“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” is a cliché that can often apply to punk bands, given the combustible nature of their music, from the personalities to the raw emotions poured out on stage. Not many successful Canadian bands can compare to Alexisonfire regarding intensity and success. They burned brightly from their launch in 2001, with all four albums certified platinum in the ensuing decade. The band split up in 2011, with members focusing on other projects.
But what began as one-off shows in 2017 eventually became a full-fledged reunion. They released a few standalone singles in 2019 and their long-awaited new album Otherness this year, 13 years after Old Crows/Young Cardinals in 2009.
We caught up with vocalist George Pettit recently to talk all things Alexisonfire.
Apt613: After the breakup/hiatus in 2011, we suddenly get new tracks in 2019, and you guys tour again more frequently, including at Bluesfest in 2019 and things seemed to be going well. Then all of a sudden, the world shuts down. As a band, did you guys decide at that point to write an album?
George Pettit: In fact, I don’t think that at that point, we really knew what we were doing. We recorded those three songs, and we never really had the conversation as to what are our ambitions for the band. When the pandemic came, we were already off doing our own things. So, it wasn’t like the pandemic took our ability to be Alexisonfire. We finished our tour, and then we all went our own separate ways for a little bit.
It wasn’t until about a year into the pandemic that we decided we should get together. Wade (MacNeil) called around and was like, “Hey, let’s jam, let’s hang out, order a pizza and sit around and rip on one another and have fun, and see what happens.”
It wasn’t until we had about eight songs written that we even broached the idea of it being an album. And then, albums are a bit of an “old-timey” thing now, and a lot of people don’t do that. They just make singles and put stuff out to support a tour.
So there was that conversation, too: is this an album? Or are we just going to release singles? But then it felt like an album. We went up to Dallas’s cottage and sat around a table for about three hours and discussed the whole trajectory of the band. We had the big conversation that I think we’d been dancing around for years, and then what we came away from that with was that we were making an album and the band is back in some regard.
You guys have so many side projects it’s hard to keep track. So when you guys got back to writing, how was it having all those different influences together, cause you all have somewhat grown on your own terms, now coming back into writing as Alexisonfire. Was it like getting back on a bicycle and everything feels the same, or was it different because you’ve done different things since then?
Yes, to both. There are certain elements of us all getting into a room. There’s something that happens when we perform together, or we get in a room and play together. There’s some sort of chemistry there. Now that being said, when we get into the writing space, there are no real pressures. There are no real limitations. We’re just deciding what we want to do and exploring all options. Where in the past, I think we’ve been pretty heavy self-editors, I think we allowed ourselves longer of a leash when it came to creative flourishes. So it was very much the same in that the jam hasn’t changed. It’s the same. We show up at the practice space, and everybody spends about an hour catching up with each other on all the ridiculous things that have been going on in one another’s lives. We laugh at one another and then get down to business and start to create.
But it’s also very different. Now we’ve all kind of changed, our musical tastes have evolved, as they should, if you’re a true fan of music, you don’t rest on your laurels, you explore a lot of different things. With 13 years since Old Crows/Young Cardinals came out, that’s 13 years of music consumption, and art and film and all that sort of jazz.
You’ve all grown up at this point, so when you’re writing now, with your different perspectives of where you are in life and the state of the world, how did that play into it? It’s not teen angst anymore, but there’s enough angst to go around at this point.
The idea of Otherness as a record title and that song, “Sweet Dreams of Otherness,” was very much an acceptance of the fact that yes, we are older. I am going to be 40 this year. And I recognize that there are certain elements of aging out within aggressive music, and you wrestle with those ideas. But deep down inside me, there is still something very, very different and strange and awkward. That perspective was still present. It was accepting it and being like, “We are who we have always been, even now in our adult lives, where we are renewing the stickers on our license plate.” There’s something a little bit different and maybe just an uncomfortableness with modern, mundane things that are being presented to us in culture and our politics. We’re different sorts of people, and Alexisonfire attracts that type of people who all have that same sort of sensation. They come out to our shows because they have that feeling. And when they saw us play or heard our music for the first time, that’s what resonated with them, this sense of “This is different from what’s on the radio or TV.” And I feel different in that.
Alexisonfire will return to the Bluesfest Main Stage Wednesday, July 13, at 9:30pm.