As Toronto-based rock band Billy Talent closed the first chapter of its remarkable career with 2014’s Hits retrospective, the compilation served to cement what helped the group’s rapid rise to becoming favourites of Canadian music fans from coast to coast.
The group more than deserved the success that came its way. They had slugged it out independently for the better part of a decade under a different band name. Hits served as an aural look back on the remarkable first decade of Billy Talent, in which time they have closed in on one million records sold in Canada, and more than a half-million units internationally on the strength of hits like “Try Honesty,” “The River Below,” “Surrender,” and others.
As the band prepared to enter the recording studio to begin the process of making their fifth studio record, Afraid of Heights, at the start of 2016, there is little that could have prepared them for what would prove to be one of their biggest challenges to date.
Approximately two weeks into the year, Billy Talent drummer Aaron Solowoniuk, via a YouTube video, revealed his multiple sclerosis – a condition which he had lived with and toured with for 15 years prior – had sidelined his plans to enter the studio with the group for the making of Afraid of Heights.
While the band initially offered to push back the making of their latest record, Solowoniuk encouraged the group to soldier on while he focused on his health.
In his place, both on record and for the band’s touring obligations since of the release of the album, which includes a show at Casino New Brunswick on Sunday evening, Billy Talent recruited long-time friend Jordan Hastings, who also happens to be the drummer for Canadian screamo heroes Alexisonfire and Say Yes.
From a tour stop in Montreal earlier this week, Billy Talent bassist Jon Gallant says the decision to move on without Solowoniuk was not an easy one.
“It’s been a transition that has taken some getting used to,” he says. “We had a good bulk of the songs for Afraid of Heights written when Aaron confided he was going to have to step away from the band. One of the most amazing things about working with Jordan is how compassionate and attentive to detail he is. He’s been a friend of the band for such a long time, it definitely helped make the overall transition much easier.”
Gallant says that Solowoniuk has been continuing treatment and is showing signs of improvement, and although his sidelined bandmate has a little way to go before he can return to the group on a full-time basis, Solowoniuk was well enough to join the band on-stage for a pair of songs at Billy Talent’s hometown performance at the Air Canada Centre this past Monday night.
“Aaron is doing well, which is encouraging. The most important thing right now is that he is taking care of himself and his health,” Gallant says.
The group’s performance at the Air Canada Centre – one of Toronto’s largest venues – holds a special significance for Billy Talent. While last week’s show was not the first time that the group headlined the arena, the fact they are able to continue returning to the centre is both a humbling and exciting prospect for the band.
“Last week was the fourth time we’ve been lucky enough to play there, but it’s still so surreal for us on so many levels. Every time we step in there, there is very much a feeling among us that we can’t believe it’s happening.”
A certain feeling of disbelief has been prevalent on Billy Talent’s current tour, which kicked off in Abbotsford, B.C. on Feb. 16. Since then, they have performed in most of Canada’s biggest cities before hitting the Atlantic coast.
In spite of the fact Gallant’s winter boots have been used sparingly since the tour began – not that he is complaining about the fact – the magnitude of playing to responsive audiences in some of the country’s most prestigious venues has kept the band buzzing.
“This tour with Monster Truck and The Dirty Nil has been a lot of fun. There is a great feeling of camaraderie amongst everyone,” he says.
“The fact there aren’t a lot of big rock tours passing through arenas isn’t lost on us. We’re very lucky that we are still able to do this on such a big level.”
What: Billy Talent with special guests Monster Truck and The Dirty Nil
When: Sunday March 5, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets are $43.48 plus tax and service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca