Ethan Miller, Getty Images At the end of Tuesday nights episode of 'The Voice,'…
- Posted on Jun 25th 2009 10:00AM by Joshua Ostroff
"In our band, we have a guy who screams and a guy who sings," Dallas Green tells Spinner. Green happens to be that "guy who sings" in Alexisonfire, Canada's heaviest "mainstream" rock band, which has just released one of 2009's most anticipated albums, 'Old Crows / Young Cardinals.'
"If you had told us that we would have made three records and had all that success, none of us would have believed you," Green marvels from a booth at Toronto's Gladstone Hotel. "So I don't think there's really any pressure for us. The fact that we've gotten where we have already is crazy."
Green has a point. In the past week alone, his band headlined the radio-sponsored rock festival Edgefest, performed at the tween-tastic MuchMusic Video Awards and is hitting the road for two months with the Vans Warped Tour. The stratospheric success of Alexisonfire remains something of a mystery, unlike, say, that of Green's City & Colour side-project, which boasts a far friendlier folk-rock sound.
"There are people who are going to hear Alexis and hate it and not give it a chance because the abrasive nature of it," he admits. "That's fine. Not everybody likes really heavy music. But if City & Colour [helps] people give Alexis a chance, then that's awesome. I think we all understand acoustic music is more accessible than a guy screaming his face off with super-heavy guitars."
Green, screamer George Pettit, guitarist/singer Wade McNeil and bassist Chris Steele formed Alexisonfire in 2001 (second drummer Jordan Hastings joined later) while living in suburban St. Catherines, a sleepy border town near Niagara Falls. Though they were all active in the local music scene, Green says their upbringing didn't have that much impact on the band itself.
"We didn't grow up in big cities, but for the last eight years we've spent our lives touring them. Chris and Wade were 17 when we started touring, so I guess they did grow up in big cities, but in London, England and New York City and California, places like that. While I spent my late teenage years getting drunk with my friends at keg parties, Steele and Wade spent their teenage years sleeping on floors at people's houses in San Antonio [or] running out of gas and sleeping on the side of the highway in the desert in Arizona. I think that has turned us into who we are today, more than growing up in St. Catherines."
Though they obviously hoped to move beyond playing local union halls, back then screamo and post-hardcore were niche genres with next to no chance of radio or video success. "But who cares about that stuff anyway," Pettit recalled thinking in his self-penned band bio. "We were drunk on youth and invincible in our own minds."
Their demo was enough to get the band out on tour while their self-titled 2002 debut featured their breakthrough single 'Pulmonary Archery.' The video quickly became a grassroots favorite, with fans voting the video to number one on MuchMusic and turning Alexisonfire into a staple of the pop-centric music station.
"We were one of the first of those bands that got a chance," Green recalls. "I think it was just the right place, right time. There were a few others but I guess nobody had really noticed them yet. Then we made that video and that was it. We just kept going."
Suddenly, CanRock was a whole lot heavier than the commercial sounds of Nickelback and Our Lady Peace. Alexisonfire has enjoyed inexorable growth ever since, jumping in popularity with 2004's gold-selling 'Watch Out' and 2006's platinum 'Crisis,' which debuted at No. 1 on the Canadian charts. Meanwhile, City & Colour has become a huge concert draw and award magnet, taking home the best alternative album Juno in 2007 and earning Green the songwriter of the year title at this year's awards.
Alexisonfire's ever-increasing popularity risks being a double-edged sword and with 'Old Crows/Young Cardinals,' the band stands to see yet another surge. The new record is also their most accessible yet, recorded live off the floor with a more mature, melodic sound and wider-ranging lyrics. They warn fans, "We are not the kids we used to be. Stop wishing for yesterday." Perhaps most notably, Pettit's trademark scream has settled into a deeper growl.
"I think the vocals are what make the record sound like a new direction. The songs are as heavy as ever -- a couple of them, I think, are some of the heaviest we've ever written," says Green. But, he acknowledges, "We've sort of breached that mainstream line where it's not cool to like us anymore. Although I'm sure there's some people that still listen to us but won't say they like us anymore because we have videos on MuchMusic."
"But I like being the sore thumb," he grins. "We're too heavy to play with pop indie bands, we're too sissy to play with metal bands and we're not punk enough to play with punk bands. We're just our own thing."