Interview with Jon Gallant from BILLY TALENT (@billytalentband); New album “Dead Silence” out NOW!
Let’s give some love to our friends from the north, ehh? I’ll be the first to admit that most of my personal musical experience is centralized in the United States, but our Canadian neighbors are certainly no slouches in the music department. If there is any justice in the world, Rush will be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Billy Talent will come pay us a visit soon.
These Toronto rockers have been going full speed since their humble beginnings in 1993. At almost the 20th year mark as a group, this monster of a 4-piece hasn’t lost one spec of energy or musical creativity during their tenure… That you can count on. Having received several Canadian music awards, accolades, and more Much Music Awards nominations than any band in Canadian history, this is clearly a band that has as much heart as they do talent, no pun intended.
Currently overseas touring in support of their phenomenal new album, Dead Silence, on Warner Brothers, Billy Talent’s superb musical delivery and edginess on this record provides strong catharsis given the band’s recent medical emergency and will be a welcome addition for fans everywhere. I managed to speak with bass player Jon Gallant prior to one of their performance in Germany to talk about their current tour and new record, drummer Aaron Solowoniuk’s health, turning off the computer, and their favorite place to get poutine in Toronto.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five, Jon! Billy Talent is currently in Europe supporting your new album Dead Silence… How have the shows been going so far, and what has the best show on this tour been thus far?
J- It’s been awesome, man! That’s a nice intro…. Thank you very much!
G- You’re welcome.
J- The shows have been off the hook. It’s really been a great tour. We’re probably on our tenth German show and we’ve done some Austrian shows and some Swiss shows and stuff like that. We’re going to be heading to Finland after this, and it’s been a lot of fun after being off for so long working on the album. Getting out and touring again is nice!
G- Right on What’s your favorite show been so far since you’ve been in Germany?
J- Lots have been really good. We played in the German town of Muenster the other day and we’d never played there before. It was an awesome venue and a great crowd! You know, all the shows have been excellent, and we still have a couple of the big markets to go. We’re in Hamburg today, Berlin tomorrow, and those are going to be really great shows, too.
G- Right on! Well, I want to jump right into the new record. I got an advance on it a little while ago, and I listened, and I listened, and I listened, and it’s really really good, so I want to get a few informative specs for our readers out here. Can you tell us a bit about the new record… Where did you record it, who was behind the boards, and where did you find the inspiration behind the title and writing the new material, aside from getting it out to your fans who’ve been anxiously awaiting its release?
J- Yea well, after we finished touring “3,” we were pretty tired. We were on a pretty consistent schedule of releasing records and touring and everything like that, so we were knew we were going to take our time for the next record and really make sure we were 100% focused and ready to go. And this time around, we decided that Ian was going to produce it… Our guitar player. He had co-produced our second record, and we were thinking that he would’ve done the third record, too, but we had the opportunity to work with Brendon O’Brien, and we didn’t want to pass that up, so we postponed it until this record, and that was probably the best decision we’ve ever made. Ian is the creative force behind the band, so if anybody is going to handle our direction the best, it’s going to be him.
He produced it, and we used engineers who did our second record, Eric Ratz and Kenny Long, and it was just a really, really great team. We took our time and we used a couple of different studios; One in Vancouver, one in Toronto, and the rest we recorded at our own little studio.
And yea, so it was just one of those things where we wanted to really blow people away, and Ian wanted to blow people away with his production skills, something he’s been fine tuning for the last few years, and it turned out better than we could’ve ever imagined!
G- Nice! I mean, I listened to it several times, and my favorite track thus far, because favorite tracks come in and out when re-listening to albums, but currently it’s track 11, “Show Me The Way…”
J- Oh cool. Yea, we were writing a lot of dark tunes and we thought we needed a change in direction, and that’s where that one came from.
G- And you know, I want to get into that later, because that song really is, you know… It’s got this kind of passion and drive behind it, but it really seems like an uplifting song overall, whereas the album definitely has some dark tones on it.
Do you have a personal favorite song off the album?
J- Mine is “Cure For The Enemy.”
J- The music for that song has been around for almost ten years, and we’ve been playing with the arrangement for so long that we couldn’t finish the vocals for it. I always knew it was going to be a really, really strong song, and I was always pressuring Ian and Ben to finish lyrics for it, and finally on this album we got around to it.
