Alexisonfire on Otherness: “There’s a new sense of confidence with this band”
Alexisonfire have always played to the beat of their own drum. The Canadian five-piece initially rose to prominence during the early 2000s post-hardcore era, but in a time where oversaturation was inevitable, Alexisonfire always managed to be as left field as possible. The group’s signature sound is largely based around three distinct voices, which include guitarist/vocalists Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil, along with their venomous yet charming frontman George Pettit, plus the pummeling rhythm section of bassist Chris Steele and drummer Jordan Hastings. The result is a sound that allows for chaotic yet harmonic vocal deliveries that tell the stories of their own unique experiences, set to the soundtrack of fuzzed-out rock.
With a pandemic unfolding before them, Alexisonfire found themselves in a situation where they not only had the time to finally work on their long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Young Cardinals but also had the opportunity to become even closer as friends. It was a momentous occasion considering that at one point, no one was sure if the world would ever receive another record from the band, as they went on hiatus in 2010, only to play a select string of reunion shows and release a few one-off singles over the course of the last decade.
Thankfully, the group returned to their roots in the early stages of the pandemic and began crafting a record the same way they would have over 20 years ago: playing loud guitars in a room, trading off their wildest ideas and hanging out as friends. From there, the band reached a creative renaissance and quickly put the record together, as all five members contributed their own songs, lyrics and performances to create a project that not only reflects their diverse styles but also finds common ground at every turn with how in sync they’ve become.
There’s a sense of urgency on Otherness that is embodied on the album’s high-intensity songs, but also in the manner in which it was recorded. The LP was largely tracked live, with all five members playing in unison to create an organic sound that allows the listener to feel like they are in the room with the band.
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Lyrically, the record tackles everything that has happened in the band’s life over the last 13 years as well as outward takes on the global political landscape. Standout lyrical moments include “Survivor’s Guilt,” which discusses Pettit’s real-life day job as a fireman and the traumatic events he has witnessed that have left him with feelings of both guilt and desensitization. Perhaps the most triumphant song on the record is lead single “Sweet Dreams Of Otherness,” which captures the excitement of the band’s return but also shines a light on their own collective otherness, or unique nature for that matter.
At its core, Otherness is a celebration of the band’s mission to be different from the rest. With that celebration comes a newfound sense of confidence and agreement within the band that further cements their multidecade friendship and assures that the world will continue to receive new material from Alexisonfire for years to come.
Otherness is the band’s first record in 13 years. How does it feel to be reemerging so triumphantly?
GEORGE PETTIT: It does feel quite glorious. We spent a year with this record just secretly sitting there, and we all knew it existed. We felt it was good, but you really don’t know until it’s out when people start responding to it. Now that certain journalists have heard the record, the response has been overwhelmingly good, and it confirms what we thought about the record. There’s a new sense of confidence with this band.
DALLAS GREEN: I went through the exact same process with the record. When we first started jamming in September of 2020 to the week after finishing recording in February 2021, it was just a whirlwind of creative explosion. We all knew that we made the best record that we’ve ever been a part of. We had ideas of releasing it late last year, but there were some delays, and we were unsure. We made the record in a week, and to hear people talk about it, it really solidifies that we made a great record. What’s even more beautiful about this record is that was similar to how it was making our first record. We weren’t coming off the road trying to make a record that was part of a record deal. Instead, [it] was just for us first.
PETTIT: This record was made because we could and wanted to, and I think it comes across in the music. There was this newfound camaraderie within the band, and it was all centered around an agreement. Dallas can probably speak more about what the agreement is.
GREEN: Before we went in to record, I was listening to a lot of jazz and saw this video of a bass player discussing what the “pocket” is within free jazz and where every musician is going to go. I feel like with our band, we find that pocket and find that agreement onstage where we move as one. I brought that up and thought, “Why don’t we make the record that way?”
Speaking of the camaraderie within the band, it’s remarkable that you have kept largely the same lineup for nearly 20 years. Can you expand more on the friendship dynamic between the band and why it works so well?
PETTIT: Alexisonfire is fully in love, let me tell you that. [Laughs.] We have been through everything with each other, and now there is an openness that may not have been there back in the day. We are very in-tune with each other. Maybe it’s a maturity thing, and that made us realize how special this all is.
GREEN: When we do get in a room together, we immediately feel like we’re back in the van, telling stupid jokes and trying to make each other laugh. I said this the other day when we set up for practice: It takes about an hour-and-a-half to start playing because we always want to catch up and have stories to tell. That dynamic has always existed. I think it is so unbelievable that this weird thing that we started when we were kids is still there for us.
