In January, Billy Talent released their sixth album, Crisis of Faith, after almost six years. The ten track LP was produced entirely by the band’s guitarist and main songwriter, Juno-nominated producer Ian D’Sa, in the band’s Toronto studio and was mixed by the legendary Chris Lord-Alge. Billy Talent’s Canadian tour begins in April, with an Ottawa show date on April 4th.
Crisis of Faith is your first album since 2016. How does it feel to finally release it?
Oh, it feels incredibly good. We wanted to have the record out last year, but the timing didn’t make sense with not being able to tour, and it took longer than usual to record, as well. So yeah, we’re more than stoked that this album’s finally out.
The album features many songs that detail the struggles of the pandemic. What were some struggles you guys dealt with as a band during these challenging times?
It became difficult in March of 2020 when we were recording the second half of the album. We had some time booked to record drums, which was the same week they announced the lockdown. We were really unsure of how to proceed at that point, so everyone was kind of on edge.
Going forward, we had to work smartly and take calculated risks. It was basically myself and our engineer Kenny in the room or myself recording Ben’s vocals from there forward. We kept it down to a bare minimum, which took a lot longer. We’re all used to being in the studio, having two engineers and things going a lot faster, so that’s another reason it took longer to record the album.
Musicians are creatures of habit. What was it like not being able to tour or do the things you’re used to doing?
It really changed our perspective on just about everything. Spending this much time at home is something I don’t think we’ve done since the late ‘90s.
It’s been great for several reasons. Spending more time with family, reconnecting with friends, but missing touring and doing what we do for a living is the biggest thing for us. We really, really miss it. It’s so much fun, and it taught us to not take this band we have for granted and how incredibly lucky we are to even do this for a living.
You’ve played a few shows but haven’t fully toured since 2018. What are your emotions like as you get set to hit the road again?
Yeah, there’s a bit of nervous anxiety. We were all very nervous before getting on stage when we played those shows in St. John’s. When we got on stage, it was the best ninety minutes of our year and a half at that point. Seeing so many people having fun and singing in a room was so fun.
That’s what we’re looking forward to again. Of course, we’re going to be nervous, I think we might have forgotten all of our stage moves, but that will come back in time (laughs).
You guys introduced saxophones, trombones and trumpets on your single Forgiveness I + II. Where did that idea come from?
I had gone on a trip to India with my parents. They’re both from Goa, India. There’s a huge trance scene there, and that music just permeated on the beach non-stop, so it really got into my head. It’s very bassline-heavy and has a fast galloping beat to it.
When I came home, I was totally into that kind of music. I love all sorts of music, and I was just trying to play that kind of rhythm on guitar. I ended up coming up with this hybrid electronic guitar version of Forgiveness.
Then, in the second part, I wanted to do something with a lot of vocal harmonies and a slower pace coming out of that first part that’s super-fast. So I had these two separate ideas, and when you put them together, they sounded amazing; when you took them apart, there was just no reference for the second one. We decided just to keep them together; that’s why the song ended up being almost seven minutes.
Now the saxophone solo came about when I tried to play that jazzy solo on guitar, and it sounded pretty good but just felt like it was missing something, and if I played it with distortion, it sounded too ‘80s glam (laughs). I tried a virtual plug-in of a bunch of different horned instruments, and the saxophone really just stuck out the best. I ended up getting a friend, Dennis Passley, to do the saxophone solo. He’s part of Northern Soul Horns, who ended up doing all the horns in that song.
The song ‘End of Me’ features Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. How cool was it to have him contribute to one of your songs?
That song originally started out with a Hendrix-style riff, and the next part of it started sounding like Weezer from the ‘90s. I had written it on the board as Hendrix + Weezer for the longest time before we had any lyrics or anything like that.
When I played the demo for Ben, he was like, ‘How cool would it be to have Rivers Cuomo sing this?’ I never thought it would happen. Ben had sang the whole song, including the second verse, but we decided to reach out to his management once it was all finished. He ended up liking the song, and next thing you know, his engineer sent over his vocals for that second verse a few weeks later, and it was amazing. We never got to meet Rivers Cuomo, but we’re still super stoked and honoured to have one of our idols from the ‘90s sing on a Billy Talent song.
The message you’re trying to relay with Crisis of Faith is Hope and Resilience. Why is that so important to you guys?
Right now, more than ever before, there’s a huge divide happening across Canada. We have to remain positive and try to keep people united and not give in to either side of this divide because it can get dangerous. That’s where the hope and resilience comes from; putting things on the table and having honest debates about them rather than just choosing a side and not hearing the other person out.
What are some of the hardships you guys have experienced as a band?
Losing our drummer, Aaron Solowoniuk, on our last two albums due to health reasons is the biggest one over the last few years. After playing with Aaron for so long, we tried to figure it out moving forward, but it’s been the most significant hardship; It was like losing a limb. We had to explore and figure out how to keep the band going and involve Aaron. He’s always going to be there and be a member of the band in some capacity.
You’re in Ottawa on April 4th. What are some memories from playing here over the years?
I’ll never forget we played at the Capital Music Hall for one of the first tours that we did on Billy Talent one. It was us, Metric and Death from Above; We all went to Barrymores after the show. I have a lot of memories of Ottawa; I used to work at an animation studio in the ByWard Market for a summer. I still have a lot of friends there and love playing in Ottawa. Zaphod’s was always a place we would hang out after shows as well.
You just released Crisis of Faith, but are you already working on new material?
Yeah, there’s a lot of material that was written during the pandemic; the ten tracks you hear on the record are just half of them. I’m going to keep working on the rest of them, and maybe there will be a Crisis of Faith Part Two or something like that sooner than expected (laughs).
What’s some advice you’ve received over the years that really impacted the band?
Some of the best advice came from Richard Kruspe of Rammstein. He talked to our bassist Jon Gallant and told him that being in a band is like a revolving door at a hotel. If you push on it, it stops, but you make it through to the other side if you go with it and let it take its course.
You can’t push too much; things have to take their course and grow organically. That’s advice I wish we had in the early days when you’re trying to become successful, but you get bummed out easily when it doesn’t happen. It will take its time, so don’t give up hope.