Published Apr 22, 2019Very little about Alexisonfire's career makes sense. How did a post-hardcore band with three singers (let's be honest: one singer and two screamers) become one of Canada's biggest bands, only to be eclipsed by the immense popularity of one of its members' side project? It still baffles the mind.
Not that the music itself was ever in question. From the opening notes of the band's debut and across all four of their full-length LPs, Alexisonfire displayed a penchant for pushing the boundaries of what hardcore, post-hardcore, punk and rock music could be, always with a foot firmly planted in the aggressive side of the musical spectrum. That they opened doors for like-minded artists steeped in Southern Ontario's potent punk and metal scenes is further testament to their enduring influence in Canadian rock, and aggressive music in general.
As the now-reunited band readies their first new music in a decade, as well as a slew of new tour dates, we look back over the band's unlikely decades-long career.
1980 to 2000
Dallas Green is born September 29, 1980 in St. Catharines, ON. His parents name him Dallas, after the then-manager of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team; his father had placed a bet on them in the 1980 World Series and the team ultimately won the pennant. Dallas learns to play guitar, then teaches himself piano, sneaking into his school's music room during lunch.
George Pettit is born October 2, 1982 in Grimsby, ON.
Wade MacNeil is born May 5, 1984 in Hamilton, ON.
Southern Ontario in the '90s is a hotbed for all types of punk and hardcore. Anchored by the annual S.C.E.N.E. music festival in Saint Catharines, bands regularly travel down Highway 401 playing all-ages gigs in basements or rented halls. "The 905 scene was a goldmine," writes photographer Gordon Ball in a 2008 piece for Stuck in the City blog, citing bands like Grade, Chokehold, New Day Rising and Shotmaker as scene linchpins. "We would have mosh bands, crust, emo, San Diego screamo, youth crew, all over the place…. [sic] and they all would play the same show…[and they] would all sound totally different."
"Early 2000s screamo really connected with me," MacNeil tells Exclaim! now. "From an art and lyrical standpoint it was pushing things a little bit more."
As a teen, Pettit regularly ventures into nearby St. Catharines and Hamilton to explore their music communities. Notably, St. Catharines band Sick Boys, fronted by Stumble Records founder Steve Levitt, begin getting attention nationally and later, internationally. "Both cities had really vibrant music communities," Pettit will tell Niagarathisweek.com in 2010. "I never really went to large concerts as a kid."
While in high school, Pettit plays many small town Ontario gigs in various bands, including tech-metal band Condemning Salem. MacNeil and Chris Steele play in Plan 9, who release a single EP, and later form After the Hallowed Moment. They all know each other from the local scene, either through their bands or skateboarding.
"I'd nod at George because he was the guy in the leather jacket with the Dead Kennedys patch," MacNeil tells Exclaim! now. "There wasn't a lot of weirdoes in the small town we grew up in."
In between working at the Fairview Mall movie theatre, Green sings and plays guitar in Helicon Blue. In 2004, Alexisonfire drummer Jesse Ingelevics describes their sound as "Mogwai meets Sunday Day Real Estate." The trio release two EPs, both produced by future Distort Inc. label-head Greg Below.
Green meets promoter Joel Carriere at the St. Catharines Sam the Record Man where Carriere works. Still in his early 20s, the local show promoter is also finishing a short stint as a customer service rep for Polygram Records. "Anyone that came in that was into music I'd talk shop with them," he recalls.
"You're going to love my band," Green tells Carriere. They strike up a friendship — they'd barter free promo CDs for free movies — and several months later, Carriere finally sees Green's band play. "I was like, 'I don't know what I can do, but let me see what I can do,'" he remembers. "I had nothing to offer. I was the guy in the record store who had done some stuff in Toronto, but at the time, it felt maybe a bit bigger. He allowed me to help him. It snowballed from there."
Green contacts MacNeil about booking some gigs for Helicon Blue. MacNeil had been jamming with drummer Jesse Ingelevics at the time and invites Green to join them. Their first jam, with both Green and MacNeil on vocals, is considered the first Alexisonfire practice. MacNeil invites Steele to play bass and Pettit, who he knows from local shows, to sing. "George said, 'I don't know how to sing'" MacNeil recalls in a 2010 iTunes Originals interview, replying "You don't have to." The fledgling group name themselves after porn star Alexis Fire. "Dallas was watching a documentary on contortionists and this lactating, contortionist stripper was called Alexis on Fire and we thought it was a great band name," Ingelevics tells TruePunk.com.
