It’s the day before Ben Kowalewicz hits the road. Again.
The singer and his veteran Canadian rock band are just about to head out on a extensive cross-country tour, which will bring them to Calgary for a Grey Eagle Event Centre show on Saturday night.
It will be yet another lengthy run for the band who’ve been touring the world for the past nine months on the strength of their fifth studio album Afraid of Heights.
In fact, he admits he’s been home one whole day after getting back from an unrelated trip, and just has time to unpack his bag before packing it up again and heading west.
“But it’s Valentine’s Day,” Kowalewicz says. “Probably not a bad day to be home.”
Q: And how will you be spending your Valentine’s Day?
A: To be completely honest with you, my wife and I just got back from a much-deserved break — we haven’t been away in years. So we just got back, so that was kind of our Valentine’s Day celebration. But if you really want to know, I bought her a pillow. (Laughs) Because her neck’s been bothering her. That’s what happens when you’re in your 40s, those are the romantic gifts you give.
Q: Practical is the new sexy.
Q: It’s nice you could get away for a vacation because I know you’ve been going from one tour to the next.
A: Yeah, yeah. It’s been awesome, though. Honestly, as you know we’ve been doing this rock and roll thing for a long time and you see all of these trends come and go and all of these moments happen. Just right now, for us, since May, we’ve been touring relentlessly as we do, but the shows and just the reaction to see this passion and conviction in people’s eyes nowadays it’s something I haven’t seen in a really long time. I guess it’s part and parcel to the current undercurrent that’s happening throughout the world right now. It seems like everything has been going well and I think that people are in need of the rock and roll right now.
Q: I think you’re right, I think people need a slap in the face and a kick in the psyche to get them going.
A: Not to bring it up again, but I’m a 41-year-old guy having grown up in the early and mid-’90s and that explosion of music that happened, that helped guide my way throughout my teens and my early 20s is because I felt like there was this thing that was greater than me that I was connected to. So I relied really heavily on it and all kinds of it, not just rock, but all kinds of music, it just helped me.
I was watching the what-have-you awards there, the Grammy Awards the other night, and I gotta say besides A Tribe Called Quest who actually said something, it almost felt like we were ignoring what’s actually happening. Everyone’s dancing around this big cupcake and everything’s fine and sugary and sweet and looks great and sounds great. And it’s like, no, these are trying times and we need musicians to raise their voices and help let them know they’re not alone and there is this common ground and likemindedness. I don’t know, maybe that’s the punk rock side of me and maybe that’s why I’ve always been such a fan of it because I always felt like it was not just me, it was me part of something.
Sorry to go on a bit of a tangent, but no, it’s really scary times and, like I said, having been out on the road for awhile I think these shows have … really connected and it’s really positive and safe and just a good vibe at the shows. And it’s been really, really refreshing and cathartic in a lot of ways.
Q: Are you looking forward to seeing how it is in Canada, what the temperature is?
A: Well, you know, that’s a really good point, why I’m excited to get back out. God, we haven’t toured Canada properly since Dead Silence, which I guess is, what? Three or four years ago? So, yeah, we’re excited to come out and say hi again and meet some new faces and see some of the old ones. We’ve been doing this for awhile now, so as you get a little bit further along in your career you really value and appreciate it a lot more than when you were a kid and up and coming.
So I think it’s going to be a really fun tour and I know, having bands like Monster Truck and the The Dirty Nil with us — we just had this same package come out with us in Europe for six weeks, and they are such lovely people and the vibe backstage is like a (laughs) beer league hockey dressing room, you know what I mean? Everyone’s just really friendly and down to earth and very encouraging and supportive. And then they get onstage and they just blow everyone away, so it’s been a lot of fun. And if people are coming, make sure you get there early to check out the whole night because it’s pretty special.
Q: Speaking of the whatever awards, congratulations on your Juno nominations (for Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year), which were just announced. Does that still mean something to your?
A: It is pretty special and, like I said, now that we’ve had some miles behind us it is pretty cool to still get a nod. And you know there’s a big difference between a show like the Grammy Awards and something like the Junos — there really is a sense of community in the Canadian biz. When we first found out that we got nominated again … we were just so excited that we were nominated with Sam Roberts and Monster Truck and the Hip, and there’s Tegan and Sara. And seeing our friends like The Dirty Nil who are up and coming and they’re getting their first nod, July Talk and the Arkells. We are all so genuinely excited to see each other and to hang out, you know what I mean? It’s very strange and beautiful and I’m very protective of it because it’s something that is really truly unique and truly Canadian …
So, personally, for me, when I get to go to the Junos, as much as getting a nomination is lovely, I really like to go and just hang out with everybody and catch up and see what everyone’s up to and have too many drinks and end up playing in a bar somewhere all drunk at four o’clock in the morning with Jim Cuddy. (Laughs) That to me is fun.
(Note: This interview was edited for clarity.)
Billy Talent perform Saturday night at the Grey Eagle Resort Centre.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at email@example.com. He likes beer. Buy him one.