Billy Talent Talk Touring The World, Bands Changing Styles, The Future Of Rock 'N' Roll And More
It’s been over a year since the release of Billy Talent’s latest album “Afraid of Heights”.
However one thing the Canadian rockers are most certainly not afraid of is touring relentlessly around the globe, which became very clear to us when we met up with them during their third and final European leg of shows of this album cycle. Those seemingly endless amounts of energy put into the band’s albums, tours and live shows, as well as the kindness they spread whenever given the chance, are just a few out of the many reasons why Billy Talent is one of the most important and influential rock bands out there.
We were lucky enough to experience that kindness firsthand and learn about the heads and hearts behind all that hard work during our lovely chat with bassist Jon Gallant and current drummer Jordan Hastings in Dortmund, Germany where Billy Talent played their last headline show last month before laying low for a while.
You can check out our conversation about touring the world, bands changing their styles, the present and future of the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene and more below!
You’ve been touring a lot of places over the course of more than a decade, this being your third European leg of this album cycle alone. Did it ever become a sort of a routine for you or are there still new places to see and new things to learn and discover every time around?
Jon: Well, I think there’s definitely new places to see. Jordan just started touring with us on this album cycle filling in for Aaron on the drums. He had never been to Russia before and we started the tour in Moscow, so there’s always these places to go to that we haven’t been to before. Sometimes there’s routine, but that’s kind of what’s exciting about the lifestyle is that no day is the same.
Do you have any favorite words or phrases in another language that you’ve picked up along the way?
Jon: In the German language, “Prost” [German for ‘Cheers’]. (Laughs.)
Jordan: I like “Tschüss” [German for ‘Bye’].
This time last year, you had just released your latest album “Afraid of Heights” and unlike the usual process of releasing a single or two and then putting out the album, you started things off by releasing a lyric sheet and turning it into an art contest, the Afraid of Heights Gallery. What did you think of the outcome and is that something you would consider doing again in the future?
Jon: I think what we’ve come to learn about our fans is that we have a very creative group of fans and people who are inspired by the arts and we have gotten a lot of nice examples of art given to us from fans and things like that. We thought of the idea, we thought it was cool and some of the responses and submissions were incredible. It was really hard to choose a winner.
Do you have any favorite new tracks to play live or ones you haven’t had the chance yet, but would like to add to the set in the future?
Jordan: My favorite is “The Crutch” off of the newest one. The drums are a lot of fun to play on that song, so that’s my favorite for sure.
Jon: I would love to take a stab at all of the songs because I think they would all sound good, but I’m enjoying playing “The Crutch” as well and “Ghost Ship [of Cannibal Rats]” is really fun. We’ve been trying to practice “This Is Our War”, that one would be a really nice one to squeeze into the set.
Speaking of playing tracks live, on “Afraid of Heights”, you’ve made the title track your first single and called it one of your personal favorites as it represents the album pretty well. Yet on your previous album, the title track “Dead Silence” never really made it into the live set or the general focus. Was there any particular reason behind that decision or was that just a coincidence?
Jon: There’s reasons for sure. “Dead Silence” is a longer song, so I don’t think we’ve ever had any illusions that it was going to become a single and because of that and because we have an extensive catalog already, we were trying to choose some songs from “Dead Silence” to squeeze into the set. We did practice it quite a bit to the point where we could play it live and we did get it to that point, but we just never put it into the set because I guess we were worried that we’d have to take out some songs that are really important. And now, because we probably haven’t played the song in 3 or 4 years, we would have to work on it for like a week to get it to the point where we could play it live again. Maybe one day, I would like to play that one because it’s a good song.
At the beginning of this month, you released the music video for “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats”, which follows a very interesting concept. Who came up with the idea for it and will there be more music videos in this album cycle?
Jon: I hope there’ll be another music video. We’ve generally made 4 per album at least and this is the third one on this record, so I would like to see another video too, but we’ve done so many now and we’re always looking for something a little bit different. The guy who did this video [Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux] is a really young, kind of up-and-coming guy in Toronto. He’s done some really good videos for PUP and some other Toronto stuff and we just liked his style and the fact that he’s up-and-coming and hungry and all that kind of stuff, so we asked him to put something together and he came up with the stop motion animation of the rats and the story. We agreed on a narrative and then he just got to work and gave us the video as it was coming. With all music videos, there’s always a back and forth between the band and the director to get it to the point you want. He was very open to working with us creatively, so it ended up being what it is and I think it turned out great, it’s a pretty cool video.
Over the years, both music and the way it is received are constantly changing. In this day and age, do you think it’s easier for up-and-coming bands (especially of the rock/alternative genre) to grow and build an audience because they have social media or harder because there’s more music out there that’s easier to access?