You have been open about Otherness being the direct antithesis to normalcy. How did you bring that to life with this record?
GREEN: I have always been obsessed with the idea of songcraft and writing, and I think we got better at that aspect with this record. When we started writing the record, we immediately noticed that there was a heightened level of songcraft unlocked within each other. We knew we could do anything still, and make a record that sounds like us, but still take it to another level. In the past, if we made a song that didn’t have screaming parts, we might not have done it, and we felt like if we didn’t have George scream on a song, it would be us leaving him out.
With the new songs, it came to me that the way that all three of us are singing made me want to do three-part harmonies. There’s a pretty song on the record called “Sans Soleil,” and the original demo was harsher than the final version. In the studio, we decided to make it as pretty as possible.
PETTIT: We found a way to flex the fact that we have three singers in this band. In the past, there was always a separation of the vocal parts, but this record is very collaborative. As far as lyrics, it’s also been a far more collaborative effort. When we were young, the first time we stepped into the studio, they isolated everyone to do their parts, but with this record, we recorded the entire thing live off the floor. The bed tracks, guitar, bass and drums are all done at the same time, and when you’re hearing those songs, that’s the sound of us all playing in a room with each other.
Obviously, with three vocalists in the band, where did you all draw from in terms of lyrics and overall themes with the record?
GREEN: George spearheaded a lot of songs on the record like “Committed To The Con” and “Survivor’s Guilt,” which were all very grand ideas. There are also deeply personal songs that our bassist Steele wrote along with Wade. The song “Sweet Dreams Of Otherness” was the last song we put together for the record, and I wrote it in response to how beautiful the process of making this record was. I’ve always felt like Alexisonfire has had a sense of “otherness,” so I wrote a song about us and that feeling where we can embrace that. That became the overarching theme. George asked if we should just call the record Otherness and immediately everyone knew that was it. “World Stops Turning” started out as a love song, but I realized later that I was actually writing a love song to the band.
PETTIT: A lot of times if there is a vision or overarching theme for a record, they do not become present until it is done. When you start out a song with a concept or idea and write a song from that concept or idea, the song can turn to dogshit pretty quickly, so I’m always very conscious of that. When Wade came to me saying that we need to write a political song, which became “Committed To The Con,” I was very cautious of sacrificing melody or cadence for the purpose of getting words into the song or getting the point across.
With a song like “Survivor’s Guilt,” it’s centered around my job outside of the band in the emergency services. In that job, I am subject to certain horrors and have to process nasty things from time to time, and sometimes you don’t feel anything when you see those things, so I felt like I had to name the song after that. Sometimes your own survival and health are centered around your ability to detach. Conceptually, a song can become esoteric very quickly that can be interpreted in completely different ways as well.
What music were you listening to while writing this record?
GREEN: It all comes back to the agreement. There are lots of bands that we all collectively agree on, but there are also artists that we might make fun of each other for listening to. Alexisonfire is our way of embodying all of our distinct influences and nod our heads in agreement with how the songs should sound. I was listening to a lot of jazz, and there are not jazzy moments on the record, but it was seeping into my approach to songwriting. When Wade handed me the vocals for “Sans Soleil,” I knew I had to make it as Sade as possible.
PETTIT: I think our musical influences are not always obvious and are instead more of a textural thing. Wade and I were listening to a lot of ambient rock music and soundscape stuff. I listened to the record What’s Tonight To Eternity by Cindy Lee almost every night on the way home from the studio. I think we’re just moved by good art and good culture.
Is it safe to assume that Alexisonfire are back in full force for good? Can we expect more new material in the future?
PETTIT: I want to make another record next week. [Laughs.] The same creative juices when we made Otherness still exist, and when we find ourselves settled again, a new record could happen in rapid succession. As long as we continue to make records in the fashion of creating for the sake of creating, it will allow us to do it for as long as we see fit. I would be remiss if I didn’t want to make the most satisfying record of my life again.
GREEN: It took us a long time to find ourselves in this place, along with a pandemic that allowed us to find this newfound agreement. When we made this record, there was part of us that realized that making this record will allow us to be this band for as long as we want. To a degree, we felt a bit tied to an era or pigeonholed into something we didn’t know how to get out of, but with this record, we could be whoever we wanted to be. No matter how long we go without seeing each other or playing shows, we get in a room, and it just happens. After 20 years of experiencing that with these dudes, I know that it is just this thing that exists. When we finished recording, I kept writing.
This interview appeared in issue #407.