Billy Talent: Canadian Arena Headliners Take Control of Fourth Album
D'sa, whose angular guitar work is as much a signature of the intense rock band as frontman Ben Kowalewicz' voice, produced the new album all on his own. He hadn't done that since he produced a four-track cassette of Pezz 19 years ago. He was always interested in producing a proper album for the band later, once he gained more experience and know-how.
Noisecreep talked with D'Sa about how that time finally came to be.
You grew into the role of producer? It didn't take much convincing?
I think we all feel that we've earned this in a way. I've been in the band for 18 years so it's a bit of a no-brainer after working with guys like Gavin [Brown] and Brendan [O'Brien] and learning so much about what they do that I was able to apply to this record.
I was going to do the last one [2009's Billy Talent III] and we ended up working with Brendan and this record, we were like, 'Why don't we change it up?' The guys [rounded out by drummer Aaron Solowoniuk and bassist Jon Gallant] were really excited about me doing it and I was too and when we talked to [our manager] Pierre [Tremblay] about it, he was totally cool with it and all over it. We never had anyone from the label say, 'No, the guitar player can't produce the record.' It was a really great situation to be in. I mean, if that had happened on maybe the first record, I'm pretty sure someone would've stepped in and said, 'I don't know about that.'"
Would you have been able to, do you think?
Probably not. Because for your first record for a major, they want to make sure everything is going smoothly and the last thing they want to do is gamble on the first record with a guy that really doesn't have any production history.
You co-produced [2006's] Billy Talent II with Gavin. You had been working with him before you were even signed to Warner Music in Canada [then a co-venture with Atantic in the U.S.] and put out your self-titled debut [in 2003], so you could likely hover over his shoulder, ask questions, feel comfortable being in his face for the production. What was it like with Brendan? You had produced Die Mannequin by then.
At that point, I'd worked with Die Mannequin and another band called One Second 2 Late and I'd co-produced the Billy Talent second album with Gavin, but going into working with a guy like Brendan O'Brien, he's the producer and he's got the same guys that he's been working with for years, so it was more of a take a step back situation and learn. And it was great. I learned so much from the guy. He's done some of my favorite albums of all time and it was amazing to be able to go in and see how he does things.
How are you as a producer? Hands-on with your own band or more relaxed?
I definitely feel the need to be super hands on. I guess producers who have more of a back catalogue and have worked on so many projects, in their latter years, they can take a step back, like a guy like Rick Rubin. He's got a team that knows exactly what he wants and he'll periodically be checking up on things.
How is it working with your best friends that you are essentially directing?
It's kind of weird. The thing I noticed was I didn't want to cross the line and be like, 'Come on man. You can do better than that,' but eventually you have to.
Are there ways you know how to get something from your bandmates because you know them so well and what they're capable of?
Totally. I know exactly their styles and I know what their strengths and limitations are. I'm a real detail hound and I really like getting awesome sounds so it's a really good opportunity to learn and experiment for me. [The album] is literally, really, 100 percent true to our creative output. There's no middle man and there's no one trying to change the direction or things like that.
One of the big differences from the last record to this is the label has been really hands-off and let us do our thing, which is one of the best feelings in the world because you feel like you've earned it and they trust you and they know you're not going to go and put out some random weird country record. It's been great. It's been a really refreshing experience to not have people try to keep butting their heads in and giving their opinions on things.
And your perspective on Dead Silence?
The songs on it are a little bit faster than the last record and goes back to our first or second record. It's kind of an upbeat record. It's still got the angst and aggression of the first two, but it's not as dark as the last one. The sound of it is kind of like - learning a lot how Brendan works on the last record, I really loved his drum sounds and that's one thing that we've really wanted to get on this record. So the sounds are big and heavy just like the last record, but kind of [like] the first two a little bit. So I think this record is a good combination of all three records and where we are now.
Billy Talent will be returning to Europe late Sept. to mid Oct. for a tour of Germany, plus a few dates in Switzerland and Austria, and 11 shows in the U.K. in November. Pre-order your copy of Dead Silence from iTunes at this link.