With dire lyrical imagery of submersed cities and forced death marches, Billy Talent’s fourth album, Dead Silence, is the band’s darkest and edgiest yet.
“Definitely there’s an apocalyptic theme,” said guitarist Ian D’Sa, who performs with Billy Talent on Tuesday, March 19, at Red Deer’s Centrium.
The melodic punk band from Mississauga, Ont., wrote and recorded the album early in 2012, amid a glut of publicity about the world ending according to the Mayan calendar. There were also pro-democracy protesters being killed in the Middle East, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators decrying corporate greed on this side of the Atlantic.
Around the same time, Billy Talent was also experiencing personal upheaval.
At the end of 2011, the band’s drummer Aaron Solowoniuk underwent open-heart surgery to fix a faulty valve that was causing his ticker to work overtime pumping blood through his body.
Since Solowoniuk is like family to D’Sa, as well as singer Ben Kowalewicz and bassist Jon Gallant, this news rocked Billy Talent to the core.
Concerts were cancelled as Solowoniuk successfully recovered from the operation, recalled D’Sa. “We were still writing for guitar and vocals while he was in hospital, and this came through lyrically” — particularly on the song Don’t Count on the Wicked, which contains a line about turning anger into hope.
Besides drawing on the prevailing mood of anxiety for Dead Silence — which is D’Sa’s first foray into producing a Billy Talent album — the release also ended up containing some of the angry social commentary that befits a punk CD.
The first single, Viking Death March “is a response to so much corruption and lies told to the people by those in power,” said the guitarist. “It’s about not having other people make decisions for you.”
D’Sa said the second single, Surprise, Surprise, advocates not buying into media messages blindly. “You can get taken for a ride sometimes,” he added, referring to the Mayan calendar fuss. “People start thinking like survivalists and buying guns . . . I thought this is so ridiculous . . .”
He revealed there’s a global warming theme in the tune Swallowed Up By the Ocean, which suggests that “everybody wants to live beyond their means — but can the planet sustain that?” The song’s message is cloaked in what could be interpreted as a traditional love song, “but the girl is actually Mother Earth.”
A more conventional relationship is recounted in Stand Up and Run, but it’s taken to a cosmic plane.
D’Sa said the song is about when you meet someone for the first time and connect on such an “interstellar level” that you feel you’ve known each other for a long time.
“It’s like you met in another life or something,” said D’Sa, who described himself as a lapsed Catholic who’s now more of an agnostic. “I kind of do believe in other lives . . . maybe not in a physical sense, but like some kind of energy.”
The 37-year-old guitarist was born in London, England, to parents originally from Goa, India.
Although D’Sa was only three when he moved to Canada (“too young to have an English accent”), he did grow up with a lot of British influences brought over by his mom and dad, including an appreciation for the Monty Python and Fawlty Towers TV serials and early music by The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
The groups he liked as a teenager were Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden. But when it comes to the band’s influences, D’Sa lists punkers The Clash and Refused.
D’Sa believes the trilogy of past albums, Billy Talent I, II and III laid a solid foundation for Dead Silence. “With every album you gain confidence . . . With this fourth album, I feel we’ve established more of a sense of what we do. Whenever you write you tend to second guess yourself, so it’s nice when you do get some success. It feels good.”