Billy Talent: Hits – A track-by-track guide

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Canadian punks Billy Talent are set to release their career-spanning compilation, ‘Hits’, on February 23. The 14-track collection, which takes in highlights from their four studio albums – ‘Billy Talent’, ‘Billy Talent II’, ‘Billy Talent III’ and ‘Dead Silence’ – also features two brand new tracks: ‘Kingdom Of Zod’ and ‘Chasing The Sun’. Here, guitarist and master quiff maintainer Ian D’Sa talks us through the upcoming release…

TRY HONESTY “We originally put this on a four-song CD that we funded ourselves and literally sold from the stage before we got a record deal. I guess it’s the song that pretty much jumpstarted our career, so it really has special meaning to us. The first time we recorded that song was in about 2000 in Burlington [Ontario] in this place called the Music Gym. At that point, we were basically an indie band playing shitty bars.”

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RIVER BELOW “This song had a weird, almost reggae backbeat rhythm and it ended up becoming a bit of a trademark Billy Talent sound. River Below was just going to be an album track, but a lot of people really gravitated towards it so we ended up releasing it as a single.”

NOTHING TO LOSE “This is kind of the black sheep of the [first] album, because it was such a different type of song for us to write. It really went from emotional, quiet moments to really loud moments, and we thought it had probably the most emotional depth out of any of the songs on that record. The song deals with bullying, a topic that’s unfortunately still relevant today. Other people around us at the time may not have thought it would have been a traditional single, but it ended up becoming another kind of trademark song for our band. It really goes to show that picking singles is a hard thing to do – a lot of bands pick the one that sounds traditional for radio, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the outside-of the-box, rough edges songs are the ones that really identify your band to the listener.”

**DEVIL IN A MIDNIGHT MASS **“This song was written about a terrible subject matter involving priests and their victims over a span of 30 years. It was based on a true story in Boston. It was really short, to the point and really honest. We just thought it would be a great opener for that second album. The riff was really cool, too. I remember when me and Ben [Kowalewicz] were writing the lyrics, we were a little bit hesitant about whether we should write about this stuff. We thought no-one talks about the really important stuff, so we just decided to go against it and write it from the perspective of a victim.”

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**RED FLAG **“This was another one of those weird songs that we weren’t sure if it would fit on the record, so we thought we’d keep it around for a B-side. This was when you would record them for vinyl and stuff. It’s probably one of our most recognisable songs, and the most requested song when we play live. So that one’s a real shocker!”

**FALLEN LEAVES **“This is another song that was a bit of an album track. It’s a really good story about a guy who travels to the west coast, gets involved with the wrong scene and ends up having to find his way back home. It kind of deals with substance abuse and we never thought it would be a single, but again, sometimes the ones that stick out in different ways end up being the most popular. And again, the subject matter is dark. That seems to be a common theme for us!”

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SURRENDER “We’d never done a song like this before. It was kind of like a traditional love song and it was, once again, a pretty uncomfortable thing to convey in words. It’s about feeling like you’re in love with a person and then being friend-zoned, but we decided to write a song about it and I think it worked well for us.”

**DEVIL ON MY SHOULDER **“I think this is my favourite song to play live. It’s got such a good breakdown. It’s one of those rare songs where I actually enjoy doing the guitar solo, because I’m not much of a huge guitar solo fan. But this song was a straight-up blues-based song and really, really fun to record and really fun to play live. I really like the groove. It’s just a really fun song. Some songs you get a little tired of playing over and over, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of playing this one.”

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**RUSTED FROM THE RAIN **“Before we went into the studio to record our third album, we had most of the songs finished. But out of nowhere, I came up with the chorus for this song and it all came together in a matter of days. That rarely happens! It came together really fast and ended up being one of the biggest singles off that record. Rusted From The Rain was something we’d never really done before – a slow tempo rock song which was big, loud and bluesy. I’ve written some of my best stuff when I’m not thinking about it. When you actually sit down and think, ‘I’m going to write a song today’, it doesn’t work as well.”

**VIKING DEATH MARCH **“The title of this song came from our old tour manager. I was playing around with the main riff at soundcheck and he walked past and said, ‘That sounds like a damn Viking death march!’ So we used that as a temporary title, but then that seemed to fit in with everything going on in the world at the time, like the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. It became a rallying song about taking back what should be yours.”

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SURPRISE SURPRISE “This song started with the main chorus guitar riff and I built the song around that. We were enjoying playing it in our rehearsal space and thought it would be a great time to write an almost satirical, humour-based, snotty punk rock song. It’s a fun song.”

**STAND UP AND RUN **“This is another love song. When I wrote this, I was literally just watching TV and playing guitar like I normally do. When you’re not thinking about what you’re doing, sometimes you’ll just play a chord and you’re like ‘Wait a second!’ Those two opening chords I wrote while watching TV and I based the song around that. I always make sure I record my ideas, because when you’re drifting in and out of conscious thought, you forget about it right away.”

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KINGDOM OF ZOD “When we were putting this album together, we decided to put two new songs on it – this one was one of the first ones we had sitting around. Its working title was Kingdom Of Zod, so we just used it as the title, even though there’s no mention of it in the song. It’s written about someone in power and politics; Zod was the evil villain character in the Superman series. We thought it was a fitting title, because the song ended up having a lot to do with our mayor of Toronto at the time, Rob Ford. In the international press, he became a phenomenon, but in Toronto, he was more of a bumbling idiot.”

**CHASING THE SUN **“I was playing guitar right after we’d lost someone who was really, really close to the band. I don’t think I was ever intending to have this song on a record because it was so different, but we decided to put it on this album because we were still in mourning for our really good friend. We worked with Howard Benson on it and that was such a great experience because he brought to the table a whole bunch of ideas we’d never really done, like the orchestration stuff in the background. I think it ended up turning into a beautiful song.”

Hits will be released on February 23 through Atlantic Records.