Billy Talent totally rocked Brantford’s WTFest a couple of weeks ago, promising an amazing tour of their latest album Afraid of Heights. New songs like the title track and “Louder Than The DJ” sounded incredible live and just served to whet everyone’s appetite to hear more of the new record, which will be released July 29.
After an emotional announcement by drummer Aaron Solowoniuk earlier this year as to his need to step back for health reasons, he was still able to be involved through photographing, recording and documenting the process, and was also on hand to assist Alexisonfire/Say Yes’ Jordan Hastings who has been filling in as drummer for both the album and live performances.
With a new music video to be released shortly and their Australia, Europe and US tour dates just announced (stay tuned, Canada), the boys have been keeping very busy. They also just happen to be the opening band for Guns N’ Roses at the Rogers Centre later this month.
I sat down with bass player Jon Gallant just before the Brantford gig to talk about the new album and its subject material…and about what it means to him to be playing with the band who sparked his interest in becoming a musician in the first place.
Congratulations on the new album! The band has described Afraid of Heights as being about both the struggle within yourselves but also within our current society. How do you use your music and lyrics to express that frustration?
Well Ian and Ben do the lyric writing, so I do my best to try and represent that.
I think in all of our records we’ve always had handfuls of different types of topics – but it always reminds me of people hanging out in a bar, drinking and talking. Sometimes you get into heated arguments and sometimes you can just have a good solid debate about current events. Sometimes you’re there drowning your sorrows because somebody broke up with you, or whatever.
So we always equated the lyric writing to that and sang about the things that stir us emotionally. It is a really messed up world and there are a lot of songs on this album that reflect what’s going on for sure.
A lot of the internal struggle for us was living through the monumental change of having Aaron step back and trying to figure out what we were going to do and how we would do it. The most important thing was what was going to be the best for Aaron. It all figured itself out over time. When you have problems in life you can’t do anything about it – you’ve just got to deal with them, and that’s what we did.
Tell me about Aaron’s role on this album in documenting the recording process.
Yeah, he’s always been interested in that kind of stuff too and when he decided to step back, we suggested it to him. He wanted to do it as a way to at least participate and be involved. That was really great. And he was there to help Jordan – all the drum parts were written before Jordan came so he had to learn everything. And then learn the back catalogue for touring. So Aaron’s been helping him with that.
Tell me about the “Afraid of Heights Gallery” fan contest you guys launched and the kinds of submissions you received.
It was awesome – there were hundreds of them. We’ve just whittled it down actually, and I think we’re going to be announcing the winner shortly.
But it was really cool. We knew we had a very creative fanbase – a lot of kids are always showing us their artwork and giving us their demos and things like that. We’re trying to nurture that, because we think it’s a beautiful thing. Sometimes if you have a platform to express yourself, people can step up and challenge themselves to do something different. So we offered that platform and gave people an idea and a goal – and we got these amazing submissions. Some of them were just incredible and it was a really cool experiment.
We put the lyrics out there without the songs, so nobody knew what the song would sound like. A lot of people wrote their own songs and used the lyrics, which is what we anticipated was going to happen. That was really cool, to see how people would interpret the lyrics.
Then there were a lot of poems…one guy did a magic show that was an interpretive dance…we just left it open for anything. There was also a lot of visual art…just amazing.
Over the course of your career, you’ve played with so many other musicians. Now you’ve just announced that you’re opening for Guns N’ Roses at the Rogers Centre.
That was so unbelievable. We’ve played with them before at festivals, but definitely not a show. And to play at the Rogers Centre too…
I can honestly say that Guns N’ Roses is the reason why I started playing music. I was in Grade 6 when Appetite for Destruction came out and I just loved it. One of my friends at school started taking guitar lessons, but I never really thought much about it.
A couple of months later I was over at his house and he said, “Listen to this” and he played the intro to “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. I couldn’t believe he could play it already and it opened my eyes to what you could do. There was another guy in the class who could play guitar and another guy jumped on the drums…and bass was the last instrument that was open for us to start a band. So that’s what I picked and one of the first songs I learned was “Sweet Child O’ Mine” too.
So to have it all come full circle now is really insane.
After all these years, and with so many hits in your catalogue, how do you approach designing the setlist for your live shows?
Yeah…we always try to keep the audience in mind. It does depend on what the type of show is – for instance, for a festival show like this there may be casual fans who only know the songs they’ve heard on the radio. So we’ll do a lot of those radio songs. But when we’re doing our own shows we try to get more into the deep album cuts and try to play some of the fan favourites.
I remember when it was a problem that we didn’t have enough music! Now we’ve got so much that we’ve made the shows a little bit longer and try to do our best to gauge the audience. We want to play a lot of the new material once we start touring and the album comes out…but right now we’re keeping it to a few new songs.
When will we see the Afraid of Heights tour in Canada?
There’s kind of a rule of thumb in Canada that you’ve got to do your touring in winter! We’re working on all those plans now, so there will be an announcement.