Billy Talent's Ian D'Sa discusses delving into drugs, downloading, and doing his 'do

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Billy Talent's Ian D'Sa

Alex Williams

“The only rumours I really hear about myself are about my hair, like ‘I hear it takes you an hour and a half to do your hair and you have to use all these different products.’

”It literally takes 20 minutes...it’s just hairspray and a blow dryer.”

While his big hair is almost as famous as his big sound, Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa hides his recognizable up ’do beneath a hat during his interview with The Gazette before last Thursday’s show at the John Labbatt Centre.

Unlike many successful musicians, Billy Talent " D’Sa, vocalist Ben Kowalewicz, bassist Jon Gallant and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk " is known for its friendly, respectful attitude towards the media.

“I’ve seen other bands be really prickish to the media a lot, and I don’t understand,” D’Sa says. “Why would you be prickish to someone who is trying to write an article or a piece about your band? They’re trying to help you out. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be nice to them.”

The band is also known for its charity work. Last year, D’Sa recorded “Song for Africa” with several famous Canadian musicians to raise money for AIDS research, and recently Solowoniuk organized the “F.U.MS” Boxing Day show to raise money for multiple sclerosis.

“We always like to get involved with charities and causes,” D’Sa says. “[The Boxing Day show] was really good, we raised a lot of money for MS, and right now we’re setting up a scholarship for people living with MS.

Since releasing its 2003 self-titled album, Billy Talent’s popularity has skyrocketed worldwide. The band’s followup, 2006’s Billy Talent II, has earned the band five Juno nominations and spawned several hit singles including “Devil in a Midnight Mass,” “Red Flag” and its latest, “Fallen Leaves.”

D’Sa is pleased with the“Fallen Leaves” video.

“We wanted to have this sort of Nightmare Before Christmas vibe, because the song has that kinda creepy feel to it,” he says.

“[Director Dean Karr] creates amazing sets and crazy costumes, so we really wanted him to work on the video. He was the one who sort of came up with the concept of having us get lost in the forest, in a Hansel and Gretel kind of story and ending up at this party.

“It’s all very metaphorical about getting invited into the world of drugs.”

Although the band still loves playing smaller venues, like its longtime favourite the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, D’Sa says playing sold-out shows at places like the Air Canada Centre is “amazing.”

“We’re kinda living in our glory right now, I think,” he says. “It blows my mind still that we played [at the ACC], the same place as the [Toronto Maple] Leafs play.”

D’Sa admits fame has made distinguishing between friends and fans difficult.

“It’s really hard sometimes… you don’t know what people’s intentions are, if they’re interested in you, or in the band,” he says. “Most of the time these days, [they’re interested in the band].

“But we all have really old friends from high school and college, a really supportive group of friends. It’s good to have.”

D’Sa thinks one of the reasons Billy Talent’s albums have sold so well is because the band is determined to create “solid albums front-to-back.”

“Our label was giving us a bit of pressure to get into the studio early on, and we ended up taking seven months more than we should’ve taken [to record Billy Talent II],” D’Sa says. “But in those seven months, we ended up writing songs like ‘Fallen Leaves’ and ‘Sympathy’ and ‘Pins And Needles,’ and ‘The Navy Song.’ A lot of those songs wouldn’t be on the record if we had put it out earlier.”

He believes free downloading is convincing many bands to do the same.

“I think that’s one of the reasons record companies are all about no downloading… [Before record companies didn’t] care if a band’s whole album was good. If it has two good songs and 10 crappy songs, they don’t care, because they just want to work those two singles. Downloading hurts them, because now fans can just go download those two songs and they don’t buy the album.”

If people weren’t buying Billy Talent’s albums, D’Sa says he’d probably still be working in animation. However, he’s adamant music would still be part of his life.

In fact, if he were forced to choose between love or music, D’Sa says he’d choose music.

“I don’t know, I just don’t know what I would do without music... I think I would just become so depressed,” he says. “You know how for some people music is their love? I think I’m one of those people.”

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