Photo: Vanessa Heins/ Supplied

Alexisonfire: “We’ve Been Working On Some Of The Heaviest Stuff We’ve Ever Made”

Logic would dictate that we shouldn’t be discussing Alexisonfire in 2019. After all, this was the band that said goodbye with a run of final dates at the end of 2012, celebrating all they had achieved in the decade since the release of their debut album and moving on with their lives beyond the realms of universally-beloved melodic post-hardcore. The band members all continued with a variety of projects – including, but not limited to, Gallows, Billy Talent, Dead Tired and a little project by the name of City & Colour. In 2015, however, the St. Catharines natives made their return for a run of festival dates and declared themselves “officially back.”

The occasional show and a newfound status as weekend warriors seemed to suit both the band and fans, and so the relationship stayed for the next few years. That all changed, however, when AOF’s social media began to flicker to life once again and heralded more news to come. On February 15th, Alexisonfire began again – this time, with their first new song in nearly a decade, ‘Familiar Drugs’. Centred on a charging, downtuned riff, the song picks up exactly where the band left off – and when they sing of “pushing familiar drugs again,” it’s hard not to draw an analogy to the band’s trajectory itself.

With Alexisonfire back in business and now seemingly onto its third life, Music Feeds spoke with guitarist/vocalist Wade MacNeil about how he and his bandmates found themselves in the position of starting over, and how it will affect their other bands going forward.

Music Feeds: It’s been awhile since we’ve seen or heard from you, and it feels like the last few months have been making up for lost time. How does it feel to have both of your bands active again?

Wade MacNeil: It’s a great feeling. Basically, the offers for the Gallows shows came in, and the four of us got together and agreed that it would be great to play again. Coincidentally – as these things tend to happen – the run of Alexis shows fall just after the shows with Gallows. It went from flying over to England for a week to spending my entire summer on the road. What can I say? Here goes nothing. [laughs]

MF: Does your mindset as a performer change depending on which band you’re going with? As a part of Alexisonfire you’re obviously more of a side-man, whereas fronting Gallows is about as full-on a job as you could get.

WM: I suppose it does. The thing with Gallows is that it’s the only band I’ve ever been in where I’m not playing guitar and singing. If you go back and look at any band I’ve ever played with, that’s what I’ve always done. It’s a very natural thing for me. Being a frontman and not playing guitar in Gallows is what’s really best suited to it. The music is so intense, and we just want the live show to be a total assault – which is obviously hard to do if you’re locked in with your guitar. I have very different things to think about before I go into shows with each band. With a Gallows show, I look out at the stage and make calculations – what can I jump off? How far down is the barricade? Is there a barricade? That’s definitely not something I’m worrying about when Alexis plays – I’m about to get really sweaty, because we’re about to go out there and play for two hours.

MF: We’re now talking about Alexisonfire again – but the difference between last time and this one is the fact that we have new music to talk about.

WM: It’s crazy, right? [laughs]

MF: It’s definitely surreal. Was it ever in the back of your mind across the run of reunion shows that this would ever come to fruition?

WM: Absolutely not. There’s a reason we stopped in the first place – we felt as though we had said our piece, and that the door needed to be closed. We were very happy with the way that things ended. We felt lucky that we got to have a bit of time away and then play those final shows – it felt like we were handling it with a little bit of class, and we were all really happy about that. We felt good about the band, and we felt good about one another as friends. To come back after all of that was something that we took very, very seriously.

MF: What changed, then? What was the impetus?

WM: It’s kind of funny, really – a band can break up, but people will always see you as being in that band no matter what. From, like, the week that we did our final show, we were still fielding all of these offers to play shows again. It seemed like, at a certain point, the five of us just had to stop and question why we were saying no. We were all hanging out as it was, anyway – I’d go to hockey games with [bassist, Chris] Steele, or I’d be driving up to see Dal[las Green, guitar/vocals] at his place. Maybe we could just all hang out together and play some shows, too?

Once we started playing, the shows just kept getting better and better every time. It’s made us closer as friends, and it’s made the band ever stronger than before. When we finished our last European run in the summer of 2015, it kind of became clear to all of us that we had something more to give. If we’re gonna keep doing shows, we need to give this the care and respect we think it deserves. We were ready to start working – writing and releasing new music, and playing it well.

MF: Was there any hesitation or uncertainty when it came to making that decision? As a punk fan as well as a musician, you’ve no doubt seen plenty of bands in the genre make diminishing returns on albums or singles recorded and released during their reunions or returns from hiatus. One can assume that’s not what you wanted for Alexisonfire.

