Interview

Billy Talent’s Guitarist Talks Return To SA

When news that Billy Talent was coming back to South Africa broke, a strange thing happened: people were upset. Likely a small minority – you know the Internet is an echo chamber for vitriol – but people were angry Billy Talent were returning, as opposed to their favourite band (Fancy Name Goes Here) coming for the first time.

It was as telling as it was strange to me. Strange because, well, if you don’t want to see them again (or at all), why complain as opposed to not going? Telling because it is unusual for international bands to make more than one trip to South Africa.

So, when I got the chance to chat to Billy Talent’s guitarist Ian D’Sa over the phone, their motivation for returning to South Africa and who was driving the process was a big theme. We also spoke about the band nearly breaking up, and his favourite Billy Talent project.

Motheo Moleko: Thank you for taking the time to chat to us. I missed your show in South Africa the last go around so I’m glad I’ll get a chance to catch it now.
Ian D’Sa: Thanks for having us. We’re excited to come back.

Q: Straight to it, then: what was the motivation for coming back to South Africa?
Ian: We had a great time during our first trip to South Africa. Not just the shows but the whole experience was incredible. [We played] Oppikoppi Fest [and it] was great the last time around and we’re excited to play again.

Q: And who was driving the process of coming back?
Ian: It was definitely us who were pushing for it. We kept looking for opportunities to hop over here whenever we were in Europe for it to make sense. I mean, it’s not really hopping over, but Europe is much closer [than North America]. We just had a great time and we really wanted to come back and I’m glad we’re going to get to.

Q: Billy Talent is one of the few bands in the world with longevity, and you guys have been around for nearly two decades. I’m curious – was there ever any point where the band nearly broke up?
Ian: Yeah, the band almost broke up, but we kept it together. This was around 1999, [after] seven years playing all over the city [of Mississauga in Ontario, Canada] and not really getting anywhere, we considered calling it quits. This was before the internet so we couldn’t get [our] music worldwide and never had interest from labels. Some of the guys went off to college and we had to really ask ourselves if this is what we were going to do. We decided to take a professional approach instead of just playing for our friends and things started taking off.

Q: Amazing. Do you ever stop and think what would have been if the band did break up.
Ian: Yeah. I wonder, what would we all be doing if we didn’t have the band. We love playing together and are stoked to come back.

Q: How do you think other bands can avoid this fate? You know, a situation where a promising act breaks up for whatever reason?
Ian: The first thing that you should do is ask the people in the band if they have the same vision as you. The truth is not everybody wants to do this as a career and that can be a problem down the road.

Q: Obviously you have young bands worldwide that admire you guys, and, given that you almost broke up but survived it and went on to succeed, a lot of people want to know how you went about this. What would you say to young bands looking to break into the industry?
Ian: I would say bands should really focus on writing great songs. The songs carry the career of the band and writing great songs is a challenging thing, but it’s really the most important thing.

Q: Now back to your own music. Which is your favourite Billy Talent album?
Ian: I’m most proud of this latest one. This time we did everything ourselves and didn’t have outside influence and we did the bulk of the recording at our own studio.

Me: That’s it, really. Besides, I think we’re out of time. Really looking forward to catching your set when you land here in August.
Ian: Thank you! Again, we’re really excited to come back to South Africa and to play there again. Later.

Ian D'Sa