Ahead of their upcoming show with none other than Guns n’ fuckin’ Roses, Pure Grain Audio caught up with Ian, guitarist with punk rockers Billy Talent to chat about the show and their new album Afraid Of Heights.
Hey Ian how are you?
Ian: Good how you doing?
I’m good thanks. I’m sure you’re pretty busy today so I’ll keep it short and sweet is that good?
Ian: No worries no worries yeah that’s great thanks.
Awesome. Okay, so let’s get right into it. First album in five years right? Why so long in between?
Ian: Four years. Four years, four years. I guess 2012 was our last record. We normally put out a record every three years but we put out a greatest hits in between. Vigil and we were changing management at the time as well.
Ian: That was… We had whole different manager and then we’ve moved on. Stuff behind the curtain, I guess…(laughs)
So you wrote and produced the whole album which was a progression from just producing the last album? What made you want to undertake the whole shebang and how did they let you do it all on your own?
Ian: Well, I’ve always kinda done that like the last couple albums, Dead Silence especially but it’s just one of those things where, as you get older, you kinda settle into a role in the band and that’s been my role since the band started, so this album I just wanted to do it myself.
What was/is the writing process like doing it that way?
Ian: Literally we have this beautiful building in Toronto that we call home now that we’re really happy to have. It’s like our little headquarters and I’ve been going there every day writing songs for this album over the last two or three years. I must’ve written over 20 songs and we all narrowed it down to the ones that ended up on the album.
All the going to work every day kinda thing and writing this up it’s been narrowed to these and for me I love writing and I’m super passionate about this, it’s just a role I’ve kinda fallen into.
I haven’t heard a bad thing about the album. How do you personally feel about the album when you compare it to past records?
Ian: I think this one is one of our best albums especially for this time, what’s going on right now. We’ve never really had an album where every song encompasses a theme before and this album, the whole theme of the album is fear and all this stuff that’s going on in the world right now seems to keep escalating. Over the last couple of years, reading about things that are happening in the world just really affected us.
Ben and I wrote these lyrics for all these songs to be based around fear and why do we have to live in a society based on fear when we just need to talk to each other more and understand each other. The whole album is kind of based around that. That’s why it’s called Afraid of Heights.
Were you always a political kind of event or was it just a recent shift?
Ian: I think we always were even right from the beginning. As you get older you stop writing songs about like I’m angry with my parents or my girlfriend broke up with me as you get older and you start writing songs about things that really matter and I think, over the last, especially the last few albums, we’ve been writing songs more in the grander political scheme I guess.
The trailer on YouTube, it’s pretty rad. And the message is quite inspiring. It’s different from a lot of other promo videos. What made you go in that direction?
Ian: We thought it was really cool. I think Ben had seen a Trouble video and it was something that people were doing and that’s one of the things with this record. We don’t want to turn into that band that is so out of date, we’d really like to stay in tune with what’s happening. He had this really great idea to do this mission statement and it turned out great. It was a really positive thing that kind of set up the record for us.
The message of power of rock n’ roll, what is it to you?
Ian: To me it’s an art form that’s kinda taken a back seat in the last few years with electronic music and pop music being in the foreground now. Rock n’ roll is something that has changed completely.
Bands like The Clash and Rage Against the Machine really affected us when we were young and they had a really strong political message. It seems to still be the only art form that carries that kind of power to it, so it’s just a reminder that we’re still here being rock fans and all you know?
So I have a couple questions about Aaron are you okay talking about it?
Ian: Yeah absolutely yeah.
Okay so we know he’s the original drummer and he’s suffering from an MS relapse, was it hard to move on without him?
Ian: Yeah absolutely it was the quite possibly the weirdest and hardest and most heartbreaking situation to be in. There’s no rulebook or textbook for this type of thing so we, the four of us, we had to kind of figure this out on the fly. Back in August of last year we were doing the record, the songs were all written and we had the studio time booked to make the record and we were just playing a handful of summer festivals when Aaron had a Relapse. This time though it was much worse than it’s ever been in the last 15 years. He’s a brother to us and a friend so we of course pushed back the studio date and kept pushing it back but, at one point when he had to see like another round of doctors, we all realized this was more serious than we thought. It turned out it was and he’s still recovering from it and he will be probably for the remainder of the year.
The unfortunate part of MS is that there’s no real timeline where you can say he’s gonna get better in three weeks or three months or, it could take up to a year or years. So we literally had to have that really weird conversation about how are gonna progress as a band and how are we gonna do this. Aaron wanted us to go forward with another drummer for the album and the tour and the first guy we all thought of was Jordan Hickey, from Alexisonfire because he’s just a great guy, he gets our band, we’ve toured with those guys for almost a decade and he’s really good friends with all of us so. Jordan came down and we had a meeting the five us and it was amazing, it was so good. He was incredibly sensitive to Aaron’s situation and so, right now, he’s played on the album and he’s gonna be doing the remainder of touring for they year with us.
Is Aaron kind of back to his old self? How is he feeling right now?
Ian: Yeah, he’s being… laughs… Aaron, he would show up in the studio every day and he’s doing a lot of photography and stuff now but he’s still not at the point where he can get back on the drum kit yet. He’s gonna have to keep working at that before he can do something that’s so physically intensive because, out of any instrument in a band, the most physically intensive job is the drummer and it requires a lot of stamina and a lot of work and, for him to get back to that, it’s gonna be a while still but he’s working at it every day still.
Are you guys gonna plan on doing anything charitable for MS? What about a charity show? What do you guys think about doing one for MS?
Ian: We do one like almost annually. Aaron does, well his organisation, we try to do one every year. We’ve done one in Germany, we’ve done a couple in Toronto at the Opera House and the Phoenix and we’ll do another one for sure yeah. We’ll get like a bunch of friends together, like fans together, and Indian Hand crowd, AlexsonFire and we’ll just play a show and all the proceeds go to MS.
That’s amazing that’s so good. So a couple more questions then I’ll let you go for good. Let’s talk about the huge show tomorrow, Guns and fucking Roses like how did that go about?
Ian: That’s.. yeah I know, I’m still kind of blown away that happened but yeah we got the phone call to be opening support, main support at the Rogers Center which to me is like both of those situations are a dream come true because, ever since I was a little kid I remember when Joe Carter hit that home run. It was early 90’s.. (laughs).. I can see the Rolling Stones there and AC/DC there. I mean to play there is one thing but to open up for Guns n’ Roses, I mean. Appetite For Destruction was one of my favorite records back when I was a kid and I remember buying it the week it came out, back in 1989. So it’s just amazing, it’s an amazing opportunity and I’m so honored that we got the phone call.
So, how do you prepare for shows like this? I know this isn’t the biggest crowd you’ve played at but it’s a hometown show. How do you prepare mentally and physically for it?
Ian: Well it’s definitely the biggest crowd in our hometown that we probably have ever played for. We’ve been rehearsing all week because we want to be really good tomorrow but there’s nothing that can really prepare you. The only thing I feel good about is mental preparation-wise.
We’ve opened up for Green Day in stadiums in Paris and other really big bands and stadiums. They did theirs a lot different than arenas. Arenas are one thing and they’re big but a stadium is massive. So it’s just a strange feeling playing in a stadium. We’ve got to play a few times opening up for other bands so that’s the experience that we’re gonna be drawing on I guess.
Good luck tomorrow. I know you guys are gonna kill it. I’m gonna be there cheering you on so all my best to you guys and Aaron, okay.
Ian: Thanks so much, bye.