the world and play some pretty top notch festivals, and share the stage with so many incredible bands, and we’re always so excited to get there and run around from stage to stage like kids seeing every band we can. We’ve played with the Foo Fighters a few times now and they’re just lovely, amazing fellas. The first tape I ever got was[Nirvana’s] Nevermind – I stole money from my mum’s purse to go and buy it, so to walk into your dressing room and there’s Dave Grohl having a beer… you can never even dream of that stuff when you’re a kid!”
For Billy Talent, whose unique combination of snarling attitude and infectiously melodic rock remains potent with each new record, it’s clear that growing up hasn’t resulted in any loss of steam. Fans worried that the release of Hits may mean the band is winding down can rest easy – there’s a fresh album currently in the works, and Kowalewicz still has a lot to get off his chest, even if the inspiration is coming from new places.
“The beauty of getting a little older – well, I’m 38 years old, I’m not a really old guy – is that I’m starting to appreciate the fragility of life and opportunity, and you can channel that wisdom into something. It’s about just trying to be the best person you can be, the best family member and band member and friend. But when we were growing up it was all a lot of piss and vinegar, it was fun and dangerous, you just did whatever you wanted to do whenever you wanted to do it,” he says.
“We’d work our day jobs and then get together like two or three times a week and that was our fun, we’d book shows and play as much as we could and whenever there was a cancellation or opening somewhere, we’d be there. Those were the fun times when we cut our teeth as performers and songwriters. And we had the door slammed on us so many times. People didn’t get us, but we loved standing out. We’d play with classic rock bands, hip hop groups, ska bands, punk bands. If you had electricity and a stage – or not even a stage sometimes – we’d be there!”
Hits is out now on Warner.