Interview with Ben Kowalewicz

23 07 2009

BILLY TALENT III - Toronto

As I mentioned before, I had the opportunity to talk to Ben Kowalewicz from Billy Talent.  The following is that conversation.  He’s a great guy, their management was really cool, and the new album is going to be awesome.  For the story that came from this interview, go here.  But to read the whole thing go to the jump.

You’re playing a few of the songs off the new record on this tour?

Yea we only get like 35, 40 minutes on this tour, so we’re trying to play as many as we can. So I think we’re playing two or three [new songs].

Are they’re getting a pretty good reaction from the fans?

Yea. They’re actually getting a better reaction than we thought to be honest with you, but we’re just really excited to finally be able to do our own headlining shows and be able to play a bulk of the new record.

For this new record  you guys have said you pushed yourself lyrically and musically and you’re all really happy with this album.  But what did you set out to try and make the album to be?

You know what, I don’t think you can actually do that. At least with our band, I shouldn’t say with any other band, with our band, we don’t ever try to do anything.  Just whatever is coming out, whatever Ian is coming up with, whatever I’m coming up with, we just kind of go with it and see where it takes us as opposed to saying anything like ‘You know what? We’re gonna write this, we’re gonna do that.’ We kind of approach every song as its own entity. And with lyrics, it’s always a challenging thing. Ian and I kind of pride ourselves on trying to write good songs that connect to people and share stories that either we’ve gone through or other people have gone through or that they can relate to.  And its always a challenge, you know, when you have three to four minutes to tell a story you should try your best to use every second and every word and every syllable to help convey the message.

You said you drew more on influences from the 90s on this record.  Did it help more to draw on influences from the 90s as opposed to whatever you’ve done on a different record?

Well I just think it came kind of naturally. When we were growing up in the 90s we were pretty privileged to be able to see, you know, we grew up when Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine and Tool and all these bands were first coming out, and it really, it shaped us and the fact that as people that’s the reason we all picked up instruments and became musicians.
I guess inevitably over time you kind of revert back to basics that was definitely something that just felt right and we just kind of went with it.

I read that this is the first record that you guys have recorded outside of Canada.  That’s correct, right?

True.

What brought that on? Why did you decide to do that?

Well we had the opportunity to work with Brendan O’Brien, who is a legend, and we were telling him we wanted to record in Canada and he was telling us about this studio he records at in LA that he was really comfortable with and that he knows all the people there and he knows all the staff so we just decided sometimes the best thing to do is to make yourself uncomfortable, right?  Because I think when you make yourself uncomfortable you learn and you have to adapt and evolve to situations and it brings an energy to a record.  We just decided that we were gonna trust him and it really work out for us. It’s pretty cool.

So it didn’t disrupt you or anything like that?

No, not at all.  I mean being in LA for three weeks and I think we did three weeks in Atlanta.  I mean when you’re recording a record, at least with us, we don’t go out.  Like we’re in the studio bright and early and we stay there until really late at night.  So we don’t really go and enjoy the night life.  We don’t do anything like that, we’re just really focused on making the record.
We’re old guys now.

I want to talk about the “Guitar Villain Edition” of the record that you’re doing.  It’s the same record, correct?  Just without the guitar tracks on it? [The Guitar Villain Edition is a version of Billy Talent III that will be released simultaneously and will not have guitars on it so listeners can play along – ed.]

Yea. We were just trying to think of cool ways to obviously encourage people to play guitar or play any instrument for that matter.  But in this instance we thought it would be cool.  Everyone’s playing Guitar Hero and playing all these games, and we thought well why not try something new and different?  And I think for guitar players – I mean Ian has a lot of fans and he’s a very unorthodox kind of player so it’s a good opportunity to try and learn the songs.

Now you guys toured for almost two years straight for the second record.  Are you planning on going for quite the same about of time to tour for this record?  You’ve already done a decent bit of touring and you’re booked until September now, so is that what you’re headed for?

We’re booked further than September, I think we’re booked until closer to March at this point.

Oh wow.

I mean we’re a touring band, that’s where we feel the most comfortable.  We’re excited, we got a new record out and we’re just really stoked to be able to play shows.  And now doing this tour with Rancid and the Rise Against guys asked us out, and they’re such amazing people and it just fit with the timing so we figured you just kind of go with where people want you, and so we just try and play as often as often as we can wherever people want us to play.
I think this time we’re going to pace ourselves a little bit more, and not uh – because we were pretty burnt out, to say the least, after the last record and that’s not a very nice place to be.  So I think we’re just going to try and make it a little more digestible for us.

But being a more established band like yourselves, I mean, you guys don’t have to be touring all the time like that.  Is it getting harder to be constantly on the road especially now that you really don’t have to prove yourselves to everyone.  You’re already Billy Talent.

Well I disagree.  I mean you always have to prove yourself every time you get on stage.  Either you’re making new fans or youre trying to make the ones that are fans happy, right?  So I think we’re still really hungry, and especially in your country – in America – we have a lot of work to do.  We’ve been really lucky, you know, this is the second time Rise Against has brought us out, we’ve actually had the opportunity to do Warped Tour a couple times, we’ve headlined our own shows, My Chem took us out last year so we’ve been really lucky in that way to be part of some good tours.  I think September we’re going to do our own headlining tour.  To which I think Baltimore will be included in that, which is rad.  Yea we’re just trying to, you know, we’re musicians and we just like to play.  But I think you always have to fight and prove yourself in one way or another.

