Circa October 2006 – Fazer Magazine
Jon was Interviewed December ‘06 by phone. Thanks to Warner Music Canada for setting everything up.
Mike: So your band’s name is derived from a character from Bruce Macdonald’s film ‘Hard Core Logo’, right?
Mike: Now that you’ve achieved a pretty high level of success for Billy Talent, do you ever find you’d want to back pedal on the name, or do you think it’s totally cool, you love it and you just couldn’t live without it?
Jon: Oh no. You know I never ever thought about a different name for the band, we love it.
Jon: I think the Billy Talent character was like, kind of the centre figure in the movie.
Mike: Yeah he was the guy you watched.
Jon: All the anger was directed at him in the film, it’s a cool name I still love it.
Mike: Me too. It’s a pretty funky name. I mean I certainly knew what it was as soon as I saw the posters up around town when you guys were doing the first album.
Jon: Oh that’s cool. There were a handful of people that did.
Mike: Did you guys ever have any inkling when you were starting out as a band that you’d become big? EXAMPLE – I heard you while I was eating lunch in Jack Astor’s which kind of amused me. Just as background music.
Jon: Yeah. You know what? We’ve done it for so long and we were pretty happy just being in a band and playing shows and making music. So we never really thought about achieving any level of success. We just wanted to be able to continue in the band, and to make that transition between high school kids and young college kids or whatever – into having to make decisions as a young man you know? Adult decisions. So I don’t know. I know Benny always had more of the drive and intuition with that – more so than maybe Aaron and I did. Aaron and I were always the guys who were concerned of instability and all those kind of things but Ben and Ian always felt that the band was what they wanted to do with their lives and they really chased it down, and fortunately enough Aaron and I loved music so much that we’d just come along for the ride.
Jon: Those guys really had to do a lot of inspirational talking at certain points over the years.
Mike: So as a bassist do you prefer using a pick or do you just use your fingers?
Jon: I used to just flat out refuse to even think about playing with a pick, for a lot of my bass playing life, but now I’m open to the sound of it and at home when I’m playing with my acoustic bass I’ll practice with a pick but I always play live with my fingers. But you know I’m trying to get better as a pick player. I recorded some of the songs on the first record with a pick just for the texture of it, but the second record was all with my fingers.
Mike: And if you were to pick a few bassists that you really like and are impressed with these days, who would you pick?
Jon: Number two in Anti Flag. He’s fantastic.
Jon: Let me see. What have I been listening to a lot lately? Yeah I’m going through my flash and, during that phase of my life of music where it was all about technical ability and everything, I love punk rock and a lot of good classic rock and jazz and stuff like that. And now I’m more into song writers and that type of thing where I try not even to listen to the bass anymore because that used to be my priority. Although I’ve been finding myself listening to my old Primus albums recently. Les Claypool has always inspired me.
Mike: Yeah there’s some pretty fat bass going on with that guy.
Jon: Yeah I just listened to some of his new solo stuff and it’s pretty wild, I don’t even know how he plays the stuff.
Jon: And there’s a band called the Fully Down. Their bass player is amazing. The guy from Muse.
Jon: Yeah I just spent like a week trying to learn his Hysteria bass line but I finally got it. It’s amazing, that’s probably the best bass line written in the decade of 2000.
Mike: I like Muse a lot too. So I actually was going to try to catch you guys down in Chicago, I was in Chicago when you were doing your gig there but I couldn’t make it work.
Jon: The Rise Against show? It was a good show. That was their home town.
Mike: If you had your choice who would you like to play with live, like personally what’s your aspiration, who would be the magical pairing for music?
Jon: Ah geez. As far as bands are concerned?
Mike: Your choice: bands or even just personally if you could jam with somebody who would you pick?
Jon: I like jamming with my band, so I’ll leave that there, but it would be awesome to play a show with Rage Against the Machine. You know, if they ever get back together and do something or whatever. (note: this interview was before the Coachella announcement of a reformed RAGE).
Mike: Yeah I miss them.