WM: Of course, absolutely not. Having said that, as much as I’m sure that was in the back of all of our minds, that’s just not the way that we write music. For me, I still try to write music the same way I did when I was starting out and didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. There’s this sound that you’re chasing in your head – something you’re trying to capture and figure out. ‘Familiar Drugs’ came together in a similar way that many other Alexis songs came together. We feel like it was a really natural process, and we’re really proud with how the song has ended up.

You have to believe in what you’re doing. You have to have faith that it will stand out. It has to reflect on what you are most capable of, and it has to be something you’re fuckin’ stoked on. That’s where you’ve got to be if you want to show something to other people. The headspace we were in when Alexis called it a day was not of that mindset – but now, all these years later, it’s changed back. We’re very excited about the future of Alexisonfire, and that’s not something any of us could have said even five years ago.

MF: This obviously all took place under cover of darkness – at what point did you start work on ‘Familiar Drugs’?

WM: Sometime in the last year. We’ve been rehearsing a lot, and we ended up with our own studio space that we’ve all been trying to take full advantage of lately. Writing new songs has become our top priority now.

MF: What message do you think you sent by making ‘Familiar Drugs’ the comeback single? What was it about this track that stood out to you?

WM: The core idea of the song is something that we’ve had kicking around for a very, very long time. I feel like we’ve been trying to write a song like this forever. I think what made this song so special now is the fact that it could have only been written now. It’s a direct result of all the other music that we’ve been making outside of the band. It’s a reflection on everything we’ve achieved and that we’ve learned upon returning. We play differently now – and we play stronger.

This is a song that we’ve tried to write in the past, but for whatever reason it just didn’t feel right. Listening to the way that it sounds now, I don’t think it’s something we could have written ten years ago. I feel like this has really opened up the potential for new territory as far as the band is concerned. There are so many ways where we could push it – and that in itself is really exciting. One of the most inspiring things about working on new stuff is that we can really shoot for a new direction. What I can say is that some of the new stuff we’ve been working on is some of the heaviest stuff we’ve ever made – which is both surprising and exciting, being at this stage in our career.

MF: Is this developing into something concrete? A new album or EP, perhaps?

WM: I’m not entirely sure where it’s at yet. We’ve got a lot of ideas flying about at the moment that we’re really excited to lay down. That said, we’re all adamant about one thing – if we are going to put something out, it’s gotta be the best stuff we’ve ever done. I can’t say if that’s gonna be a new 7-inch, or an EP, or even an LP yet. We’re ready to get at it, though.

MF: What about Gallows – have you found yourself back in the creative space with them, as well?

WM: These shows we’re doing are the first thing that have come up in awhile. We’re approaching everything pretty simply at the moment, just taking it as it comes. That being said, if the shows go off and it’s exciting to us, then I think we’ll definitely talk about what comes next.

MF: In the past, it’s been pretty clear-cut in regards to what songs to play at Alexis shows. Going ahead in 2019, however, there’s the factor of bringing in new songs to perform as well. What has been the curation process for putting together the show for the upcoming tour?

WM: Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen – and that’s really exciting. As I said, we’ve been pushing in this new direction, and I feel like that is really going to factor into the shows themselves. The way that we’ve been rehearsing, we’ve been playing with a really different feel – everything is jammed out, and kind of extended in a way. It feels like we’re just playing non-stop. I’m excited to see where that goes.

MF: Are there any old or obscure Alexisonfire songs that you either haven’t performed in awhile or haven’t performed at all that you’ve been wanting to pull out of the archives?

WM: Yeah! There’s a song of ours called ‘It Was Fear of Myself That Made Me Odd’ which was on [second album, 2004’s] Watch Out!. It’s a song that’s nearly as bizarre as the title. [laughs] We’ve never played that song live, and that’s something people have asked for quite a bit over the years. It’d definitely be interesting. There’s also stuff from our first record [2002’s Alexisonfire], too. We played a couple of them at rehearsals just yesterday. We try and play a bit of everything, but it can be hard to play some of those really old ones. We were kids back then – we were just trying to figure out what we wanted the band to sound like, and what we wanted to do with it. It feels strange to go back to it. With hindsight, we can hear those songs and know that’s not where the band went. Maybe if we find a new way to approach them, they might find their way into the setlist.

MF: One can assume Australian audiences will be able to get a taste of the new Alexisonfire in the not-too-distant future?

WM: All roads lead back to Australia for Alexisonfire – I’ll say that much.

‘Familiar Drugs’ is out now.

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