Alexisonfire’s Dallas Green: ‘It Feels Like We’re Starting Over, In A Good Way’
The Canadian post-hardcore band’s singer and guitarist talks about the way forward after releasing their first new material in nearly a decade and prepping for a new City and Colour album
When post-hardcore was (somehow) part of the mainstream music pie in the early 2000s, among the names being featured on the radio as well as receiving slots on MTV2 were Canadian band Alexisonfire. They became one of the big draws for fans of emo, melodic hardcore and metal when they featured multiple times on American tour series Warped Tour and arguably put Canadian post-hardcore on the map.
But after critically acclaimed albums like Crisis and Old Crows/Young Cardinals, and their EP Dog’s Blood in 2010, there was an unease that set in and by 2012, a final departing EP called Death Letter was gifted by Alexisonfire to fans, featuring re-made, quietened versions of some of their best known material. “The band and the fans, I think everybody needed to have a bit of closure on that period,” says vocalist and guitarist Dallas Green, who was also steadily building his solo identity with folk/acoustic and bluesy rock tunes as City and Colour. Guitarist and vocalist Wade MacNeil too had been taking on other projects, including fronting U.K. hardcore punk band Gallows.
Within three years of the end, however, Green was putting out feelers and Alexisonfire was back in the game, reuniting at bigger summer festivals in 2015. He says over the phone from Toronto, “We’d all been talking. We didn’t break up because we didn’t like each other, it’s just some other stuff that happened.” Slowly and steadily, they went beyond the nostalgia value and grew into the dependables. That idea is best seen (and heard) with “Familiar Drugs,” their first new material since 2010 that came out in February. A video showing all the members raging at their best, was out last week.
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Green talks about the return of Alexisonfire, writing new material and prepping for an upcoming City and Colour record this year. Excerpts:
George [Pettit, vocalist] mentioned in an interview that you were the one who started putting the feelers out there to see if Alexisonfire wanted to play again.
When I left the band a long time ago, I worked a lot on making records and touring with City and Colour. I think what happened was, just a few years ago, we got an offer to do a show and we all started talking about it and at first we were apprehensive because of the way we had kind of called it quits but then it still made sense, because we were all still talking and still friends.
We were able to do it, so it was, ‘Let’s just play again, because we can and people seem to want to hear it.’ I think that was it. We started playing a couple of shows and we didn’t feel like we’d lost a step, we felt like we were just as good if not better than when we left. I think that had a lot to do with feeling that we were still contributing something. After a couple of years doing shows sporadically, I moved back to Toronto full-time and everybody was around a bit more so we started to write some new songs. And now here we are.
“Familiar Drugs” has lyrics by George about lethargy and it’s still an angry song. With newer material that you’re working on, what is the band’s current lyrical and sonic attitude like? Are there still things to be pissed off about?
A lot of people will just dismiss the music as angry, because of the way we just play and the sound, but it’s not always that. When George screams, people think he’s mad, but it’s not always negative. It’s more focused I think on the energy than anger. “Familiar Drugs” is about something specifically in George’s life but I think in general, it can be relatable. Trying not to let monotony get a hold of you and just trying to… go kicking and screaming, in a way, I guess.
I think the newer stuff we’re working on have a lot of different lyrical stuff, just as all our stuff. For instance, for City and Colour, I use that as an outlet to write very personal stuff, about things in my own life and I try to make them as relatable as possible so that people can hear them and try to take something from that. With Alexisonfire, since it’s a total collective effort, everything is talked about and discussed. We bring out different subjects and try to write them as a group.
It’s not all about being angry. Of course there’ll be stuff we’re angry about. It’s hard not to be angry these days, just with the state of things in the world, but it’s not always focused on that.
In the first decade that Alexisonfire were active, you were all in. What kind of qualities do you think you imbibed in that time that are guiding you even today?
I think we built up a lot of resiliency. When you’re young and in a band – especially a band making not the most popular sounding music – you’re going to be turned down a lot. You’re going to through a lot of… the fact that we’ve been an independent band and never really had much help from the outside music industry. It was all on our own terms and you had some things – like in Canada, which has a wonderful grant system for arts and music – that helped along the way.
