Billy Klippert can't keep his perma-grin in check. It could be that his manager has just announced Billy's self-titled debut has bumped the Dave Mathews Band from 36th spot on Canada's top 100 albums chart. It could also be the lingering buzz of local legend Ron Sexsmith's double take after recognising the former Canadian Idol star at a downtown Toronto eatery. Sexsmith even looped back to shake Billy's 22-year-old hand before walking away with a copy of the new disc.
Yep, life is sweet. In one short week, Billy Klippert's debut has climbed 40 spots over established favourites Nelly Furtado, Nickelback and Sarah McLaughlin. And the good stuff just keeps on coming as I sit down to talk to Billy while he waits on an order of chicken fried steak, raising a glass in honour of Ralph Klein and a debt-free Alberta. Billy may be hanging in Toronto but he's still a Calgary boy through and through.
"I love my new life" he calls out after hearing the news about his album. "That's what my label likes about me. I'm moving up."
Billy's manager Bob Lutella (Edwin, I Mother Earth, The Mud Men) is clearly a big fan of his talent but Lutella admits he was skeptical about managing a Canadian Idol: "they have no credibility in the industry." Idol doubts soon took a backseat when Lutella heard Billy perform an acoustic set and got the "goosebumps." "He has this deep, gut-wrenching voice and he's got an edge to him that most Idols don't. I think Canada needs a guy like Billy. We don't have a great solo male rock star anymore and I think Billy could be it."
Initially, credibility was an issue for Billy too. He's been writing, singing and recording rock music for years, most notably with his heavy rocking hometown band, Kovered In Lies (KIL for short). Influenced by the rough and ready Seattle sound, Billy is also an accomplished guitar, bass and piano player with a talent for performing live – a skill he cultivated busking his way around Australia a few years ago. Auditioning for a television 'karaoke' pop show was the last thing on his mind. But his sister, Heather, thought Idol was just what her brother needed and, unsolicited, went and stood in the audition line, finally telephoning Billy at five in the morning to guilt him into taking over the spot.
Billy wasn't prepared for the aftershock.
"I've never sung anything but hard alternative rock my entire life. I couldn't believe it when I'd make it through a round. I thought – are they crazy? But really it's the fans that gave me the credibility to keep it up. Thanks to the show I got the exposure – I owe a lot to the show. But I'm glad I didn't get crowned the ultimate pop star because this way people can see what I'm really all about. People are surprised when they see me sit down with a guitar and play a whole show by myself without any recorded tracks." says Billy.
Lutella agrees. "The Idol thing has been good for his career but, as his manager, I needed him to have fans beyond the show and that's happening fast because he's a serious artist. I'm glad he didn't win because I can handle his career better."
But what about that fact that Billy's first hit single is the cover tune that made him famous on TV and he barely plays an instrument on the entire album? "The first song to choose from was a group song and the second was Levon. That's the only reason I chose it. But I've always written and engineered music so making it sound original is just something I know how to do. I know my range and I picked a song that allowed me to go somewhere." That 'somewhere' is a video sittin' pretty at the top of the MuchMoreMusic's top 10. "And I had to actually teach the musicians how to play my songs on the album. I wanted to play but I was only allowed a certain amount of money so anything above what I did would have been unpaid - but the biggest reason is that the album was recorded and cut in a month. I just didn't have the time to do it all."
Creative control is an essential part of Billy's rising career. "It would have been impossible to negotiate a contract that didn't give me creative control. As much as I've had to give up some freedom, there was no way I was gonna do what the label simply told me to. I've always written and played my own music and I wouldn't be happy any other way because I remember how I felt when I wrote the stuff and that improves the live performance 100%."
While the album doesn't rock nearly as hard as Billy is capable of – he's certainly proud of it. "It was definitely a chance to explore different styles," he says with more than a twinkle of sarcasm. "I think it stays true to my rock roots but I've also written love songs in the past. I understand what it's like to be depressed and happy and in love and confused and frustrated - I've always written music that denotes how I feel that day. It's all brand new material but people will be able to tell when they see me live that I'm emotionally involved in these songs."
The next album, he says, will "take a few more chances." For his second release, Billy plans to play and to include "more rock."
In the meantime, Billy is fast discovering the perks of going solo.
"I'm not dividing the money between five guys! I almost bought a Corvette the other day. I didn't, but the cool thing was that, financially, I could have."
For now, Billy is concentrating on promoting his new material and settling in to the apartment he and girlfriend Lindsay (refer tracks five and eleven) are renting around the corner from Billy's record label, Orange.
In the fall, a new single is scheduled for release to coincide with a tour of the east and west coasts. To help Billy decide what that song should be, fans can send their suggestions to email@example.com.
*Exclusive Billy Klippert Live Video
Watch Soul Shine's exclusive video of Billy Klippert as he performs for a TV shoot on Queen St. W. in Toronto. (requires RealPlayer
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