I really think that it’s one of the strongest tracks we’ve ever written.
G- Dig it! Well, let’s get back to touring for a minute, you guys spend a lot of your lives on the road, and the road is a tough place. I don’t think a lot of people realize what musicians go through when it comes down to performing every night and traveling, so how do you guys maintain such a rigorous schedule and how do you occupy your time when you’re traveling between gigs?
J- Well, we try to always maintain the fact that the show is the most important part of the day, so, you know, and you want to have fun at the same time, but you always have. to balance having fun and being professional and putting on good shows every night. So, you eat healthy, and try and exersize a little bit, and get as much sleep as you can. Other than that, you know, it is a bit of a grind, but between movies, the internet, and books, that’s how I always stay occupied.
G- Right on. Getting into slightly more serious topics here for a minute, I want to talk about Aaron and F.U.M.S. (Fuck U Multiple Sclerosis). How is Aaron’s health after his recent surgery? There’s a second part to the question, but I want to know how he is doing and I’m sure our readers do, as well.
J- Yea. No, he is stronger than ever!
J- The surgery he had is fairly common, but it’s still major surgery… They take your heart right out of your chest, put in a new valve, and put it back in, so he has a pig valve now working his heart. But his heart was broken, and now it’s fixed, and in his regular day to day activities, he’s got more energy, he’s stronger, more awake, you know…
He would always take naps and stuff, but a lot of those symptoms of his heart were being chalked up to MS, so it was nice. It’s really good for him to have some piece of mind in knowing there was something else wrong, and now it’s fixed.
And as far as his MS is concerned, he takes his medicine and remains positive in attitude and that kind of stuff, and those are some very important for keeping the disease in remission. So he been coping well with that. And we’d never know, anyway, because he doesn’t complain or tell us what’s going on. He’s an amazing human being.
G- And a drummer, so he’s a hardhead. I’m a drummer, too, and we keep that stuff bottled in sometimes.
J- Drummers are different (laughs)
G- That’s very good to hear, and I’m sure he’s pounding away as always.
J- Yea he’s been great! He’s an inspiration, for sure.
G- Excellent! Now, I also really dig how Billy Talent is sending positive messages to people to get off of their phones and computers, and not to let advertising and materialism ruin what could otherwise be a more productive and positive cultural experience. Can you briefly explain your feelings on current pop culture, the social media frenzy, and why you think it is important to shut everything off for a while?
J- Well, I think moderation is the key, right? All these tools are wonderful, and I think the internet is the greatest thing that could ever happen to culture. It’s the free flow of ideas which is incredible, and it’s only going to make us smarter as a species. As a group of people, you know… If I need to fix something in my house or something like that, I can just go find it on the internet on how to do it, and it’s just incredible, right?
Social media is a little bit counterproductive because it seems like an enormous distraction, you know? People are more concerned with, even when you see them at concerts, people are ore concerned with getting footage on their cameras than they are absorbing what’s happening with their eyes, you know?
J- I think that’s kind of a little bit of the stance that we have on it, and we came from high school… We didn’t have computers at school, and we’re old enough to where we saw the existence of the internet, like, come. So, we come from a little bit of a different place, and we’ve organized our shows through flyering, and word of mouth, and telephone calls and that kind of stuff. We didn’t have websites to do it when we started, so we come from a different place where I think it was easier (laughs) to be a teenager, you know?
And I think more fun, too. You’re on your own missions all the time and you don’t quite know what’s going on. I think that’s kind of the viewpoint where we’re coming from. By no means are we hypocritical where we say that kind of stuff and… I’m the first to admit, I get on the internet and look at my twitter accounts and checking out the video of Justin Beiber puking, but we try to keep things moderate.
G- (laughs) Right on! So, let’s lighten it up a little bit. I’ve never had poutine…
J- Man, you’re not too far from Canada…
G- I know. I was even working in Canada for a few weeks and I wanted to find the best place, so I’m doing research, and I’m going to use you as a guinea pig if you’ll let me…
G- So, I’m on the hunt for the best fries, gravy, and cheese I can get, because I’ve never had it before and people tell me I’m missing out. Where does Billy Talent go to get poutine when they have a junk food craving, and what makes it so good?
