Proudly Canadian: Billy Talent

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Source: Billy Talent

Billy Talent is a Canadian punk 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.

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 two 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.

It wasn't until the recording ofWatoosh! that Gallant and D'Sa started singing, "creating unique harmonies accented by the loud rock sound that the band was pumping out.   Pezz began writing, performing songs, and gaining attention and credibility at first locally, and soon in Toronto's broaderindie 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 a "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.

In 1999, after threatening the American punk band Pezz on BYO Records with lawsuits and demanding thousands of dollars from them, the Canadian Pezz received documentation from their American namesake 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.  However, this 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.     The band found much success in their home country, with their debut album going 3x platinum in Canada.

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 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'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.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 of the U.S. Market.   The album contained 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.

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.

The single for "Turn Your Back" (which was previously recorded in a collaboration form 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 third 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.  Their third album, Billy Talent III was released on July 14, 2009. On September 22, 2009, it was released in the United States, through Roadrunner Records.

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.   
On February 16, 2010, Billy Talent released iTunes Session, over iTunes, a 7-track EP with songs from all three of the Billy Talent Albums.

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 Ben that the band were going to take a break before beginning work on their next album.

In April 2011, Ben stated that "At this point there is no time frame for touring, as our main priority is finishing writing and recording this new record". Ben 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". Ben 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. On October 10, 2011, the band confirmed on their Facebook page that they would be entering the studio in late November to record the new album, and that they plan to release it by early 2012. However, Billy Talent announced that they will not be releasing the album until early fall and also mentioned they would be releasing a new song they were very proud of at the end of May. On November 25, the band tweeted that they were now officially back in the studio to record their new album. On February 22, 2012, the band tweeted that the new album would be released in July; however, in a later video, it was stated that it would be released fall 2012. 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, just days before Ben mentioned the album would be released in September at a concert in Amsterdam. On July 11, 2012 the band revealed that the album's name is Dead Silence and also revealed the artwork and the album's scheduled release date of September 7, 2012. The album's second single "Surprise Surprise" was released on August 7, 2012 on iTunes.
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.

On September 7, 2014, Billy Talent will be inducted into the Mississauga Music Walk of Fame by Mayor Hazel McCallion and Councillor Jim Tovey at a ceremony at 3:00 pm on the Enersource Stage, followed by an unveiling of a Star on the Walkway. A permanent recognition for a Canadian band who weathered the times and stayed true to their tunes.

Surprise Surprise Bill Talent