Jordan: I kind of experienced it firsthand because I do a lot of other side projects and stuff when I’m not on the road. I think social media definitely helps, but it’s tough to say. It’s a challenge, especially in rock and alternative too, it’s a hard sell these days.
Jon: Rock ‘n’ Roll has a few things going against it, like the fact that it’s been around for so long and it’s really hard to be new and unique in the Rock ’n’ Roll world. So you’ve got that problem plus the oversaturation of supply because there are a million people that can make a song on their laptop now, whereas twenty years ago, you had to go to a studio to do it properly. So instead of having a little pile to choose from, the pile is really big and then the internet just throws it all at you at once and it’s really hard to sort it out, so it’s harder to find the good stuff. However, I think it’s easier to build an audience because if you do get that momentum, it can happen really fast and spread really fast. But then, there’s no money and a lot of bands can’t keep it going. It’s really hard for young bands and I feel very lucky whenever we get a question like this, to think about when our band started and that we got in when we did. Because I think we were lucky enough to take advantage of a time where people didn’t have as many options and were more committed to what they were discovering. Back then I think albums were stronger because there was more of an album idea rather than trying to get a hit song. I’m curious to get into the mind of a young person now because I remember being able to focus and commit to something and really get into it and really dig deep because you have the time when you’re young. As an adult, I don’t have the time, I’m thinking too much about all my adult shit. (Laughs.) It’s interesting, you know, but hopefully, Rock ‘n’ Roll prevails.
Are there any younger bands out there that you would personally recommend?
Jon: The Dirty Nil.
Jordan: Definitely The Dirty Nil. They’re awesome.
One thing that happens to a lot of bands, especially when they’ve been around for a while is that they evolve so much that their sound changes significantly, which is somewhat natural. However, a lot of bands that try new things music-wise get a lot of backlash for it. Has there ever been a point where you guys were afraid of that kind of backlash?
Jon: Yeah. On every one of our albums, we’ve always done something that’s just a little bit different. But I think the way we’ve approached that is in little baby steps. Back when we were an independent band and did our first EP, it was really heavy and had all these At The Drive In sounding punk songs and that was our sound and then when we made our first record, we said that we don’t just want to be a punk rock band. We wanted to be a band that can cover a lot of things, so, for example, we squeezed “Nothing To Lose” onto that album. We were worried about having a slow song like that on the album because we liked our hard image, but we also wanted to be open and it ended up working out fine. And then on the second album, we had similar feelings about “Surrender”, “Pins And Needles” and “Where Is The Line”, which were more of a pop kind of overtone. On the third record, we thought the whole album sounds different than our other records and then with Dead Silence, we started adding in piano and on the newest one, there’s some synths and stuff like that. So we’ve always tried to somehow dabble it in there instead of just taking a complete turn. But you know, we all grew up trashing bands too at some point, because we were music snobs. (Laughs.) But you grow up, you grow older and wiser and realize that it’s just not productive behavior and simply a waste of energy.
Jordan: It kind of comes with a territory too, when you’re in any kind of entertainment business, you’re going to get the good and the bad. It’s something you have to kind of just take because you’ve signed up for it.
You seem to have a very good connection to your fan base and involve them in a lot of things like the Afraid of Heights gallery, but also the video Q&A’s on YouTube and Twitter that you’ve done over the past few years. Is that something you are planning to keep up on a regular basis now?
Jon: Yeah, probably. It’s always fun to interact with fans, especially if you can do it in a creative and organized way. Also, I think the fans appreciate it too because it shows that we’re thinking about them which is a good thing. But I think stuff like that will always continue, you know, it’s kind of part of it. And well, because we’re all on Twitter, I think we interact with people on Twitter regularly now and a little bit more organically than even deciding that we’re going to do a Q&A or something, which is kind of neat as well.
It’s probably very early to say this, but is there anything you can give away about the future of Billy Talent? Anything in the works?
Jon: Well, we’re grinding our way through this tour. It’s a very long tour for us, the longest we’ve done in probably 8 or 9 years and after this tour, everybody is going to shut it down just to relax and spend some time with the family and that kind of stuff and then we’ll start it up again in January, figure out where we’re going to go and what we’re going to do.
Lastly, do you have anything left you want to say to our readers?
Jon: Thanks for the support! You’re awesome.
Jordan: Yeah, he nailed it. Thank you very much and we’ll hopefully see you soon!
Interview by Theresa Theuerkauf
For more photo impressions of a Billy Talent live show, check out our photo review from their set at this year's Lowlands festival here.
You can also stream the band's latest album "Afraid of Heights" below or check all our album reviews.