J- There’s a… Well, the real poutine, if you want to get the best stuff, would be in Quebec.
J- They’re the creators of it… The French- Canadians. But in Toronto, there’s a place in Queens-Bathurst, and the name is slipping my mind right now…
(He asks another member the location)
Smokes? It’s called Smokes. It’s right on Queen West and it’s in the hipper part of Toronto. It’s great poutine and you can get several different versions of it. You can get… Poutine has expanded into this gigantic thing where you can get lobster poutine or curry poutine…It’s really turned into a life of it’s own. But the fundamental ingredients are French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
G- Yea I think I have to go traditional. I’ll embellish and add all the fun stuff later. The lobster poutine sounds pretty good! I just want the best straight up.
J- You know, it seems like a very American dish in my opinion. That’s kind of the funy part about it.
G- It definitely could’ve been inspired by us chubby bastards down here. That’s how it goes.
G- Though you’ve already performed thousands of shows with thousands of bands, are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future, or places you have yet to hit as a band? Who would be on your personal Dream Bill?
J- Well, places we haven’t gone… We’re going to be going to South America soon, and that’s very exciting for us! It’s our first time going there.
J- I would still love to play a gig in Hawaii… We’ve never done that. But in terms of bands, we’ve been so fortunate to play with some of our heroes! Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Refused, At The Drive In, and all these festivals and stuff, but there’s still a couple that we haven’t had the chance, and they’ve been doing reunion shows so… I would LOVE to play with Rage Against The Machine and (indistinguishable). Those bands were really important to us growing up.
G- Atta Boy! Agreed. Did you see they’re doing the 20th anniversary of the self titled with all the demo tapes and dvd’s and all that?
J- I did! That’ll be rad!
G- That’ll be a guaranteed $150 out of my pocket.
G- I would love to see that show! RATM and Billy Talent. I’m there. 100%!!!
J- We’re touring with Anti-flag right now, and they’ve done tours with RATM and I’m incredibly jealous about it.
G- (laughing) Yea, well hopefully you’ll get the chance. I think that band still has a lot of energy left and a lot of creativity to come forth, so I hope it happens. And like I said, that’d be an awesome show!
Now, can you describe for our readers the craziest or most memorable show Billy Talent has played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
J- There’s been a couple. There’s a festival in Germany called Rock N Rain… The video for “Viking Death March” we filmed we used footage from that concert, and it’s 110,000 people or something like that, and it’s on one of the Formula 1 race tracks, so it’s this long, marrow crowd that keeps on going until your eye can’t see anymore.
The first time we did it, we didn’t know what to expect, and we basically got off a plane, went to the venue, and did this show that completely blew our minds. It was live on MTV Germany, and we didn’t know what we were getting into. We were literally off the plane for 2 hours and playing the show. It turned out awesome and it was one of those experiences that was just unforgettable.
Then the Rock N Rain we did this past summer where we filmed the video, and we were co-headlining with Metallica…
J- And it blew me away, too! I actually met Aaron our drummer at a Metallica concert when we were 16, so it’s a pretty cool turnaround. And another cool festival in Quebec City called Festival Dnate which is on this War of 1812 battlefield and that’s like 125,000 people or something like that, and it’s just incredible.
There’s so many shows that hold special meaning, and it doesn’t matter the size. Our first tour through the states was with The Buzzcocks and it was just a learning experience and an incredible experience on its own. And touring through the states with Rancid and Rise Against… Get to tour with Rancid every night and get to hang with those guys was wild! And doing some of our own shows in places like Russia or places I could’ve never imagined getting to. There’s just too many to list and think about, and I’ll cherish forever.
G- Well, hard work! You guys have been working for it, so the dream can come true!
Lastly, as a band who have made tremendous strides in the music industry, and you’re still going and working! What advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
J- Well, you gotta find guys that have similar goals, and when you find those guys, it’s all about respecting each other and having a team effort. But ultimately, it’s just about practicing your instruments and try to write god songs and be serious. Play as many gigs as you can!
You can’t be chasing fame. I don’t think you can chase the fame. If you’re doing the right things and trying to write good songs and worrying about that type of stuff you can control, that stuff will hopefully follow.