As you pointed out, you’re not quite as big in America.  Can this record propel you that same success?

Well I hope so!
Well the problem is we’ve never really had any support from like radio or television or things like that.  All the fans we’ve made, we’ve made the right way.  And that’s by touring and playing in front of a lot of people and hopefully people like it.  Hopefully this record we’ll get some help, you know, it would be nice.

So it’s not like you’re going out and trying to be the biggest thing you can in America, but you have faith in the product.

Yea I guess.  I mean every musician I think that’s what they want as a band anyone who writes records and tours they obviously want the record to do well right?  I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of by wanting people to like your band.  Regardless of who you are or what you do, you pick up an instrument, you know you start a band and start writing songs, you write music for different people to enjoy it right?
That’s what it is.  All the politics that surround music, they are all very contrived and I think unwarranted in a lot of ways but every band is fighting the good fight, as are we.

Now, you’ve mentioned going out with Rise Against before, how about this tour, how’s this tour been.

It’s been fantastic; it’s been a lot better than we were expecting and the guys in Rancid – we’ve never met them before – and they are the sweetest, nicest, most considerate gentlemen, one of the nicest bands we’ve ever toured with.  And so it’s been really great, you know we’re going to get the chance to play in front of a lot of people that maybe have never heard of us or have never seen us before, and it’s been great.  And the fans have been awesome, and I mean RA are our brothers in arms, we’ve toured a lot with them, we brought them across Canada, they brought us out across the States and have done shows all over Europe together and so it’s really cool that they remembered that; that they were trying to help us out so it’s cool.

When the tour was in Cleveland Mike Riverboat Gamblers said the same thing about the bands.

We’ve been really lucky and really fortunate.

Now you were going to shoot a video for Devil On My Shoulder, did that happen?

Yea, we already shot it.  Shot that a couple of weeks ago, so it should be done actually, soon I  would imagine.  It’s in the final what have you.

Now the first three records as Billy Talent have been a part of a trilogy, right?

[silence]

Is that true or…

Well, I think we were joking around a bit, in a Star Wars kind of way.  Its funny because a lot of people seem to really be over-analyzing ‘Why would they call it III?’ Well it’s just our third record, and we decided to call it III.  There’s no grand plan behind it or anything like that.  You get people upset which is really really funny.

I didn’t know, you know because the Bronx do the same thing.  So it’s not a trilogy that you’re moving on from?

It’s will be the end of the number names [laughs].

So the next one won’t be IV?

No probably not.

As a more established band how do you stand on downloading, either legally or legally?

Well it’s a double-eged sword. I see the pros in it, I definitely, when we were growing up and we first started playing, we would make tapes and go out and flyer and poster and beg people to come to our shows.  Nowadays you know, for a band in Baltimore to be able to put their stuff up on MySpace or something and have people in Finland be able to hear the songs is a pretty amazing tool.  So in that reguard for the art form of music  I think it’s great.
I think unfortunately when commerce and music gets mixed it poses a little more of a problem.  For people like us, we just had our record leak a month or so before the record came out, and we were kind of bummed about it you know because it’s on all these sites and people are downloading it and ripping it and all this kind of stuff – which in essence is ok, but you know, there’s a lot of people who worked hard for us and for every band for that matter, and it affects them and affects their lives and their children and their positions and so I think there’s pros and cons to it, depends on which side of the fence you’re on.

It’s always interesting.  Younger bands seem to be alright with it and at the same time I like to buy as many records as I can…

Well I’m a fan.  I have my local CD shop in Toronto I go in to and I’ll drop a couple hundred bucks every couple of weeks to get some new CDs.  I like that.  It’s part of my life, and part of my routine as a music fan.  I mean I have a lot of bands that are my dear friends and I’ll go out and buy their CDs, buy their record because it’s for the band and for the people behind their record.  And I think there has to be a moral thing where if the fans don’t go out and buy the cds then the bands don’t tour and the bands get dropped the bands don’t do anything and you’re left with nothing.  There has to be a fine line.  Like I don’t mind if people download the record and then go buy the record afterward if they like it.  But I’m on the fence.  Depends on what day it is.

You guys have had a great degree of success, do you now find people saying they’ve been influenced by you?

We get people who come up to us and say they started playing instruments because of us or they started like playing, they learned by playing Billy Talent and that’s the kind of stuff that makes it amazing, that makes it all worthwhile.  Because who knows, maybe that band or that guitar player or drummer could grow up and be a really good player and we helped bring that player out.  It’s really flattering being the older band, we’re all 33 or 34years old and a lot of bands now are in between 20 and 25, so we already have 10 years on everyone. And we all play music for the same reasons we did when we were 16, now we just get to do it in different places around the world which is really rad.

Well that’s pretty much it, anything else you want to add?

No I’m good dude.

Have a good one.

See ya.

**Again, Billy Talent opens for Rancid and Rise Against tomorrow at Ram’s Head Live! in Baltimore***

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