Jon: They, they were one of the best from the 90’s, that’s what, the kind of music that really affected us, that early 90’s stuff, that maybe along with Cobain on the bill. And if you ask the other guys Ben would probably throw in Pearl Jam.
Mike: At least Pearl Jam are still around.
Jon: Yeah, actually I think we’re going to be going on before them at a festival in Germany which is going to be rad.
Mike: Nice. I always find myself lamenting over Faith No More, I really miss that band.
Jon: Oh Faith No More would be a good one too, yeah. Yeah you can hear a little Faith No More in us sometimes.
Mike: eah, I can hear a little bit of it in your music as well.
Jon: Oh all those 90’s bands subconsciously have, like from the Pixies to Nirvana to Faith No More and Sound Garden – they all have a little bit of a mark in our brains because we used to spend so much time covering them, in the, in the early days.
Mike: Now when you’re out in public do you find yourself getting recognized?
Jon: No hardly ever.
Mike: I think I’d find that irritating personally (chuckle).
Jon: You know I prefer to be less visual. I like getting recognized at the show or whatever, that’s fine because people are there to see the band and that potential always exists. But you know it’s cool, I appreciate the fact that I take the subway into the city and stuff like that, and I just throw on my Ipod and amuse myself in my own little quiet world.
Jon: Ian and Ben – they get recognized a little more and sometimes people aren’t nice about it, you know. But that’s all part of it, whatever.
Mike: If you could pick a moment in the past few years where you found yourself just living a moment of unbelief because of your career path as Billy Talent, what would that moment be? Where you were just like “holy shit! I can’t believe this is happening”?
Jon: Last summer, we took a break from writing and we did a string of shows and festival dates. There’s this week-long music festival that happens in Quebec City and they get some pretty big bands, with a headliner every night and we were headlining on the Thursday night or a Friday night or something like that. Arcarde Fire and AlexisOnFire were opening before us.
Jon: It was on the Plains of Abraham and it was 55,000 people and it was the most insane, amazing rock show ever.
It was the moment where I felt like I was in rock-utopia or something like that. Thinking “Wow! This is incredible! So many people and it was so loud and the fans were so amazing.” Yeah that beats out anything like from playing on TV or winning Junos, and all that stuff is really surreal and I can’t believe it ever happened, but that Quebec show was the best moment, for sure.
Mike: I’d like to get over to the UK and do some of their big festivals. Like Reading.
Jon: Yeah they’re good. Leeds is cool too.
Mike: Do you ever find yourself wanting to get asked a question that no one ever asks you?
Jon: No. The worst question is “Tell me something you’ve never told anybody.” I don’t know (chuckles). The reason why I might not have told anybody something is (pauses)
Mike: Is because it’s private?!?
Jon: Yeah. Because it’s highly personal but, you know what I mean. Yeah, I’m, I’m not afraid to answer any question. If I don’t feel like answering something, I just won’t answer.
Mike: Good on ya. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent away from home on the road?
Jon: It was nearly three months, which was way too long.
Jon: We did a five and a half week European tour which was on this record and that was really tough too because, well, one of the members had a death in the family just before we left…
Mike: Ew. That’s rough.
Jon: … and another one had to move. It was a shame, when you’re over on that side of the Atlantic there’s a lot of time in between where it’s hard to communicate with friends and family, you know.
Mike: Yeah it is.
Jon: Just because of the time change.
Mike: Do you think Canada will always be your home?
Jon: Oh definitely for me.
Mike: That’s cool.
Jon: Toronto’s great.
Mike: And as a Canadian artist, do you guys feel that there were challenges to you as musicians that maybe a band from the US or the UK wouldn’t have experienced?
Jon: Um, no I think if everybody has the same ideal – we want to write awesome songs. I think if you can accomplish that it doesn’t really matter where you’re from. I guess it would be harder if you were, you know an Austrian artists or something and you were writing songs in Austrian, you know to connect to the amount of people we connect with might be more difficult because of the language barrier. But in general, if you’re writing awesome songs and you care about what you do and it’s real and you’re driven, there’s no borders to that.
Mike: I agree. Now this is for some of the younger bands out there that might read this article, maybe they’d aspire to go on the road and try for musical success, What advice would you give them? Cautions about things that they might never consider and things that you outright love about being on the road?
