When Alexisonfire started playing shows together again after a four-year break, fans had a glimmer of hope new music could be on the way. Patience paid off, and in 2019, the post-hardcore/screamo band released a single, Familiar Drugs, their first new music in close to a decade.
Alexisonfire w/ the Distillers
● Jan. 20, 7 p.m.
● Bell MTS Place
● Tickets $74-$108 at Ticketmaster
Two more singles, Complicit and Season of the Flood, have since followed, and the five-piece is kicking off a quick five-date Canadian tour in Winnipeg Monday night, their only scheduled dates so far in 2020.
"Our schedules all align at different times during the year, so there’s certain windows of opportunity. I like to think of it like an eclipse or something like that — everything has to line up in order for it to work, so that would explain why we’re in Winnipeg in January," says vocalist George Pettit with a laugh.
The band initially split in 2011, with Pettit, at the time, citing guitarist and vocalist Dallas Green’s desire to focus solely on his successful City & Colour project as the reason for the breakup. Their fifth album was cancelled and everyone fully went their separate ways.
"There was definitely a break where we weren’t around one another, or we took off and did our own things, and I think we’re still kind of there. In some ways, we’re getting better at kind of being close but there was probably a good couple years where we went our own way. And it wasn’t for any real animosity we didn’t see each other, we were just doing our own things. I’ve got a house and a family and a wife and another career, and everybody was chasing their own other career," says Pettit, 37, who, in addition to working on other musical projects, is a firefighter in Ontario.
"You spend 12 years in a band kind of straight out of high school, when that band ends and you’re forced to face the reality that you’re not going to be able to endlessly tour, that’s a really uncomfortable place for a lot of people to be, and I think we all in our own way struggled to get our feet back under us because we were very institutionalized by playing music all the time."
After Alexisonfire reunited for a tour in 2015, the band continued to entertain show offers, playing single shows or small tours for several years. As the performances became more frequent, the itch to start writing together came up again. But, as Pettit explains it, it was less about satisfying a creative need and more about wanting to give something back to the fans.
"I think we were all in some form or another feeling uncomfortable about the idea of just going out and playing the greatest hits, and we’re all still music enthusiasts and still collecting records and going to concerts, and you’re just like, ‘Well we can contribute still.’ And if we’re going to keep this within the realm of good taste, we should give the people something more than nothing," says Pettit.
"So we had sound checks and different opportunities to get together and hash some stuff out and the ideas started to come and the ideas are still coming. It’s still kind of in the back of our minds that we can do whatever we want. It has been tough, scheduling-wise, though; I wouldn’t hold your breath for a record but there’s always the possibility of us getting together and booking a studio and ripping a few songs out."
And, as they say, with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes stronger music, apparently; Pettit has made the bold claim that Alexisonfire is better than it’s ever been, both on stage and in the studio, and credits the increased maturity of he and his bandmates as a key component to creating new tracks that pay tribute to the band’s roots but continue to evolve with them as artists.
"I think it’s different now; when we were younger and in the thick of the success of Alexisonfire, I think we were just like, ‘Yeah, everything we do is gold! Everything is great!’ And now we’re a bit older and it’s like, ‘Everything is s—t!’ We’re just a little bit more into self-editing and we’re more conscious of what’s coming out and I think that was difficult on the songs. We started writing them and we felt a couple were good but struggled to find proper choruses for other songs," says Pettit.
"It was a lot more self-editing and a lot more scrutinizing, which is good but can also be stressful. In the end I think it makes for a better product, but when I was young I’d be willing to say the first idea is the best idea, put it out. And now I’m like, ‘The first idea is dog s—t. Let’s sit on it for three weeks and think about it and change it.’"
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.