Last night, Billy Talent performed at The Varsity Theater, also known as the place with the best bathrooms in America. The Canadian rock band has played Lollapalooza and Warped Tour, along with scattered shows along many of the northern American states. Since the release of their self-titled debut in 2003, Billy Talent have cemented themselves as a generation-defining rock band. Boasting nearly one million albums sold in Canada alone and nearly 3 million albums sold internationally, the band has seen multi-platinum certifications for their albums Billy Talent I and II and III, and platinum status for the latest studio album Dead Silence. The band has enjoyed tremendous success at Canadian rock radio where they have had three #1 hits that combined for 19 weeks at the top spot, six Top 5 hits, and five Top 10 hits.
A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to interview Billy Talent’s drummer, Aaron Solowoniuk via phone. Aaron has been drumming for Billy Talent since the start of the band. In 2006, Aaron was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He has been active in the band up until this year. In January, he temporarily stepped down as drummer to regain his strength lost to the MS. He’s currently recovering in Toronto, ON, which is where he called from.
The interesting thing about Billy Talent is that they are huge in Canada, and not as much in the United States. I asked Aaron about that as well as their current views on America, American politics, and how that effected their creative writing process as a band for their new record, Afraid of Heights. Aaron spoke about how Canada’s perspective on America has changed a lot during this election season.
“All we see on TV about America is gun violence and Trump, and it’s scary for sure.”
Aaron explained that in Canada, nobody really has guns except for the police, and that it’s really odd to him that some Americans put so much value on the 2nd Amendment.
Fear is a prominent theme throughout Afraid of Heights. And Afraid of Heights has a much more pronounced political message than Billy Talent’s previous records. Aaron explained to me that they write about what is currently effecting them and that American politics has a huge effect on not just America, but the rest of the world.
“It’s scary to see what Donald Trump has been saying.”
When asked directly what the “fear” in the album was about, Aaron let me know that it was the fear of a lot of things. The fear of change, the fear of success, the fear and anxiety that can come from marrying a girl, and even the fear of getting a new job. Fear in this album encompasses so much because there is so much to be afraid of. We need to fight that fear. That’s where the name for the album came from.
“We were all sitting there, thinking about what to title the project, and we were all in instant agreement that Afraid of Heights made the most sense.”
I asked Aaron about Igor Hofbauer, the artist that created the album art for Afraid of Heights. He explained to me that they really liked the look of old Russian Propaganda art. Aaron has been a fan of the art style since the band found a book of metal art, and Igor had been featured in it. They tracked him down to design Afraid of Heights.
I finally asked Aaron about his MS. Aaron was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. “It really slows you down”, Aaron noted.
He explained that after recording 12 of the 13 records on Afraid of Heights, he had to step down temporarily to really focus on getting better with MS. He let me know that he is still able to play drums, but not at the caliber he was able to while he was drumming in the band. Alexisonfire drummer Jordan Hastings has been a great friend of the band and has filled for Aaron in the past. He explained how Jordan was an easy choice and that Jordan would be a great fit to help the band continue tour.
“I should have taken a break a lot sooner than I did. Now I’m just waiting to get better.”
Aaron explained how he didn’t want the band to have to stop everything because of him. Obviously the band would do anything for Aaron, but Aaron didn’t want that at all.
Aaron has subsequently started a foundation called F.U.MS. F.U.MS is a series of events to raise money and awareness for youth affected by MS. You can find more information about it HERE.