Jon: Being on the road. Um. The best advice that’s ever been given to me is just try and enjoy every minute of it and take advantage of it while you have the opportunity. And I always had that perspective, especially for all the new places I have been. But after spending you know 300 out of 365 days away from home sometimes it’s easier to just kind of chill out on the bus after a show and not do anything because you’ve done a lot, you’ve seen a lot…
Jon: In between albums, Chris, the guy who makes our records, kind of reiterated that to me, and to the band. He said “You know – no matter how old it gets, always try and take advantage of where you’re at and what you’re doing.”
Mike: Good advice.
Jon: It is, and to try to see the cities and all that stuff because it could all end. You never know.
Mike: Yeah that’s true. In my opinion your second CD is as good or is better than the first, and this is often not the case for bands that try to follow up a successful first release. Did you feel a lot of pressure when you went back to do this album?
Jon: Pressure we put on ourselves – yes. We’re very proud guys. Proud of what we do and we have a bar that we set for ourselves and we want to maintain that – and then raise it. You know – we never want to rest on our laurels with any part of our career as far as writing music, playing our shows, making videos. We want them to be better and better every time.
Mike: Cool. How do you guys create your songs, and by this I mean do you all just get together and jam or do you all sort of write in stages and put stuff together in stages and do it over the net or through the mail?
Jon: Usually Ian plays his guitar quite a bit and he’ll always be writing guitar riffs on the road and stuff like that and coming up with ideas. But he doesn’t really write songs on the road. He kind of just chips away and builds a mountain full of ideas. And then when we have some, and along the way when he comes up with something that he thinks is a relatively complete thought as far as a part to a song is concerned he’ll show it to me and I’ll learn it on bass or add a bass line to it. And then Ben will do the same with Aaron. Whenever a band member comes up with a part he’ll show them to us every once in awhile – and we can grow it from there.
Mike: It sounds collaborative.
Jon: And then when we get back to Toronto and it’s time to write songs, Ian usually is sifting through his pile of ideas and seeing what parts work good with other parts and then it’s a long process but after awhile when we’ve jammed enough times and tried to work things together and we have these loose outlines for songs – that Ian usually has some melody for. Once that happens then he and Ben will sit down together and start working on the lyrics. It’s a long process but it’s well thought out and it means he doesn’t write 50 songs and then we choose the best 20. For us that doesn’t make any sense. For us, it’s let’s work out one song until it’s complete and awesome. Sometimes we’ll put it away for a little while and work on something else but at the same time it’s still seeping into the album. For the new album we had 13 songs and that’s what we recorded.
A lot of musicians just write songs on acoustic guitar and then they put all the icing on it with the other instruments. But ours are constructed a little differently cause they’re usually riffs, guitar riffs and just things like that and I think Ian draws from other artistic means to develop his strategy to writing music.
Mike: Cool. What’s a good day on the road for you guys? Like if you got up in the morning and you were heading from one city to another, what’s the ideal day?
Jon: For me I like to get up, you know 11:30ish, when we’re on a tour bus regularly we usually stay up a lot later and then you sleep in transit, right? So wake up at the venues, you wake up around 11:30 and if I can get a coffee right away that’s awesome and that’s usually the first mission. And then I’ll worry about whether or not I’m going to shower, I usually shower after the show so that’s not a problem, but we try and find a place to brush your teeth, get yourself situated, see what’s going on. Our crew guys make sure that shit’s happening, the show is going along and whatever. And then if I’m lucky I can go take a stroll and see the city that I’m in, come back for sound check, do sound check and have some dinner. Maybe have a couple beers before the show, have a great show and then if we’re lucky something will be happening in the city that night where we can go maybe to a bar or whatever and have a drink, go to listen to a jukebox or whatever, anything like that, and then you pack it in and go to the next city.
Mike: Alright. Thanks man, I appreciate your time for talking to me.
Jon: No problem.
Mike: And best of luck. I’ll be checking you out when you hit the JLC in February.
Jon: It’s going to be wicked.