The band's first recordings are released as a CD-R. Recorded in a basement studio called Burning Sound in Niagara Falls, it becomes known as the Math Sheets Demo, as the three-track CDs are literally wrapped in Ingelevics' math homework. "Everything we did in those days was really sped up. Like we wanted to book those first shows immediately. We wanted to get in the studio right away," says MacNeil in a retrospective video interview promoting the band's 2013 collection, Box Set.
MacNeil, the youngest in the band, is charged with settling up with promoters after each show, a task for which he carries brass knuckles (he never actually uses them). Radio DJ and MuchMusic personality George Stroumboulopoulos is at the band's sparsely attended first Toronto show; MacNeil sells him a T-shirt. Greg Below, who works for EMI at the time, and is busy setting up Distort Entertainment with Mitch Joel, likes the demo. He records the band at EMI's in-house studio, signs them to Distort and inks a co-publishing and distribution deal with EMI.
The band's self-titled debut album is released on Halloween. Its cover depicts two Catholic school girls squaring off for a knife fight, a band in-joke about their sound. In her review for Exclaim!, future No Joy guitarist Jasamine White-Gluz notes that the band are "deserving of all the praise they have received in the underground scene" and that Alexisonfire "may just be able to save Canadian hardcore."
The band have modest goals, touring being the primary one. Nevertheless, the record goes gold in Canada (50,000 copies sold) thanks to national exposure for singles "Pulmonary Archery," "Counterparts and Number Them" and "Waterwings (and Other Poolside Fashion Faux Pas)" on MuchMusic. "The idea of us making a music video seemed like hilarious," says MacNeil now. "Like why would a band do such a thing? Especially a band that sounds like us. But I'm glad we did."
Stroumboulopoulos hosts The Punk Show on MuchMusic and begins playing the band's videos. Fan response drives the clips onto the weekly countdown. The video for "Pulmonary Archery," the record's first single, is made with a $20,000 VideoFACT grant. It is directed by Marc Ricciardelli, who goes on to direct most of the band's video clips. Steele has a shift scheduled at Blockbuster the day after the shoot, but can't make it back from Toronto in time, and is promptly fired.
"MuchMusic taking a shining to us, I think obviously that took us to another level," Pettit will tell Niagarathisweek.com in 2009. "People were seeing us not just from playing shows. You could go to a place where you'd never been before and people knew who you were."
Their first "real" tour is a two-week trek across the United States that coincides with MacNeil's March break, as he is still in high school. "I'm skipping school, but then I'm on MuchMusic when I've called in sick." Their van breaks down four hours outside of Saint Catharines and they are towed back to the Canada-U.S. border, where Green's dad picks them up. "We were always very resilient," says Green. Speaking to Exclaim! in 2009, Pettit describes these early tours as band members being ""taken from adolescence into the van instead of college."
The record's success in Canada nets the band a distro deal with Equal Vision Records (Bane, Saves the Day, Converge) in the States. Pettit, just out of high school, has to decide between the band and art school; he decides on the band.
In June, the video for "Pulmonary Archery" is nominated for Best Independent Video at the MMVAs. They arrive on the red carpet in a rented Hummer. It loses to pop punks Not By Choice almost as soon as the band arrive. They proceed to get drunk at the open bar then "phone it in" at their show at the Opera House later that evening.
Despite their success, the band remain on Distort. They write a new record in MacNeil's mother's basement in Saint Catharines. "I think we started to make more structured songs," says Pettit in the Box Set video series. "Now let's try making some songs that have choruses."
They record with Julius "Juice" Butty, who is at the time relatively unknown. "He really became like a sixth member of the band," says MacNeil. The record dials back Pettit's screaming and ups Green's melodic contributions. "There was a time where my presence was a bit of a question mark, whether I was going to continue to be in the band," says Pettit.
Watch Out! is released in June and debuts at number six in Canada and eventually goes platinum, driven partly by an uptick in radio play for the record's singles. In 2013, Green will name "Happiness by the Kilowatt" as his favourite Alexisonfire song. Taking inspiration from the song "That Girl Possessed," its cover, illustrated by Justin Winstanley, looks like an old EC horror comic.
