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Interview: Billy Talent

2010-08-12 15:07
 Watching Canadian rock band Billy Talent soundcheck is an almost surreal experience. Here in South Africa, we’re starved of international touring bands. So every time a bunch of famous faces off MTV pop in to say hello, it’s kind of a big deal. You know, bands in their prime. Modern contemporaries. Not aging, middle of the road rockstars on their last legs.

I sat down with Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa and bassist Jon Gallant before their Durban show at Wavehouse.

Biggest surprise so far?
How amazing the food is. Best curries I’ve ever had in my life.Jon: I’m surprised about the following we’ve got here.

Any South African slang added to the repertoire?

How was OppiKoppi?
Amazing. Really cool festival.

Any local bands impress?
BLK JKS. They’re incredible. I’ve heard a lot of stuff about them but never heard or seen them before.

I saw some photos on Facebook from a show you played at an underprivileged school in Northam, what was that all about?
We went and played three songs for the kids. It was near the mining area, they don’t get much entertainment out there.

Okay… Don’t you get tired of the same old interview questions?
There’s a few. Like asking us where we got our band name from. That was tiring.

Next question: aren’t you tempted to come up with a crazy new answer every time someone asks you about the band name?
Ha ha… That’s what we started to do actually.

Do you ever find yourselves slipping into interview autopilot?
Yeah, if it’s the same old questions.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever read about yourselves?
Wikipedia had my name all screwed up. They said I was from Métis decent. Hundreds of years ago, native Indian Canadians and French Canadians started breeding with each other, for lack of a better term, and came up with their own culture called Métis. I’ve tried to edit it but now it just pops up everywhere. It’s too late.
Ian: Ha ha… Did someone say that in an interview as a joke maybe?
Jon: Maybe. But I don’t think anyone’s really smart enough to know what Métis is.

You guys have been together for 17 years without a single member change, which is unusual. If someone left now would it be game over?
Good question. I don’t know. I guess it would depend on the circumstances.

And you were around for 10 years before the name change and international fame. Did you ever think about giving up?
Ian: We almost broke up in ’99. We all stayed in touch with each other. And slowly the band came back together.

Back then, you must have been so driven and full of angst about making it, what keeps you going now?
You have to come up with new ways to really enjoy what you do. You get to experiment. That’s the best part of it. And the travelling. That’s what gets us excited.

What do you never head out on tour without?
My computer.
Jon: Computer, iPod and books. Keeps you going. Yesterday we spent nine hours in a van.

What’s the most important thing you’ve ever lost on tour?
Ian: iPod. Knock on wood (knocks on the table), I’ve never lost a guitar.

What’s the most extravagant freebie you’ve ever been given?
Coupons for plastic surgery.
Ian: Ha ha… When you do awards shows like the Juno, they give you a gift bag. Everything in the bag’s worth about four grand. One of the biggest things in there’s a $1,200 gift certificate for plastic surgery. It’s kinda ridiculous.

Do you still get starstruck?
Yeah. I met John Paul Jones when Crooked Vultures were in town. Pretty crazy.
Jon: I went and saw Primus the other day. I was in the crowd, starstruck by Les Claypool.

How’s Billy Talent IV coming along?
We haven’t started yet. We finish album cycles, go home and hit the reset button for a few months. We’ve been flying a lot, so it’s harder to write.

Any chance it’ll get an actual album title this time, seeing as how IV’s been done by everyone from Nerf Herder to Led Zeppelin?
I’m sure this one’s gonna have a title. It’s gonna be my phone number.

Do you ever wish that the albums did have their own titles?
I do wish they had titles.
Jon: Really? I’ve never thought of that.
Ian: I wish the first one was still the same, self-titled, then II was named something else.

Do you pay much attention to critical reviews or is it best not to dwell on them?
Only when you release an album. With our band it’s always been hit or miss. We’re a different band, we have our own sound. People either like it or hate it.

Have you ever been tempted to post an anonymous response to a scathing online review?
Ian: Ha ha… Yeah.
Jon: It’s tempting. Really tempting. Sometimes it hurts but you’ve just gotta suck it up.

On Billy Talent III, did you consciously try and slow things down and make the songs more accessible, or was it just a case of natural progression?
I think it was just where we were at the time. The songs that we were coming up with were more heavy hard-rock. So it just made sense to work with a guy like Brendan O’Brien.

Can you pick a favourite Billy Talent album?
It’s hard. I don’t think I could pick one.

Okay, if you were stuck on an island and you could only take one Billy Talent album, which one would it be?
That’s a good call…
Jon: The first album, we were so ignorant to everything that happens in the music industry. Kind of innocent in a way. When I listen to those songs it brings me back to being a green, touring musician. It was also new and weird. Good memories.
Ian: The first album was so long ago that I think I’d pick that one. It reminds me where the band started.

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“Yusuf, come here!” shouts Tom the enthusiastic sound and lighting guy mid cable uncoil. “Remember that time you played me a Billy Talent demo, about five years ago? Now they’re here. Crazy.” “Oh cool, so did you get into them since then?” I asked. “No, not really. Do you think you could dig up and old Slayer demo and play that to me?”
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