Canadian band Billy Talent are just about to release their 5th studio album Afraid of Heights. The band will also soon be in Australia to play songs from the new album in headline shows around the country. We caught up with guitarist, songwriter and producer Ian D’Sa to get the lowdown on Afraid of heights.

SCENEzine
Firstly how was it supporting Guns n Roses in Canada recently?

Ian D’Sa
It was amazing. It was surreal we got to open up for one of our favourite bands of all time. In Toronto with a home town crowd in Toronto Blue Jays stadium it’s all very surreal. The next day when I woke up I still couldn’t believe that it happened it felt like a dream.

SCENEzine
Was Slash an influence of yours growing up?

Ian D’Sa
For sure definitely. Appetite for destruction is still one of my favourite records. They were so good I was really impressed. I’ve seen Slash and Duff play over the years and there always amazing but Axl’s voice was really incredible. They all sounded great.

SCENEzine
I’ve been lucky enough to hear your new album it sounds awesome. You must be stoked with how it turned out.

Ian D’Sa
I am yeah it was a lot of work but it turned out great. We’ve been wanting to put this record out for quite some time now so we couldn’t be more happy.

SCENEzine
Not only are you playing guitar and song writing on the record you are also producing. What’s the main difference when you produce an album yourself?

Ian D’Sa
It’s good to get an outside perspective we’ve worked with other producers on our first album and second album Gavin Brown worked with us. On our third album we worked with Brendan O’Brien we were really big fans of his work. On the second album Gavin and I co-produced it. I really wanted to make sure the vision of the band carried through in the sonic layering of the album. That one ended up being such a fan favourite so we just wanted to go back to that formula for Dead Silence so we did. As you get older you become more confident in what you do. For me when I’m writing these songs I have a pretty crystal clear vision of what I want the sounds to be like in my head and how to get there. Now with the experience of working with all of these producers I do know how to get there and find those sounds. I think it all just kind of works together.

SCENEzine
Would I be right in be saying there’s a bit of a political theme through the album. Especially in tracks like “Big red gun”?

Ian D’Sa
Yeah definitely “Big red gun” is written about the over glorification of guns in USA. Being neighboured to a country we love and have a lot of friends that live there the whole gun culture thing is out of control down there. The song is an open critique of that. They just need to regulate their really out of date amendment that needs to be updated and it needs to happen now.

SCENEzine
The first track you put out from the album is “Afraid of heights”. It has an instant familiarity about it. How were you about to put that song together hook wise to make it so catchy?

Ian D’Sa
One of the things with me is I fell in love with pop music. Not in the modern sense but music like the Beach Boys that were instantly hooky when I heard these songs when I was a kid. The Beatles as well. For me that’s always been something that’s very important in music. A lot of bands seem to forget about it but to me it’s a really important thing. It’s key to someone watching your band play live then walk away out of the venue to carry on singing that song in their head. For me I’ve always wanted to make sure whatever we write not only has substance to it and melody but hook is a really important thing too.

SCENEzine
“Louder than the DJ” is another song you’ve put out so far. It feels like a nod to The Ramones.

Ian D’Sa
Yeah absolutely. We kind of wrote it  from the perspective of when punk just came out in 1977 and there was bands like The Ramones and The Clash. That’s why it has that kind of sound to it. It’s definitely not the Billy Talent sound but a homage to that era of music. We are trying to keep it alive because it’s taken a back seat for the last few years it seems. We just wrote the song to remind people that rock n roll is still here and there’s plenty of rock bands out there so you should go check them out and support your local rock bands.

SCENEzine
How did you come up for the artwork on the new album?

Ian D’Sa
We were looking for someone to design all of the art for the album. We had all of these great scenes and lyrics running through the record it’s kind of a concept album. We wanted to find the right person for it so I was just looking at a lot of different artists and one of the guys whose work really stuck out was a guy named Igor Hofbauer. He’s traditionally done comic book work but he’d done some tour posters for bands like Gogol Bordello. His work really stuck out to us. It had that old Eastern European Russian propaganda style to it. So we reached out to him and sent him the lyrics and demos. His initial sketches that came back where incredible each one had it’s own story to them we couldn’t be more happier.

Billy Talent afraid of heights

SCENEzine
My favourite track from the album is “Leave them all behind” is their much of a meaning behind that song?

Ian D’Sa
Yeah there’s a lot of meaning behind that song. We’d gone through a bit of a rough patch at that time with a label in USA and management. I guess that song looking back was written about that whole experience of being in a rough patch as a band when you feel like you just wanna walk away from everything. It ended up being probably the most positive song on the record. It’s a pretty uplifting kind of song and it’s about following your dreams and heart and not listening to everyone around you all the time. We all have the ability to think for ourselves and I think if more people just followed their hearts they would be generally happier in life.

SCENEzine
You have Jordan from Alexisonfire playing drums on the album because Aaron is quite unwell. Just wanted to check in how is Aaron currently?

Ian D’Sa
Aaron is slowly recovering. He hasn’t been able to get back on the kit yet. MS is such a strange disease that one day you could be in really good spirits and the next day not. Physically he’s just working at getting back into shape. He’s on new medication and he’s been doing really well. He’s out with us right now which is great and it makes us all really happy when he is here. We are keeping our fingers crossed that he will be back behind the kit in the fall.

SCENEzine
It’s not long until you’ll be back in Australia touring. Do you have a favourite Australian memory from a previous trip?

Ian D’Sa
I would have to say when we played Soundwave and I smashed a guitar. I hadn’t smashed a guitar in like 10 years. I smashed one at Soundwave because there were floods and none of our gear got down there so I literally had to borrow a whole bunch of amplifiers. I bough a crappy $50 guitar from a local store and that’s what I played. I ended up smashing it. That was a really fun show we had a lot of great friends down there at that time like Sum 41 and The Offspring. We had a blast.

SCENEzine
Over the years people have tried to call Billy Talent everything from punk to post hardcore, emo and alternative rock. Do you like the idea you don’t easily fit into one genre?

Ian D’Sa
Yeah absolutely. When we started the term alternative was what we called ourselves. It’s so strange how alternative now is mainstream word. A word to describe the 90’s in a way. We just never really fell into any category and we purposely did that. We loved bands like Janes Addiction and Faith No More that you couldn’t really put into categories. That’s kind of why we developed our own sound and didn’t want to fit into pop punk or screamo or emo. We just like to do our own thing and not be lumped into any category.

SCENEzine
Going way back in time the first song I ever heard of yours and my favourite is “Try Honesty”. Do you have any memories of how that song came about?

Ian D’Sa
That was at a really dark point for the band we almost had broken up. I had taken a new job in Montreal so I had moved away for a year. John had left the band. Aaron had gotten diagnosed with MS. We were literally hanging by a thread. Ben and I kept in touch. Every second weekend I would drive home from Montreal to work out songs with him. I remember in Montreal I would always work on songs. The majority of “Try Honestly” was written in my apartment in Montreal then playing it for Ben and he was like ok I’ll go write some verse lyrics.

Then the next weekend it was all done within a week. It’s still one of our fan favourites and it was written fairly quick. It really had a different sound to it and at that moment we decided to change the band name to Billy Talent. We wanted a fresh beginning we were called Pez for the 8 years prior to that because we started the band in 1993 at high school. That song changed everything for us it was the song that would reawaken the band.

SCENEzine
Can you leave us a last message for your Australian fans?

Ian D’Sa
We are super exited to come back to Australia. Our new album is out on July 29th so check it out before we get there because we will be playing a whole bunch of new songs in Australia for probably the first time in the world. We are super stoked to share them with you guys first.

(interview by Christian Ross)

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