“Everything is beards and banjoes right now…” hmv.com talks to Billy Talent
As they release their fifth studio album Afraid Of Heights (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page), we sit down with Billy Talent bassist Jon Gallant to find out about making the album, why they had to draft in a new drummer after sticksman Aaron Solowniuk’s condition took a turn for the worse, the state of rock and roll and supporting Guns N’ Roses...
This many albums in, how do you feel about a new record coming out?
“There’s no other way to be a band in my opinion. It’s just the way it’s done. We worked on this record for three years so it feels like a big event for us; an important moment. They’re also markers in a career. There’s your debut record. There are the records that have settled in and become fan records. Then there’s the comeback record. Whatever. There’s a whole bunch of markers.”
What sort of album is Afraid of Heights?
“Oh man, I think it’s a big marker because it’s got the big issue of Aaron not playing on it, which is a really huge thing for us. So that just makes it different in general. And then I think the songwriting and Ian’s production is at an all-time high. He’s never been a better songwriter, and his skills are just A-level now. And we did it all in our own studio. So for us it’s a very important baby. It’s a really great album.”
How did Aaron break the news to the band?
“We had to make a living so the last couple of summers we played some festivals here and there. And after one show I noticed he had really struggled. So the next week we were working on the new material in the studio - him and I practice a lot by ourselves - and he was just having a really hard time with his body and back; having a herniated disc in his back."
“I asked him what was going on - I noticed he was missing kicks and stuff - and he said he was having an MS relapse. Once that whole process started he really went downhill fast. And then we had to decide. It was over a six-month period to decide what we were going to do. The other three guys, we had various scenarios that we went through over and over on our own, and we didn’t know. And then Aaron said, ‘I can’t hold you guys back because I don’t know if it’s going to be six months or six years. Go for it.’ At this point the whole album was written. It was a pretty dark, crazy time in our career.”
How did Aaron’s MS shape the band?
“Aaron had his own demons when he first got diagnosed. He went through depression and had to cope on his own. They recommended that he stop playing drums, all this kind of stuff. So once he had battled through all that and he adjusted to what he had to do on the road, which is basically just take needles, he didn’t want to be treated any differently. So we never did. We just carried on as normal dudes, and I think that really helped."
“He’s been in remission so long, too, because we were just having so much fun doing all this stuff, and his mind is so strong that he didn’t want anything interfering with that. But it’s a degenerative disease so eventually it catches up.”
'Louder Than the DJ' is a defence of rock music. Certainly it looks like EDM and pop has overtaken rock in the hearts of the so-called kids, although its death has been announced before. Do you feel like rock and roll needs defending?
“I don’t think it needs to be defended; it’s more of a tribute than anything. It’s taken a backseat these days. If you listen to [Toronto radio station 102.1] the Edge, which is supposed to be edgy but there’s less edge than ever, everything is beards and banjoes right now. The ‘80s was like that, and you only got a handful of great songs that come out of a generation. That said, there are great bands that stick out but right now there are a lot of one-hit wonders. People will get bored with it, and rock and roll will make some kind of comeback when a band comes out that is doing something a little bit different than what’s been done before.”
Billy Talent opened for Guns N’ Roses recently. Were you a fan growing up? Describe the experience.
“It doesn’t get much cooler than opening for Guns N’ Roses. It was also the SkyDome [since renamed the Rogers Centre] with our history and culture being represented at a Toronto venue we never thought we would play."
“Guns N’ Roses are the reason I play music. I fell in love with that band when they came out. Appetite for Destruction was just so influential. I was in Grade 6 or something, and everything about it was dangerous and cool. It had a classic vibe to it but it was still so cutting-edge and heavy. Plus, you’re at the age where you’re starting to look at girls a little different and you look at their videos and you see all the girls and the parties. Everything about it was cool."
“And my friend started taking guitar lessons, and a couple of months later he was playing ‘Sweet Child ‘O Mine.’ That just blew my mind. And I realized what I could do. And that’s one of the reasons I started playing bass, and one of the first songs I learned was ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’”