That same month, at the MMVAs, the band arrive on the red carpet in an ambulance. They're again nominated for Best Independent Video (they lose to Pilate) but they win the VideoFACT Award for "Counterparts and Number Them."
They tour the UK for the first time. "We went there not knowing if our record was out, if anybody cared about us, and we got there and our tour was sold out," say MacNeil now. The tour's success opens their eyes to possibilities outside of North America. "That was the beginning of us not touring the States for a while and going 'There's a lot of other places to play in the world. We don't need to play in New York so many times.'" They also tour Japan and Australia for the first time.
Green releases The Death of Me EP, his first recordings as City & Colour. The six-track recording is made in three days between AOF tours and 2000 copies are pressed and sold at early City & Colour shows. It's followed by the Missing EP.
Alexisonfire release a split CD and split seven-inch with the Bled; the former is available in Canada, the latter the UK. Both feature previously released songs from Alexisonfire.
In April, Alexisonfire win Best New Group at the Junos, beating out Death From Above 1979, the Marble Index, Thornley and the Waking Eyes. In June, the band perform live on the MMVAs and are nominated for three awards. That same month, Ingelevics leaves the band to spend more time with his family. He's replaced by Jordan Hastings, who had previously played in Burlington ska-punk band Jersey. "We'd known him a long time and we knew he was a really good drummer," says Pettit in the Box Set video.
The Switcheroo Series: Alexisonfire vs Moneen is released on Dine Alone in Canada and Vagrant in the U.S. in November. Each band covers two of the other's songs, while contributing one new song each. These recordings mark Hastings' studio debut with the band.
The online popularity of his two acoustic EPs convinces Green to give the songs a proper release. City & Colour's debut, Sometimes, is released in November. Everything on the record, with the exception of new song "Coming Home," is a re-recording of previously available material. Sometimes is the first release on Carriere's new label, Dine Alone.
"Dallas has always been playing acoustic music and writing slow, sad songs since he was a teenager," says Carriere. "He had all these songs that didn't fit with Alexis and it didn't make sense to put it out on Distort, which was branded as a real hardcore label. We wanted to remove it from that. I wanted other people to find out about it that didn't like screaming music."
Carriere's next signings are Attack in Black and Bedouin Soundclash. Sometimes is released on Vagrant Records in the States. The record eventually goes platinum in Canada.
MacNeil forms Black Lungs with Pettit, Hastings and Jersey's Sean McNab. "We all like different types of music as well, so [side projects are] just a way for us to sort of express our own sides as musicians and music fans in general," Green will tell MuchMusic.
In June, City & Colour perform live on the MMVAs and are nominated for three awards.
Alexisonfire take a couple months to write their next album, hitting the studio to record in February and March. All agree that Hastings' playing elevates the band and the material. "I think we knew how to make a record at that point. Before we were just chopping away and experimenting. Now we knew how to make a record. We knew how to write songs," Pettit says in the Box Set video series. "You could see how stuff that we'd done on our last record, you could see the stuff that really resonated with the crowd. With Crisis, I feel like we just flexed that."
The record is again produced by Butty with Nick Blagona (Deep Purple, The Police) engineering. Crisis is released in August on Distort in Canada, Vagrant in the U.S. and Hassle Records in the UK. Planes Mistaken for Stars' Gared O'Donnell sings on "You Burn First." "Keep it On Wax" is reportedly about former drummer Ingelevics talking trash about the band in the press. Its cover and interior artwork features images from the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977 that hit the Niagara region and Western New York. The package design and art are nominated for a Juno in 2007. A limited edition version includes a USB key with new song "My God is a Reasonable Man," live material from the S.C.E.N.E. Festival, "making of" feature for the music videos "Passing Out in America" and "This Could Be Anywhere in the World."
Allmusic.com gives the record four stars, describing the band as "sitting a head above their peers" and that they "embrace the drive and explosiveness of their past to fully come into their own."
Crisis debuts at #1 on the Canadian album charts. In 2009, Kerrang! will include it on their list of the 50 Best Albums of the 21st century. Crisis's success propels them to sharing stages with the likes of Metallica, Deftones, Jane's Addiction and Faith No More. At their album release party in the UK, they perform on a boat.
