"Try Honesty" was one of the great underground rock anthems of 2003 but it couldn't prepare us for the first time we witnessed Billy Talent live. While the record is brim full of melodies and the catchiest hooks you're ever likely to hear, the live shows flip all this on it's head and sees frontman Ben Kowalewicz going psycho like a human version of Animal from the Muppets. Designer Magazine caught up with Ben to find out what makes Billy Talent so special.
Q: It was "Try Honesty" that broke you through in the
UK I guess. A great introduction to Billy Talent.
A: Yeah, that song paved the way through for what were trying to do. It been an interesting thing cos I remember writing that song with Ian. Ian brought this song to the table and ever since that day it's opened up a lot of doors for us to walk through. I think it draws a definitive line in the sand - this is a good point of reference song for what we do. The best part of our music is it's open up for discussion and that song got people talking.
Q: When we got the album through and played it in the
office, the thing that people noticed is there seemed to be a different
vocal style for each song.
A: Thank you. I try to keep it on the same vein, but have a different emphasis on each song. I hate singers who that just sound the same on every song and plod along. I lucky because Ian is a genius when it comes to different melodies so him and I have a pretty good working relationship. I think vocally I listened to a lot of different people for different reasons. I enjoy listening to Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder and then I love listening to my favourites - David Bowie, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Robert Smith from the Cure. There's a lot of different people who move me in different ways
Q: It was people that told a story then - Macgowan,
Strummer and Dylan?
A: The way I look at it is if I have 3 or 4 minutes i'm gonna try and tell a story or say something in that time. So whatever the message its fun to have a friend to work with. Those are the people that I liked just cos they were really full on.
Q: The way you work is that you tell a story and you
tell it from a characters perspective rather than your own?
A: Three or four songs on the album I do that. It just gives me a new person to tell stories around rather than just telling them through you. Sometimes the message you're trying to convey comes better through the 3rd person as if you speak in the first person perspective all the time it can get a little one dimensional. When I write lyrics I just has to sit around by myself cos it is quite personal. Ian and I have a pretty weird way of working, it's not traditional or orthodox. It just works. He brings to me the melodies and i'll write something that will complement that.
I've been doing a lot of short story writing. Just for
kicks. My girlfriend is an aspiring playwright and every time I talk to
her she's telling me about these different stories with different scenes
and I get really jealous that she gets to create these magical worlds with
such fine detail. I'm nowhere near as good as her, but it's fun cos you
can describe everything in minute detail and be a lot more descriptive
Q: The thing with Billy Talent is that it the songs
can just be viewed as a simple pop song or it can be looked at in a deeper
way. Would you agree?
A: Yeah. That's all the melody, but the message behind the melody is sometimes a little deeper. I've had some pretty amazing experiences of people coming up to me telling me how songs had really moved them and it's pretty weird. It's an amazing feeling to connect with someone through a comment in a song. We have a song on the album called "Nothing To Lose" which is about this boy, a true story, who is growing up in the suburbs and he was teased everyday and told that he was worthless so he went home and hung himself. I wrote a song from his point of view. This girl came up to me today and told me one of her best friends killed himself last week and that we were one of his favourite bands and would we dedicate that song to him. Stuff like that it takes a different outlook on everything. It makes you check your head a bit.
Q: I guess touring gives you the chance to see a different
perspective as well?
A: It is how you said - we wake up, play a gig and move onto the next town. But I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit before the band. I try my best. My whole family is from England, they're just from outside Sussex so for me it's not that much of a stretch to come. Canada and England are pretty similar I guess.
The single "The Ex" is out now as is the self titled album
Billy Talent are expected to play Leeds / Reading 2004
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