After releasing their fifth album Afraid of Heights, we met up with Ian D’sa to discuss the album, politics and the music industry.
By Jane Howkins
Punk band Billy Talent released their long-awaited fifth album Afraid of Heights a couple of days ago, and to celebrate their first full album in four years, we had a chat with the band’s lead guitarist, Ian D’Sa. What followed was a chat about music, Bovine Sex Clubs, and Donald Trump – leading to a very interesting conversation indeed!
When we spoke, Afraid of Heights had yet to be released, so the band were understandably very excited, anticipating the upcoming release. However, we had received a review copy, so were able to talk about the album with Ian, and about some of the immediate stand-out songs on there. In particular, one of the main things that D’sa spoke about was the songwriting process, and what went into creating and recording tracks. One of the new songs is called Horses and Chariots and differs from most of the stuff they have done earlier, as it contains synths and keyboards – something the band have not really experimented with before. According to D’Sa, it’s something Billy Talent would definitely like to experiment with more in the future. However, for those of you out there who might be worried that the band could go too far with the electronic stuff as others have, he made it quite clear that the band would stay as they were, and that he liked performing in a four piece rock band.
Interestingly, another song on the album (Louder Than The DJ) actually talks about the state of the music industry and popular music at the moment, and as stated by Ian himself, the song is about his perception that modern music has deteriorated and that rock music in particular has been pushed to the sidelines, so it seems that Billy Talent will keep on rocking, no matter what eclectic musical styles they decide to implement next time around. It’s also interesting to note that when asked about the way he writes his distinct, almost spidery guitar riffs, D’Sa elaborated that when he originally started playing guitar, he was very influenced by the way musicians played solos on the piano, and tried to emulate that – leading to his very identifiable way of playing the guitar, one note at a time. Coming back to the subject of music and musical tastes, it seems that the band have a multitude of different influences on their work – from hardcore bands like At The Drive-In to classic rock, with everything from jazzcore and Brazilian author Paulo Coelho along the way. Coelho’s book Veronika Decides to Die was a big influence on the song Saint Veronika, from Billy Talent’s third self-titled album from 2009.
The quartet have never shied away from discussing politics, however it seems that on their fifth album more songs than ever seem to have a political bent to them, with the big hitters being the rather obviously titled Big Red Gun and This Is Our War. Global politics was apparently something on the collective mind of the band when writing and recording their material early this year, with Britain’s Brexit and the upcoming American Presidential Election being topics discussed. Lead singer Ben Kowalewicz recently dedicated the song Kingdom of Zod to Republican Nominee Donald Trump at the Rock AM Ring festival earlier this year, with the dystopian lyrics actually seeming to sum up Trump rather well (although according to Ian, the song was originally written about Rob Ford, once mayor of Toronto). Whilst Ian was a little pessimistic about the election in the United States, he did seem positive about newly elected Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, so perhaps the world isn’t all that bad!
Last but not least, we spoke about the band’s upcoming European tour in autumn, where they will be playing a handful of shows around England, with bands Badflower and The Dirty Nil. The Canadian band have been playing a lot of festivals recently, so are looking forward to playing a headline tour instead, as that means they can play more obscure songs from their back catalogue (here’s hoping for a version of When I Was A Little Girl), as well as playing more intimate shows. Whatever happens, they sound extremely excited for the future, which is very promising for these gigs.
Billy Talent’s fifth album Afraid Of Heights is out now, and the new video for Louder Than The DJ will be released very soon, having been filmed recently at a small bar in the band’s home town Toronto called the Bovine Sex Club, somewhere they reportedly used to play at a lot when first starting out as a band.