They tour Europe (playing the main stage at Reading/Leeds for the first time) Asia, Australia, Canada and the U.S., partaking in that summer's Warped Tour. Joining them on the main tour are a host of Ontario bands, including Sum 41, Silverstein, the Black Maria, Billy Talent, Moneen, and Protest the Hero.
In September, Pettit makes his debut playing guitar in Bergenfield Four, which features Fucked Up's Damian Abraham on vocals and Attack In Black's Ian Kehoe on drums.
In October, Alexisonfire contribute a cover of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" to Trailer Park Boys: The Movie. Green begins dating MuchMusic VJ Leah Miller.
Alexisonfire are nominated for two Junos, including Group of the Year, while Butty is nominated for the Jack Richardson Producer of the Year award for his work with both Alexis and City & Colour. City & Colour win Alternative Album of the Year.
Bergenfield Four release an Ian Blurton-produced seven-inch in April.
Alexisonfire release a trio of live albums from their UK shows at Brixton Academy, Manchester Academy and Birmingham Academy. In June, the band perform "This Could be Anywhere in the World" live on the MMVAs. They're nominated for three statues and win one for Best Cinematography. City & Colour are nominated for two awards.
Green wins a Juno for Alternative Album of the Year for Sometimes. A live City & Colour album, Live, is released in March and contains several new tracks and a cover of Alexisonfire's "Happiness By the Kilowatt." A limited edition version included a USB key with live footage from MuchMusic.
In August, MacNeil contributes vocals to the Bedouin Soundclash track "St. Andrews."
The tour behind Crisis strains relations in the band. "We'd toured ourselves into the ground," says MacNeil. Green, who does not drink, becomes particularly alienated and he retreats into writing for City & Colour. "I think I was just so over being in a heavy band," he'll tell Exclaim! in 2009. "And it wasn't the band — it was the environment." In the same story Pettit notes that "That's when Dallas wrote all his solo work. While we were out being assholes," adding, "We lost touch with each other."
The band take a year off from touring, their longest break since forming. City & Colour are nominated for two MMVAs. At the afterparty, which was broadcast live on MuchMusic, MacNeil joins Bedouin Soundclash onstage for a cover of the English Beat's "Mirror in the Bathroom."
City & Colour release Bring Me Your Love.
In April, MacNeil sings on and appears in the video for Cancer Bats' track "Deathsmarch" and contributes vocals to the Johnny Truant track "Widower" in June.
Black Lungs, now MacNeil, Pettit, Sammi Bogdanski and Ian Romano, release their debut, Send Flowers, on Dine Alone in May. It's followed by a two-song seven-inch in June.
In December, Green and Miller get married.
In January, Pettit marries his long-time girlfriend Megan; they have their first child, Owen Edward, in December.
In March, City & Colour perform at the Juno Awards ceremony; Green is nominated for Artist of the Year and wins Songwriter of the Year. The band reconvene, but take their time writing their fourth record. "Because we'd spent so much time off the road, we all had a lot of ideas," says Pettit in a Box Set video interview. They record in Vancouver at the Armoury live off the floor, again with Butty and Blagona.
In March, the band officially sign to Dine Alone, who release Old Crows/Young Cardinals in June. The album's cover is painted by former Johnny Truant member Paul Jackson. It's preceded by the single "Young Cardinals" the video for which was shot on the famed Maid of the Mist ferry at Niagara Falls. During the shoot a "big bloated corpse" surfaces, halting production. "If you shoot ten music videos, someone's liable to die," says Pettit in an Exclaim! cover story. They perform "Young Cardinals" at the MMVAs.
They head out across Canada with Against Me!, Cancer Bats and Billy Talent and play the entire summer's Warped Tour, later describing it as one of the worst touring experiences of their career. "If you're young, 21 years old, frustrated with your mom and dad's place, I can see it being the greatest summer of your life. But when you're a 30-year-old married man, being in a parking lot for two months, it's not fun," says Green in a video interview for Box Set.
Hastings teams up with Moneen's Kenny Bridges and Erik Hughes, Billy Curtiss from Abandoned Hearts Club and Greg Dawson from Haitian Knife Fight as Hunter. They release two EPs, 4 and 8, in June and September, respectively.
