Contrary to early popular belief, no one in the band Billy Talent actually has that name. They first got together as teens at Mississauga, Ontario’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary School, and consisted of vocalist Ben Kowalewicz, guitarist Ian D’Sa, bassist Jon Gallant, and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk.
They chose the name Pezz because of the candy, and began playing local dances, working their way up to the local area bar scene after graduating from high school. They soon became an underground favourite, churning out a mix of punk and industrial rock to the delight of mosh pit fans around the Toronto area, all the while writing their own material while covering the hits of the day.
Their first recording was a cheap four-track demo that they knocked off in D’Sa’s basement in ’94. They dubbed it DEMOLUCA and sold it at shows before scraping enough money together for a better quality demo with engineer/producer Dave Tedesco at Toronto’s Signal To Noise Studio. They affectionately called it ‘dudebox,’ and hence they had a name for the new demo. Although it originally only included four tracks (two of which were on DEMOLUCA) and were selling it privately in ’95, they expanded it a year later as a full album, though still without a deal. This time it included a cover of Tragically Hip‘s “New Orleans Is Sinking” and a live version of “Dudebox.”
During this period, the band was only playing part-time, as everyone was actually going down non-musical roads. D’Sa was studying animation at Sheridan College, Solowoniuk worked on the production line at Chrysler Canada, and Kowalewicz spent some time working for a Toronto radio station. But still continuing on the independent path, broke and in debt, they stayed on the road while honing their chops and expanding their audience base while also developing their pseudo-punk sound. They hooked up with Juno nominee producer Brad Nelson. The result was the album WATOOSH! in 1999. But in 2001 the band was threatened with legal action from an American based with the same name. Although they tried to turn the table and sue them instead, the boys from Mississauga eventually relented, changing their name to Billy Talent, taking the monikor from a character in Michael Turner’s novel, “Hard Core Logo.”
They caught the attention of Jen Hirst at Warner Music Canada, who Kowalewicz knew from The Edge radio station. This led to a series of recording sessions at The Factory in Vancouver with producer Gavin Brown. Those four tracks included “Try Honesty,” and in turn led to a recording deal with Warner and Atlantic.
They released their self-titled debut album in ’03, and a re-worked version of “Try Honesty” quickly climbed the charts. By the spring of ’04 it had been followed by “The Ex,” “River Below,” and “Nothing To Lose,” prompting tours of Canada, the US, and Europe. The seemingly overnight success was capped off in ’04 with a pair of Juno Awards for Best Album of the Year and Best Band of the Year, as well as nods from MuchMusic during their own awards ceremony. By the time the band parked the tour bus in early ’05, the album had been certified triple platinum in Canada (300,000 units). But the critics were getting on board with the band’s message as much as the fans, noting the music wasn’t simply pure aggression. The lead-off “This Is How It Goes,” written by Kowalewicz’s, was actually about Solowoniuk and his affliction with Multiple Sclerosis.
With BILLY TALENT II, released in June 2006, they again turned to Brown for production and again recorded it in Vancouver, this time at The Wareshouse Studio. The day after its debut, the band performed an “Intimate & Interactive” outdoor concert for MuchMusic in the CHUM-City Building parking lot in Toronto. And although results south of the border were less than expected, it was #1 on the Canadian chart in its second week, and debuted atop the German chart, and became one of the top 10 albums that year in Germany while selling over 200,000 copies. It eventually went on to sell nearly a million units worldwide, and achieved double platinum in Canada, earning the band a Juno for Best Rock Album of the Year.
In between tour legs throughout North America, including dates with Alexisonfire, and their first arena tour with Rise Against, Anti-Flag, and Moneen and popping in for the MuchMusic Video Awards, they made their way to Europe for the second time, playing in Finland, Norway, Belgium, and Luxembourg for the first time. The shows in London and Manchester, England were both recorded and found their way to limited edition CDs entitled LIVE FROM THE UK. Two versions were released, with the expanded version limited to only a few thousand pressings. They also headlined shows in Australia for the first time, and also played at the MTV Australia Video Music Awards, as well as appearing for the first time on “Late Nite With Conan O’Brien.”
But although the music was more subdued than before, with less inherent anger and less vulgarity, it was also taking an edgier, more serious turn, evidenced by “Devil In A Midnight Mass” – based on the story of Joseph Druce’s murder of John Geoghan, the convicted former priest at the centre of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. Other noteable cuts included the second single, “Red Flag.” As well as the video getting good rotation on MuchMusic and Kerrang and MTV2 in the UK, it was added to the soundtracks to the games “Burnout Revenge,” “Burnout Legends,” “SSX On Tour,” and EA Sports’ “NHL ’06” prior to the album’s release. The third single, “Fallen Leaves,” tells the story of a heroin addict, and was followed onto the charts by “Surrender.”
After the release of the live CD and DVD entitled 666 in November, 2007, which featured “This Suffering” as a single, a deluxe version of the album was released, featuring added bonuses from the Brixton Academy, Dusseldorf, and Nurnberg shows.
They then teased the fans as 2008 drew to a close with online demo versions of some of the new tracks from the forthcoming album, as well as the first two singles, “Rusted From The Rain” and “Turn Your Back.” With new producer Brendan O’Brien (Rage Against The Machine, Incubus, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers), BILLY TALENT III was in the stores in the summer of ’09, and the band was already well into a hefty tour schedule that included dates throughout North America, Australia, Europe, Scandinavia, and even three dates in South Africa, as well as appearances at nearly every major outdoor festival around the planet.
With 40,000 copies sold in its first week in Canada, it debuted at #1 at home and was certified double platinum. It eventually peaked at #2 in Austria and Germany, and #3 in Finland, but still failed to make much impression in the US, stalling at #43. Still, with “Devil On My Shoulder” their third straight top 5 single, and all three videos again getting good rotation around the world, they earned a third trip to the podium at the 2010 Juno Awards for Best Rock Album of the Year.
As a marketing gimmick, a limited edition new version of the album was also released to the masses in 2010. GUITAR VILLAIN contained mixes of the tracks without guitars, but did includ four demo tracks previously unavailable, as well as guitar tabs.
After a much deserved break, they returned to the studios in late 2011 to begin work on a new album. Guitarist Ian D’Sa had played a co-production role on the last couple of albums. With DEAD SILENCE, released in the fall of 2012, he took the reins himself.
The first two singles, “Viking Death March” and “Surprise Surprise” preceded the album’s release, each finding their into the top 4 without any problem. So when it was finally available, much hype had been made about the album, which debuted at #1 in Canada, the third straight time they accomplished that feat.