If you've seen the video on YouTube, you can't help but marvel at the sight of over 100,000 fans singing along to "Viking Death March," the first track released to the public from Billy Talent's fourth album, Dead Silence. Watching the mass celebration of this song is powerful enough but the fact that the track had only been released days before the band hit the stage at the Rock Am Ring festival in Germany is testament to the loyalty of the band's fans around the world.
Dead Silence is the follow up to Billy Talent I, II and III and was recorded in three different studios in Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles. The album was produced by Billy Talent guitarist Ian D'Sa and is perfect proof for Billy Talent's inner strength, their focus and hard work ethic, character traits that have turned them into one of the most successful international rock acts of the past decade. Being together for almost 20 years and having travelled thousands of miles in vans, buses and planes turned the four piece not just into a band, but into a family — a tight brotherhood that will challenge and tackle any obstacle in front of them. Equipped with countless awards (such as multiple MuchMusic Awards, JUNO Awards, MTV Awards and even two of those rare German Echo Awards) and having played the biggest festival stages worldwide, Billy Talent are ready to take on their next mission: to complete their world domination.
When Billy Talent started their adventurous journey into what would become Dead Silence, all they knew was that they wanted to record an album in the traditional sense of the word — a collection of songs that all tie in with each other, a journey through ups and downs, highs and lows, hope and decay, love and disgust, joy and sadness. An album that has a start, a finish and everything in between thus "represents all aspects of life basically," says singer Ben Kowalewicz. They are 14 songs, as straight from the heart, intense and intuitive as previous milestones like "Try Honesty", "River Below" or "Red Flag" and as unwilling to compromise or give in. It was a long, winding and bumpy road Billy Talent had to take in order to turn Dead Silence into what it is today: a tour de force rock album.
The band started working on their fourth release shortly after they returned from touring their previous album. Billy Talent III was produced by Brendan O'Brien, debuting at #1 in Canada and peaked at #2 on the German album charts, marking the third consecutive platinum album for the band in Canada and second (after Billy Talent II) in Germany. The band had just purchased a building in the East end of Toronto where they could rehearse, record and stock their gear while not on tour. Guitarist Ian D'Sa, singer Ben Kowalewicz, drummer Aaron Solowoniuk and bassist Jon Gallant spent five to six days a week setting up their new headquarters, building walls, varnishing floors, painting and getting the new computers and pro-tools running. "It is our first big band investment", Gallant says. D'Sa remembers: "The first couple of months after we returned home we were fixing the place up. At first we needed to soundproof the place and build a room within a room. It's on a residential street and we didn't wanna piss off any neighbours. After that we saw the potential of what we could do with this place. It was so big that we could actually build a recording studio in it. We thought it'd be a good idea so that we could demo the new songs. It turned out to be a beneficial thing for the album. And that's probably why the album turned out the way it is."
A smart decision for sure, as having their own rehearsal and recording space gives Billy Talent convenience enough to practice and record whenever they want. No deadlines, no curfews, no one to beg for the keys. The main goal for each member was to push their boundaries for this new album, to leave comfort zones and question each and everything. As with the previous albums, the band channeled their ideas into compositions by D'Sa. The London born guitarist with roots in Goa had most of the parts already worked out in his head. For Dead Silence, he envisioned Kowalewicz's voice as the fourth musketeer, an additional instrument, the link between his licks, riffs and leads and the pumping rhythm section from Gallant and Solowoniuk. "On this record I wanted to step up what we do with vocals," explains D'Sa. "A lot of the vocal melodies are super high, or in the higher register, so I pushed Ben pretty hard in the vocal booth a couple of times. He nailed it."
"The good thing about Billy Talent is that there is no ego in the band," adds Kowalewicz. "If anyone has an idea, the others know it is for the greater good of the song. We always ask ourselves what can we do individually and collectively to make this song the best we possibly can?! And Ian's song writing skills have improved so much; it makes all our jobs a lot easier because he provides us with this vessel that we can jump on and hang on to."
