Alexisonfire was at the height of their career when they announced their sudden breakup on Valentine’s Day 2011. At that point, the post-hardcore quintet from St. Catherines, Ontario had been together for 10 years. Forming in their teens, the band had grown into adulthood together, spending their formative years writing, recording, and touring on the road. Then it all came to a halt.
“It was a necessary trip,” remembers vocalist George Pettit over the phone from Hamilton, Ontario. “It was terrifying at first. We were all little kids when the band started, I was, like, 19 years old.”
When they released their self-titled debut in 2002, the band described their sound as “two Catholic high school girls in mid-knife-fight” a concept memorialized on the record’s cover— an eclectic balance of haunting beauty and utter chaos.
Pettit’s agonizing screech complemented by the melancholic and soulful voice of guitarist and co-frontman, Dallas Green, who gave the band a unique edge. The band became a mainstream sensation after the release of their sophomore album, Watch Out!, which was spearheaded by their explosively ethereal breakout single “Accidents.”
“We got kind of institutionalized by playing shows and just touring constantly,” Pettit says. “Being in this band is how we identified ourselves. So when you lose that, you lose your identity. I think everybody struggled with that.”
After disbanding, the group scattered into different directions: Pettit started the band, Dead Tired, a post-hardcore outfit that is sonically dirtier than Alexisonfire; bassist Chris Steele became a barber; Jordan Hastings filled in on drums for Billy Talent and joined the gritty, garage-rock outfit, Say Yes; guitarist Wade MacNeil became the frontman of English hardcore punk band, Gallows, and started the Black Lungs; and Dallas Green shifted focus onto his solo project, City and Colour.
“I think there was probably a year where we didn’t communicate too much. We all kind of went our separate ways and found other passions away from Alexisonfire. Musically and otherwise,” says Pettit.
In 2015, three years after completing their farewell tour, Alexisonfire returned for a show at Riot Fest in Toronto. The idea was sprung by Dallas Green, who was originally going to perform the festival with City and Colour. Green reached out to the rest of Alexisonfire via email to see if there was interest in making a surprise appearance for City and Colour’s encore, playing a few classic tunes. Pettit admits he was hesitant at first, but after chatting with the band, management, and others, Alexisonfire announced they would play a full set at the festival.
“I think after some time and convincing we decided we didn’t need to hold the breakup so preciously,” he says. “There was still desire out there to see us play. When [the band] started coming back again, I mean, it felt like I’d been away from it so long that I wasn’t sure if I could still do it, you know? When I was touring heavily back in the day, I was just numb to performance, it didn’t scare me. It was like muscle memory. Now, I don’t do it every day. There is a little bit of fear. The fear makes it easier to get to the place of performance. Like there’s more on the line now.”
Earlier this year, Alexisonfire wrote, recorded and released new music for the first time in nine years. “Familiar Drugs” is a raw, abrasive offering about that Pettit explains as, “coming to a point in your life when you recognize that you need to make a change, and being given the opportunity to make that change.” The second new release, “Complicit,” is an in-your-face and reflexive mosher about reality of white privilege: trying to be an ally, while reconciling what it means to reap its systemic benefits.
“I think we were outside the realm of good taste by not recording and putting something out,” Pettit explains. “I don’t think any of us really want the band to become a nostalgia act.” He continues: “I recognize there’s a certain degree of nostalgia with Alexisonfire. I think we all felt like we could still contribute and still make good music.”
Though Pettit denies the idea of Alexisonfire releasing a fifth full-length record, he claims that the band has some “secrets” hiding behind closed doors. He admits that the process of writing and recording has been revitalizing for the group.
“Get us in the room and we become who we’ve always been,” Pettit concludes. “It’s a lot of wisecracking. It didn’t take much for us to just kind of fall back into our old roles. Regardless of what happened, nobody’s really thinking about that. It felt very comfortable when we first started hanging out again. That really drove our creation and making music and playing again —the sensation of being around one another.”
“These guys are, for lack of a better term, like my brothers; they’re very much family. I really do feel like the years that I spent away from the band were very valuable. It’s a good feeling to know that this thing that maybe we thought was gone is back.”