Billy Talent part of dying breed: rock band

TORONTO - Billy Talent has flourished while others in the music industry have floundered these past few years, and singer Ben Kowalewicz has a theory as to why that is.

There simply aren't that many good rock bands at the moment, he says.

"Rock music is at a low right now, you know what I mean?" Kowalewicz said in a recent interview from Belgium.

"I kind of feel like we're in the late '80s, early '90s, where it was the same thing... And all of a sudden, you have bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine and Tool and Offspring and Green Day and the Beastie Boys, all this stuff, and it was this tidal wave that just destroyed everything that was going on.

"I feel like there's something that's going to happen musically that's going to rival that. There's going to be this huge resurgence and people going to see rock 'n' roll shows and feeling that connection."

In the meantime, Kowalewicz and co. are happy to keep giving fans their fix of adrenalized aggression, the latest dose coming in the form of the band's fifth studio album, "Dead Silence."

Produced by the band's guitarist and lead songwriter Ian D'Sa, the record features the sort of breathless intensity that's become its calling card. But as they logged long hours in the studio, the quartet pushed one another further and further — to the point where Kowalewicz said he managed to raise his voice higher than ever before.

"Ian's the main songwriter of the band and he came up with all these ideas, and it just happened that the melodies ... were definitely in a higher register," he said.

"We worked pretty closely together, so if there's something that's absolutely unattainable — like Sebastian Bach style — then I tell him I can't do it."

Some of the album's righteous rage was inspired by what Kowalewicz describes as increasingly dire political and environmental circumstances that people seem to be working harder than ever to ignore, hence the rallying cry pervasive in songs like "Man Alive!"

While most of the record is powered by the pummelling, pile-driving riffs the band is known for, there are diversions — most notably, the mannered, tuneful lovesick pop of "Stand Up and Run."

"I was like, is this a little too weird? Is this a little too left of centre for us?" Kowalewicz said of the song, which he compared to '50s pop.

Indeed, the Mississauga, Ont., band seems newly able to shrug off such moments of self-doubt.

While Billy Talent has long been a commercial success — each of the group's last three albums has been certified multi-platinum in Canada — Kowalewicz noticed a skepticism among some listeners, who perhaps dismissed the band as another sludge-slinging radio act.

He says Billy Talent has gradually won some of those people over.

"I think perhaps there was a stigma that surrounded our band for a long time — and that's kind of lifting," he said. "People just see we want to write good songs. We try to be the best people we can be. We're just four normal dudes writing rock songs.

"And I think people can see there's an honesty and a realness behind the band. We don't mean anybody any harm.... We're definitely really fortunate. There's not a day that goes by that we're not even more appreciative."

Especially after a medical scare in February that forced drummer Aaron Solowoniuk to undergo open-heart surgery. While it was a success, Kowalewicz called the incident a "big uppercut."

After all, the members of Billy Talent have been playing together since high-school. They've been a band — and close friends — for almost 20 years.

"We've just grown up together, right?" Kowalewicz said, praising the band's internal harmony. "When you've grown up, you get to know their ins and outs and what makes them tick. I think we've also been really good — we don't air our dirty laundry out in front of people. If we have a problem, we sit in a room together and discuss it.

"We just kind of have a really nice way of dealing with each other and communicating with each other."

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