MacNeil appears on Anti-Flag's The People or the Gun, singing on "The Gre(A)t Depression."
In February, the band play a free concert in Vancouver's Yaletown during the Winter Olympics. Seconds after hitting the stage, the crowd of 7000 surges, crashing the barriers and injuring 20 people, none seriously. The show is promptly cancelled.
Old Crows/Young Cardinals is nominated for Rock Album of the Year (they lose to Billy Talent and the band are unable to attend the ceremony in St. John's, NL due to poor weather conditions). Dog's Blood EP is released in November. A special Australian tour-only seven-inch features a cover of the Saints "I'm Stranded" and Midnight Oil's "Dead Heart."
Alexisonfire end the year, and 18 months of touring behind Old Crows/Young Cardinals, with a special hometown gig at CAW Hall in St. Catharines. Cancer Bats and reunited Chore open. Hunter release 10 for Record Store Day in April. City & Colour release Little Hell in June. Black Lungs release the Valley of the Dolls seven-inch.
In September, the band release an iTunes Original collection. City & Colour's success puts pressure on everyone: their tours are now as big as Alexisonfire's, splitting Green's time and energy. Green informs the band of his intention to leave, to focus on City & Colour, but the band sit on the info until they can decide what to do. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," Green will tell MuchMusic.
"The success of City & Colour had eclipsed our band, he was kind of going on his way," says Pettit. "So we all knew change is on the way." However, the band still had several more tours booked. Green's impending exodus is the constant elephant in the room. "It was the worst," says MacNeil of Green's decision. It was the last thing any of the rest of us wanted."
In February, the band announce they are working on "heavy" new music as a four-piece. MacNeil in particular is "hellbent" on keeping the band going, and they toy with replacing Green. Rapper P.O.S. is considered, after watching him fill in on guitar with Underoath on Warped Tour. MacNeil also travels to Texas and jams and chats with former At the Drive-In and Sparta guitarist Jim Ward about joining, but Ward isn't keen on doing much touring. "I was pretty gung ho to continue and find a new singer," says MacNeil. "But it just kind of fell like it was getting further and further away from us."
After seeing MacNeil sing with Black Lungs during the band's UK tour, English hardcore band Gallows approach him about filling in on vocals for the recently departed Frank Carter, and he accepts. By August, Alexisonfire's breakup is official. In a statement, Pettit describes the split as "not really" amicable.
Hastings and Carriere launch Dine Alone Foods. The following year the drummer opens Village Cigar Company and Barbershop in Burlington, ON. He sells his shares in the company in 2013.
Another band threatens Hunter with legal action, so the supergroup change their name to Cunter for their album 20. Black Lungs release a split seven-inch with Cancer Bats. Cancer Bats singer Liam Cormier briefly played drums in Black Lungs in 2008; he was succeeded by Bedouin Soundclash's former timekeeper Pat Pengelly. A second album is recorded, but shelved.
In April, Dine Alone reissues the Math Sheets demo for Record Store Day. City & Colour perform at the Juno Awards ceremony and are nominated for three awards. After a conversation with Carriere, Green agrees to do one last tour.
In July, Alexisonfire announce a nine-date farewell tour, with stops in Canada, the UK, Australia and for the first time ever, Brazil. Due to high demand, the tour is extended to 15 dates.
In September, Gallows' self-titled record marks MacNeil's recorded debut with the band.
The Death Letter EP, featuring reinterpretations of old material, is released in December. The band's final show is a sold-out gig at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum. The Hamilton Spectator calls the show "An extraordinary two-hour finish to an improbable success story that started ten years ago in the teen dance halls of St. Catharines and the basement bars of Hamilton."
City & Colour release The Hurry and the Harm in June. Cunter release 27 on New Damage Records. In December, Alexisonfire release a limited edition vinyl box set called Box Set. It includes all four studio albums, EPs and assorted B-sides. Its 1000 copies quickly sell out.
City & Colour are scheduled to perform at the Junos in Winnipeg but drop out. "Given that I have not been nominated this year, I would much rather see a new nominee be afforded the opportunity to perform on the show and have the same experience."
Green teams with American pop singer P!nk as You+Me, and release the album Rose Ave. It debuts at #1 on the Canadian charts and goes platinum. The record debuts at #4 on the Billboard 200.
