Drunks, Lovers, Singers and Saints
"If you shoot ten music videos, someone's liable to die." George Pettit, the harsh-voiced counterpoint in Alexisonfire's three-vocalist assault, is sipping a beer in the cosy back room of his new Hamilton home. He is genially recalling the dead body that surfaced while his band was shooting the video for "Young Cardinals," the first single from their new album Old Crows / Young Cardinals. Filmed onboard the historic Maid of Mist in Niagara Falls, production was briefly halted when a "big bloated corpse" surfaced and had to be towed to shore by an unlucky ferry employee. "It was gnarly," says Pettit, succinctly.
Alexisonfire are one of the most unlikely arena rock draws Canada has ever produced. Formed in St. Catharines, Ontario in 2001, the band's early mix of Level Plane-style screamo and Southern Ontario melodic edge led them to break huge while half the band was still in high school; today, they boast two platinum records and eight years of endless touring that has taken them to every corner of the globe. Their fourth full-length is the result of a self-destructive and divisive cycle of touring and the band's subsequent re-evaluation of what Alexisonfire should be. Eights years in, Alexisonfire are newly dedicated to their craft and to each other, and Old Crows / Young Cardinals is the proof.
In 2006, Alexisonfire were one of the most popular bands in Canada. Crisis, their third full-length, debuted at number one on Canadian album charts, fuelled by the success of the single "This Could Be Anywhere In The World." Their meteoric rise to mainstream fame started with the 2002 success of the video for "Pulmonary Archery" from their self-titled debut (now certified gold), and continued with its follow-up, 2004's Watch Out! Without watering down their early mix of metal, hardcore, and screamo, the band had found themselves in the national media spotlight, and with the release of Crisis, they solidified their status both as a consistently inventive heavy band and, more surprisingly, a guaranteed seller in a new music climate that rarely creates platinum-selling rock stars.
An intense touring cycle followed, taking the band to Europe, Asia, and Australia, all across Canada and through the States on the Warped Tour. In Pettit's words, the members of Alexisonfire were "taken from adolescence into the van instead of college." Initially exciting, the constant touring eventually started to wear on the band.
"[That] was the tour that went on for a really, really long time. Certain things get strained and pushed," says Wade MacNeil, holed up in the living room of his Parkdale home. "I think a lot of things just caught up with us. There are those stupid rock'n'roll clichés that start happening when you're drinking too much and not taking care of yourself. The attitude we've had for a while is just, 'We're young! We're a band!' And we got hit over the head with it." Initial staggering success had led the band directly into the "another day, drinks, show, drinks, pass out, repeat" lifestyle.
"Especially when you're on Warped Tour, there's a lot of idle time," Pettit says. "And that time gets filled up with barbarism. Alexis was in its drinking, dark period for a while. There was a lot of you being at the bar and waking up in your bunk." As Alexis's backstage life was dissolving, guitarist and vocalist Dallas Green was spending more and more time in the back of bus writing songs for his solo project, the folk-infused City and Colour.
The recognizable crooning portion of Alexis' distinct three-point vocal style, Green's solo work had started with burned CD-Rs given out at Alexis shows, but was gradually occupying more of the guitarist's time. As Alexis's touring wore on, differing lifestyles inflamed new tensions between the once-close friends. "That's when Dallas wrote all his solo work. While we were out being assholes," says Pettit. "We lost touch with each other."
"I think I was just so over being in a heavy band," says Green, on the phone from his Toronto home the night before leaving with Alexis for a European tour. "I remember being in the back of the tour bus on... I don't even remember what tour it was, but I fucking hated it. And it wasn't the band - it was the environment." When the subject of drinking is brought up, Green, sounding surprised, continues. "I wasn't going to say it, but that was one of the things that - I don't drink. It got to the point where I was saying, 'There is going to be a point where I don't want to be around this. It's not that I think I'm better than you, it's just not my thing and it's getting out of control. I'm going to go over here and clear my head, you guys go over there and clear your head, and we'll reconvene at a later date and see if we still need to be in this band.'"
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