Reviews and recommendations are unbiased and products are independently selected. Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through links on this page.
7:30 p.m. Friday, RBC Stage, with PUP at 6:00 p.m. and Weezer at 9:30 p.m.
For schedules and ticket information, go to ottawabluesfest.ca.
Canadian rockers Billy Talent have been touring Europe regularly for two decades but this year’s post-pandemic excursion was especially sweet, according to singer Benjamin Kowalewicz.
“It was absolutely, mind-blowingly amazing,” he said of the May-June hop across the pond that saw them play festivals from England to Italy, a precursor to the band’s festival run in Canada this summer.
“I think there’s something about festival season that feels so much different than when you’re just playing club shows or headline stuff. When you get to stand outside and there’s 70,000 people there and everyone is singing and dancing, it’s amazing,” the 47-year-old said in a recent interview, taking a break from between-tour chores such as laundry and yard work.
“And also coming off the heels of the last couple of years of not being able to do that, there’s just something a little bit more. From our end, there’s always been a tremendous amount of gratitude and appreciation for being able to do what we do but now it just seems like it’s been accented more. When you’re standing there, you’re feeling, ‘This is beautiful.’”
It’s a magic that’s captured on the band’s latest release, Live at Festhalle Frankfurt, their first live album since 2007’s 666. Recorded last November in Germany’s historic domed venue, it’s available on streaming services, CD and vinyl, and includes a soon-to-be-released full-length concert film, despite Kowalewicz having misgivings about the whole idea.
“When you do something in a live setting, there’s always the variable of live. That’s something I was always a little bit hesitant about,” he said. “But the thing I came to quite quickly is that everybody who comes to the show has a video recording device in their pocket. It doesn’t matter if you’re having an off night or whatever, it’s there anyways so you might as well shoot it in the highest quality that you can and make it something special.”
Germany has long been a key market for the band, which was formed in Mississauga by Kowalewicz with bassist Jonathan Gallant, guitarist-producer and chief songwriter Ian D’Sa, and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk, who’s on hiatus with multiple sclerosis. For 20 years, they’ve been playing to growing crowds of enthusiastic German fans, with MTV Europe helping to spread the word to nearby countries, too.
“It’s just something that (came from) hard work and a lot of people sticking up for us and giving us great opportunities,” Kowalewicz says. “It’s truly wonderful.”
Making a splash is more of a struggle in the United States, which Kowalewicz believes is the plight of every Canadian band. “When we were growing up, there was always the allure of the big hit in America,” he says. “But you’re bewildered by this dream, and so we ended up spending a lot of time in Europe and the U.K. and Canada.”
That’s not to say they’ve given up on the U.S. Their first shows there in seven years are on the schedule this fall. “We’ve never matched the success we’ve had elsewhere but we’ve had some amazing times there and met some great bands there,” Kowalewicz said. “And if 500 people come and see us play in New York City, I’m beyond happy.”
Meanwhile, the quartet is gearing up for a summer of shows in Canada, starting with Quebec City’s Festival d’été on July 6, Ottawa’s RBC Bluesfest on July 7 and Toronto’s Budweiser Stage on July 8.
“The band is playing really well and we’re having probably the most fun we’ve ever had,” Kowalewicz says. “We’re excited to get out there and play.”
The Ottawa and Quebec City dates mark a full-circle moment for Billy Talent, the singer adds, because they’re sharing the stage with Weezer, a U.S. band that was a big influence in the early days.
“One of the reasons we started a band back in the early 90s was to cover Weezer songs at basement parties,” Kowalewicz said. “So it’s going to be a beautiful, full-circle moment for us. We’re really excited.”
Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo also makes an appearance on the song End of Me, from Billy Talent’s sixth and latest studio album, Crisis of Faith. Although never intended to be released as a full album, plans changed when the pandemic hit.
“We had just decided that we were going to do something different instead of putting a record out, tour-rinse-repeat,” Kowalewicz explained. “Our intention was to just release the songs as they were done, but after about three or four songs in that vein, the pandemic hit and then we weren’t in the same room for a year and a half but the rest of the songs were almost finished. So we decided to just put it out as a record.”
Around the same time, Kowalewicz became a father, a factor that added to the challenges of the pandemic.
“It was the most difficult time of my life,” he said. “Not being able to work is very scary. Our daughter was six months old when it hit so everything my wife and I did was to protect her and take care of her and love her. Now having a bit of space between that time and now, that was the silver lining through the whole thing. I got to be home with her every single day.”
What you need to know before going to Bluesfest: Getting there, surviving the heat and protecting butterflies
What to do in Ottawa this week: Check out a local act at Bluesfest, take in cultural music