In August, a slimmed-down version of Box Set is released; all four studio albums are also reissued on vinyl.
Pettit forms Dead Tired on a whim after sitting around with some friends in Hamilton.
In August, Say Yes, with Hastings on drums, release their debut EP on Dine Alone. In November, MacNeil adds vocals to the Banner track "She Upon the Black Wolf" and becomes a weekend announcer at Toronto rock radio station The Edge.
Pettit, now 32, becomes a firefighter in Oshawa, ON. "The job has built-in respect to it," he'll tell Canadian Press in 2019. "It's not something I tend to broadcast."
Dead Tired release their self-titled debut on New Damage Records.
In March, Alexisonfire announce a series of reunion shows in Canada, the U.S. and the UK.
Gallows' Desolation Sounds is released in April. City & Colour release If I Should Go Before You in October. Black Lungs finally release their second album; Pagan Holiday is dropped online for free on Halloween. As part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, Dine Alone reissues Helicon Blue's discography as Collection. They also sell a special Alexisonfire Live at BBC Radio 1 twelve-inch via their web store. It's the first time the recordings are commercially available outside of Box Set.
In February, Alexisonfire release Live at Copps, a live album and Blu-Ray of their "final" show in Hamilton, on Dec 30, 2012. City & Colour win Artist of the Year at the Juno Awards. Say Yes release their debut, Real Life Trash Mag. Hastings fills in for Billy Talent drummer Aaron Solowoniuk after the latter suffers a multiple sclerosis relapse. He continues to fill in on the band's Afraid of Heights album, and on their subsequent promo tour, though promo photos feature both Hastings and Solowoniuk. Dead Tired release the seven-inch EP Vol. One.
Alexisonfire tour Australia and New Zealand with the Dirty Nil in January. They're announced as the headliners for Montebello Rockfest in June. In February, they play a surprise three-song set in between Billy Talent's main set and their encore in Toronto. The next day, they announce four back-to-back shows at the city's Danforth Music Hall. Originally scheduled for July, they're later pushed back to December due to "unforeseen circumstances."
Dead Tired release the seven-inch EP Vol. Two.
MacNeil watches the film Goon during the Australian tour and tweets that it made him homesick. Jay Baruchel, who wrote and produced the film, gets in touch, and after attending a Habs game together in Montreal, the actor taps MacNeil to write a number of songs that appear in the film's sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers.
At the Juno Awards ceremony in Vancouver, Green performs as part of a tribute to Gord Downie, playing "Bobcaygeon" with Sarah Harmer.
Dead Tired release the seven-inch EP Vol. Three.
MacNeil composes the score of horror film The Ranger. He also teams up with former A History Of member Andrew Gordon Macpherson to create music for the video game Far Cry 5: Hours of Darkness.
They fill in for Avenged Sevenfold at Festival d'ete de Quebec in July.
Dead Tired compile their three 7-inches onto Full Vol., which is released in March.
In February, AOF release "Familiar Drugs," their first new music since their 2011 split. It's one of over 20 tracks the band have worked on in Green's Toronto home studio, though none are fully developed. They book a four-city tour for June. "We're trying to keep things as simple as possible," says MacNeil. "Play when we can, write when we can and just let it be a creative outlet. In a weird way trying to get back to when we started the band."
Alexisonfire (Distort, 2002)
From the beginning it was all there: duelling post-hardcore guitars anchored by a lock-step rhythm section with the juxtaposition of Pettit's scream and Green's croon floating over top. That the record was a stunner was obvious; that a band this aggressive would find a mass audience remains a surprise.
Crisis (Distort, 2006)
The culmination of everything they'd been working towards musically, Crisis saw the band's technical prowess finally matching a knack for writing hooky, but still heavy, punk and rock tunes. Its success is born out in its successful singles — notably "This Could Be Anywhere in the World" — while earning accolades in aggressive music circles around the globe.
Old Crows/Young Cardinals (Dine Alone, 2009)
After perfecting their sound, AOF threw it out and rebuilt. Petit's vocals, now a guttural snarl, are the most obvious change. But an emphasis on heavy riffs over fluid guitar leads yields their rawest record to date. It worked — both artistically and commercially — but proved to be the band's swan song, at least for now.