July 25, 2003 was a monumental day for Alexisonfire, and it happened in Halifax. The St. Catharines-based quintet was riding a wave of attention thanks to its debut video “Pulmonary Archery” from the band’s self-titled full-length, and was starting to develop a fan base outside of Ontario. And like any band worth its salt, they headed around the country, gaining notoriety and precious indie buzz every step of the way.
But nothing prepared the band for its response in Halifax. Landing at the now-defunct Ceilidh Connection in the early afternoon, Alexisonfire was setting up for their show when dozens upon dozens of teenagers filled the room. The show sold out in a matter of minutes. But there were still over 100 kids eagerly listening outside, so the band decided to set up an impromptu second gig at the Ceilidh, and it sold out too. Then, to top off the day, the boys headed down to The Attic, filled the room to capacity and proceeded to pull off one of the most memorable bar shows of the year.
“It was a notorious day in Alexisonfire history,” recalls vocalist George Pettit from his apartment in St. Catharines. “We played the first set at the Ceilidh, kicked all the kids out, brought in the next set of kids, played another set and then played a 19-plus show at the fucking Liquor Dome, which was another awesome show. It was one of those days where at the end you just slip into a coma, you’re just so tired and messed up. That was when I fell in love with Halifax.”
Halifax wasn’t the only town to fall in love with Alexisonfire, which continues the affair at The Halifax Forum on March 14. Since that fateful day over a year and a half ago, the group has won over thousands of music fans across the country with its blend of emo, hardcore punk and death metal. Grounded by driving rhythms and tightly wound guitar hooks and topped by a mix of screaming and singing vocals, the music builds and releases with ease, sucking you in with each nerve-twitching shout and spitting you out in frenzied melodic bursts.
Alexisonfire’s biggest asset, however, is its intense stage presence. Drummer Jesse Ingelevics maintains the heartbeat of the band with staggering precision, while bassist Chris Steele moves about the stage with brazen emo reckless abandon. Guitarists Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil provide the melodic background vocals and intricate guitar passages, while Pettit, who sounds like he just stepped out of a Swedish death metal band, screams and flails wildly about the stage, part frontman, part screamo hype man.
Pettit might be the most visual aspect of Alexisonfire, but his throaty cries would mean little on top of a less talented band. As it stands, the five-part combination packs one hell of a wallop, and definitely stands out from the Good Charlottes and the Three Day Graces that dominate the teenage angst market.
“I remember when we first started, there were a lot of bands playing at these halls and they’d shut off all the lights and have candles lit, like this kinda moody thing or whatever,” says Pettit with a knowing, almost embarrassed laugh. “When we came on, we would turn on all the lights in the place, and the kids would be like, ‘Why’d you turn all the lights on?’ We don’t got nothin’ to hide, what the fuck?
“It got to a point where we’d bring our own floodlights from home so that it would be extra bright on stage. We’d try to do stupid shit all the time and I think the kids responded to it.”
And how. Fuelled by two more successful videos—“Counterparts and Number Them” and “Waterwings”—and constant touring, Alexisonfire’s debut album eventually sold over 25,000 copies, no mean feat for a Canadian indie band.
Pettit slips into the third person. “George three years ago would have slapped George now if he had said that ‘This band is going to make a whole bunch of music videos, and they’re gonna get played and you’re gonna be on the MuchMusic Video Awards,’” he says. “That’s bullshit!”
It wasn’t, and by the time the band released its sophomore effort Watch Out! on June 8, 2004, it had gathered a massive audience across Canada. The album debuted at number six on the Canadian retail charts and shipped gold (50,000 copies) within the first three months of release.
“I’m in a constant state of shock about the stuff that’s been happening,” says Pettit. “It’s all very humbling, and I try to keep grounded. We were told we went gold when we were on tour, and we’re like, ‘it’s cool,’ and then we went to the Motel 6 where we were staying and we played a show that night. It’s all very nice, but at the same time it’s not necessarily about big record sales or anything like that. I don’t care if anyone buys our record, as long as we can play for a room full of kids every night.”
With over 150 shows over the last year, Alexisonfire is doing just that. Not only is performing the band’s first love, but it’s somewhat a promotional necessity, considering AOF has yet to receive any commercial support outside of MuchMusic.
“People could definitely benefit from hearing some different types of music; everything on radio is so watered down,” says Pettit. “If they started to play us I think it would be a step in the right direction. Maybe if they started playing stuff that’s a little more progressive on the radio, then maybe people will think start thinking a little more progressive, you know?”
A little more commercial attention could also make Alexisonfire one of Canada’s major players, which would probably rub some of the band’s hardcore fans—the ones who breathlessly talk about July 25, 2003, like it was the second coming of Christ—the wrong way. But Pettit isn’t too worried about getting called a sellout.
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems, that’s what always happens. Everyone has gotta pay the bills, but I’m not fuckin’ rich or anything. If I sold something, show me a cheque,” he says, laughing, before continuing in a more serious tone. “We’re playing the same show that we were playing when we were still playing in the halls in southern Ontario, and I didn’t have to suck anyone’s dick to get our video played on MuchMusic. If people want to call us sellouts, don’t come to our shows. The type of person who calls a band a sellout for doing something is not a music fan.”
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