"It's important to hear everyone out", says D'Sa. "If I write a piece of music and I already know that I want a guitar thing to happen here and then a vocal thing to happen there, Jon may not know that. So if he has a bass idea I think it's important to keep an open dialogue going and listen to everyone's ideas."
It's obvious that these guys have learned their lessons. With three highly successful albums under their belt, the members have developed a mutual trust in and a deep respect for their band mates, knowing that their unique sound is based on the contribution and talent of each individual member. For Dead Silence the four-headed democracy decided to take their fate by their own hands, leaving the production to guitarist Ian D'Sa, who had already co-produced Billy Talent II. His vision of what defines the sound and vibe of Billy Talent was the roadmap for Dead Silence. "Our fans really liked the sound of Billy Talent II," says D'Sa. "We were confident that this is our sound, and we just wanted to execute that."
In the midst of the recording, the band was rocked to its foundation when, around Christmas of 2011, Solowoniuk broke the news to his band mates that he would have to undergo heart surgery — very soon. "I knew about it for five years," the drummer explains. "My heart was working overtime. In order to get the right amount of blood through my veins it had to work harder and it was growing at that point. The doctor said if I would let it go over a year or two, it would be terrible. After he told me that, I had open heart surgery to get it fixed. The surgery is a routine thing. But for anyone who's going through it, it's pretty scary. But I had a great doctor and that's why it healed so fast. I started playing drums lightly eight weeks later. Twelve weeks after the surgery I was pushing myself because I knew I had to play live. So I pushed through it, and it feels great! Drums are fun and everything just feels easier, whereas before I was getting tired a lot. So I guess I'm fixed."
While Solowoniuk was pushing for recovery, his friends kept working on Dead Silence, refining ideas and browsing through countless scrapbooks and lyric sheets, looking for words to fit the music. Still shaken by their drummer's surgery, the band gave the song "Don't Count On The Wicked" a lyrical turn: "Aaron has a charity called the F.U.M.S. organization (Fuck You Multiple Sclerosis), and one of their slogans was 'Turn Anger Into Hope'. I thought that was a pretty cool line or lyric, and we put it in the song." Kowalewicz said, "The thing with Aaron jarred all of us; it was pretty shocking and tough to wrap your head around, especially after all the things he's already been through. That really shook the foundation and it came at a weird point as well, we were already so far (in the recording process). But when you put everything in context of Aaron's situation, then the rest is pretty small."
Hearing this explains why Dead Silence offers some of the hardest and edgiest songs Billy Talent have ever recorded, charged with the most honest, deep and dark lyrics to date. The band touches base with various subjects, such as the tongue in cheeky first single "Surprise Surprise," a song that deals with "the fact that advertising has seeped into our culture so much that people buy into it blindly now," says D'Sa, or the fake reality implemented by social networks. "A lot of the album has to do with how important it is not to get caught up in material culture, internet culture and all those things that distract us from what's real," adds Kowalewicz, "Life is real. So go for a walk, turn your phone off. Go get some sun on your face. Get some perspective."
The cover for Dead Silence was created by Australian artist Ken Taylor, and it looks just as dark, detailed and thrilling as the new songs from Billy Talent sound. "The underwater scenario, a city immersed under the ocean, reflects songs like 'Dead Silence' or 'Swallowed Up By The Ocean,' but it also points out that there's always an element of hope. There's the phone box, so when the world is destroyed and everything goes to shit, there's still hope," laughs Kowalewicz. "If there's anything that comes close to some sort of concept for this record, then it would be the underlying theme of this year being 2012, with a little bit like an end-of-the-world-mentality seeping in there — and being aware that you only got one kick at the can, you only got one shot! Dead Silence is about following your dreams, standing up for yourself, realizing what's important and what's total bullshit."
Ian Michael D'Sa