Try Honesty is 10 Years Old
How it May Have Helped Change Canada’s Radio Sound
By Aaron Binder
Too many years of bland and conventional rock had turned North America into the home of incontinent music, streams of shit everywhere and none of it hitting the bowl of enjoyability. Clones of clones of bands abounded, Schwarzenegger’s 6th Day had become truth in the music industry, the only difference is that the maniacal and crazed bad guy in the real world were the scared and thrashing record labels. Napster was a huge threat to the way things were but instead of responding with quality, labels shot back with more formulas than a college level physics course. When any sane leader would have been championing quality over quantity, many radio stations (themselves in the throes of consolidation and blandification) were pressured into promoting artists whose names didn’t matter any more than their music.
The early 00’s were littered with shotgun blasts of labels trying to promote their latest reaction band, the type of group they wanted you to like because a bunch of keen little fucker indie bands were starting to eat their market share. More and more people flocked to the internet where, where they could find Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (and the much better Little by Little from Harvey Danger) for free. In retrospect, Wilco offering the album for free could be considered the turning point where labels saw the knockout punch of many coming at them, unable to move. Years later stories of subterfuge, bribes, collusion and so many other great stories would come out – all from the mouths of formerly powerful men and women that had been diminished to shaking their fists and cursing those keen little indie fuckers, still not realizing the money wave they missed.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter who signs to what though, they’re going to be huge regardless. Much like Wilco’s foray into new music distribution styles, Billy Talent is the band that busted through the idea that Canadian radio must be formulaic and American driven outside of the necessary B level Canadian content. They offered a sound that had more substance than nasally, wannabe tough guy vocals combined with fourth-rate Nixons guitar riffs and during that era they helped turn what otherwise may have been a boring few years into half a decade of great underground bands being heard.
You can’t hold down great music forever, eventually it finds a way through and for Billy Talent that would be a co-signed deal between Atlantic and Warner Music – the former a dabbler in signing Canadian musicians, the latter a direct arm to the money and distribution required to rocket proven Canadian stars to the rest of the world. This co-signing left the band in a perfect situation where they had financial support and, thanks to almost a decade as a band, none of the creative intervention that often comes with being a new major label signee.
This move by Atlantic and Warner represented a potential shift in whose sound would define the next decade in a new millennium of mainstream rock music.
Rumblings began to surface in the music industry that a huge local band had just been signed to a sweet deal and while the speculation was often correct, people outside of the industry weren’t yet in the know. The average fan only had the knowledge of teasing radio DJ’s to go on. Until the first single dropped, few outside of the Greater Toronto Area had heard of Billy Talent but that would change as soon as Try Honesty breached the walls at 102.1 The Edge and shortly afterward, the rest of Canada’s rock stations.
Try Honesty was Billy Talent’s way of telling the world they had chops and not just in the form of Ian D’Sa’s rambunctious hair. If Creed and Korn still had any stock in remaining relevant, it soon dove out of the market as more Canadian acts began to show their clout and quality aside from the handful of mainstays in Sam Roberts, Sloan, BNL, Tea Party and Tragically Hip.
While Sum 41 may not have been everyone’s bag, they combined with Billy Talent to act as a gateway for many other bands that were on the cusp of mainstream radio play – Gob, Alexisonfire, Treble Charger, The Black Maria – a new, more Canadian-centric, era would be ushered in. Without Billy Talent’s decade of hard work and instant mainstream success, this probably wouldn’t have been the case or we would have been subject to more Sum 41 style pop-punk than anyone ever needs.
The coup on Canadian rock radio stations reached full swing by late 2004, ensuring that those fourth-rate Nixons style riffs were relegated to second-tier status and beyond. Around that time, Canadian content regulations were under fire from foreign interests as being too protectionist. While it is perhaps a stretch, it is worth considering that we may have a couple rowdy Toronto-area bands to thank for ensuring that the next wave of Canadian artists weren’t forsaken by the government.
10 years on and we’re now, in Toronto, celebrating the launch of Indie88, the first real independent station in the area focusing on emerging artists since The Edge decided to drop that type of programming in lieu of shitty Nixon’s clone rock just a few short years after Billy Talent’s huge success. The other consideration to take is that up until 10 years ago Canadian Content was very much a dirty phrase, often placed in programming schedules out of necessity instead of pride.
It’s 10 years later and within that span of time, Canadian Content has become one of the easiest requirements any rock station can meet thanks to our celebrated music culture that has been fostered across our diverse and talented country.