After 23 years as a band, Billy Talent is still going strong — stronger than ever.
“It stems from us fighting for over ten years to get where we wanted to be, and because it took so long we appreciate it way more,” says drummer Aaron Solowoniuk. “That work ethic of never giving up, means we play as hard as we did in Ian’s basement 20 years ago.”
This persistent passion has earned them many accolades throughout the years, most recently two 2017 Juno nominations for Rock Album of the Year and Group of the year.
“It’s still huge, to be doing this for so long and to still be nominated is incredible,” says Solowoniuk.”Our first Juno was for Best New Group which was cursed, so it’s very humbling that we’re still nominated.”
Their nominated album, Afraid Of Heights, was a considerably different beast to make, as Solowoniuk suffered a relapse in his long battle with multiple sclerosis (MS). “Telling the guys not to wait for me because it would be too stressful was hard,” admits Solowoniuk.
“Telling the guys not to wait for me because it would be too stressful was hard,”
To finish the recording sessions the band called upon Alexisonfire drummer Jordan Hastings to fill in. “I was going through my own emotions at that time, everyone was, but it was the best solution we could come up with,” says Solowoniuk. “It only took Jordan a few months to get the songs and he really brought a lot.”
The band pulled together an album of not only Juno acclaim, but fan love as well, thanks to the headstrong work of guitarist Ian D’Sa. “Ian just took the reins, and got nominated for producing,” says Solowoniuk. “He didn’t completely change the sound but adding synth and piano was cool, we’re a rock and roll band, but we don’t want to do the same thing over and over again.”
Solowoniuk’s relapse with MS also meant missing out on touring, during one of the most intense years the band has ever seen. “It was hard, it was weird, but the alternative would’ve been me hurting myself because I didn’t want to let people down,” says Solowoniuk. “I was watching pivotal shows of our career on YouTube — it’s a weird experience but it’s something that I had to do.”
He didn’t let the setback distance him from the band. Solowoniuk did everything he could to stay connected and productive. “Little things like cleaning the garbage and driveway at our studio and staying in contact as much as I can.”
“They’ll say the craziest thing happened last night and I’ll say ‘Yeah I watched it,’ but the bottom line is I want to be the drummer again.”
The road to being that drummer hasn’t been easy, as Solowoniuk has fought his way back in something of a personal Rocky montage, even playing songs at a recent show. “It’s been hard, I can play drums but just not a 90-minute rock set,” says Solowoniuk. “Six months ago I could barely play one song, now I’m a hobbyist drummer working his way back up to being a professional drummer again.”
Solowoniuk gets closer to a full return every month, “I’m working my legs and my heart at the gym and my chops on my electronic drum set,” he says. “The mid tempo songs are doable, but the faster punk stuff is still hard. I push myself a lot on tour so I needed to slow down.”
Given his experience with MS, he wanted to do his part to try and make a difference as well, creating the charity F.U.MS. “We’d already done a bunch of charity shows so I wanted to channel my anger into something positive,” says Solowoniuk. “It’s turned into this thing where people put on any show they want in the name of turning anger into hope.”
“It’s turned into this thing where people put on any show they want in the name of turning anger into hope.”
They’ve even managed to use their raised funds to make community part of their outreach. “We’ve done MS Camp for Kids and these kids from all around meet people going through the same thing.”
Even with all his recent struggles, Solowoniuk is focused on continuing his recovery and pushing forward to help more people via the charity. “All I’m trying to do is think about the positives and help people move on.”
For more about F.U.MS visit turningangerintohope.com
MS Walks kick off in provinces across Canada in May! See how you can participate via the MS Walk website.
For tour dates, photos and news from the band, visit BillyTalent.com