You just have to develop a thick skin and a resiliency if you’re going to continue doing it. You’re going to spend so much time of your life in a van, driving to get to the next show. There might not even be anybody waiting to see you play. You might play for five or 10 people and then you got to get in the van, drive to the next city and hope that the next show is better. You don’t have any money to eat. There were a lot of hard times we went through just trying to… not only survive and stay in the band but also learn how to live with other people. There’s just five or six people sitting in a van for 20 hours a night, it can be a little bit trying, but then you have one good show and all of a sudden, it reminds you why you really wanted to try and do it in the first place. Those are the things… you have a happy moment and a good show with your friends and that just fuels you to keep going, to go through all the hard times and that’s just the way life kind of works.
Were there qualities you gained from City and Colour that you didn’t get from Alexisonfire?
No, I just applied the same things, the same work ethic to everything now. Been doing it for almost 20 years, but I still like to think I’m doing the same thing. City and Colour has always remained independent as well. Once Alexisonfire started to gain notoriety – and both, really because I was doing both at the same time – I thought, ‘I’ll just kind of stay this way’. For me, success has always been the ability to continue doing it. It’s never been about numbers or accolades or any of that stuff. I just always wanted to still be able to make music when I was older. I never wanted a hit song or anything like that. I just wanted to make music and hoped that people found something they liked about it.
You’re heading out on tour in June, now after the release of “Familiar Drugs.” What else is going to change on these dates?
Well, we’ll be playing that song, definitely which will be fun. We haven’t had much new stuff to play a while. I think we’ll probably have a couple more new songs. We’ll probably just do what we do, go out and play our songs as best as we can and have the time of our lives. If we can have people in the crowd having as much fun as we are, then everybody’s in for a good night.
Are there songs in your setlist that everyone looks at and just goes, ‘Nah we’re not playing this’? Is there some deliberation?
Sometimes, some of the older songs we just don’t know how to play them any more [laughs]. It’s funny but even when we try to relearn older songs, for some reason, they just don’t seem to feel right or they just don’t have that same energy coming from us. The way we look at it is if we just play the songs we feel best about, we’re going to present the best way, that’s better than kind of half-assing through an old song that someone wants to hear. Then you just have a shit version of it [laughs] and nobody’s happy. We try and pick the songs we all feel confident about so that we can drum up some feeling about and present it in a new fresh way, and hopefully we have a good time.
The end of Alexisonfire in 2012 was quite drawn out – from the announcement in 2011 to the shows in 2012. And then you also had Death Letter. Was there a sense of just doing things right?
The thing is, we had a lot of stuff planned ahead of time in 2012. Even I guess in 2010 and 2011, stuff had already been scheduled. I had sort of already made my decision and I thought I just needed to tell everybody where my head was at. It was a little bit weird for us to keep playing a bit. I think after 2010, it was a little bit strange, I think everybody was still trying to deal with the fact that I was going to walk away from the band for a bit. I think the reason we did those things in 2012 was to put an actual finishing touch on that part of our lives, you know?
It was announced, but then, like you said, we wanted to make sure we gave everyone a chance to see something that may never happen again. In my heart, I always hoped that we would play again but the reason I made it so definitive when I left the band was because I didn’t think it was fair to have everybody wait around. The band and the fans, I think everybody needed to have a bit of closure on that period. I think now that we’re back and playing and making music, it just feels like a new period, a new section of the history of our lives and the band. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been taking a break. It just feels like we’re starting over, in a good way.
You launched your own record label, Still Records recently. Is the new City and Colour album coming out this year?
Yeah, it’s on going to come out on my label. It should be out in the Fall. We’re just finishing the artwork and it got mastered last week. We’ll go on tour and it’s just something I’ve been taking my time with. In terms of being around to work on new Alexis stuff, since 2006, I’d been on tour with either Alexis or City and Colour and making records every year. I think at the end of 2017, I had finished touring If I Should Go Before You  for two years and I thought I needed to take a year away from touring so much and going right back in the studio. I spent all of last year doing a bunch of different stuff, starting the record label, producing other bands and putting the live record out. Slowly, just making the new record and working on Alexis stuff – it just gave me time to do a bunch of other stuff.
You were the oldest in the band and therefore assigned the more “adult” responsibilities. What is that dynamic like now?
We’re all adults now. When we started, three of the guys were in high school still. It was a combination of me being older but also being the one that had a little bit more freedom – I had been out of high school for one or two years when we started the band. I think occasionally, we all look to each other for advice on life nowadays, because we’ve all grown up and experienced our own things. It’s more just a friendship.
It’s a total global tour of sorts in June. Have you ever had any offers from India? Has anyone ever been here?
Steele [Chris Steele, bassist] has been there traveling. After the band broke up, Steele traveled the world for like a year and a half, so he’s been to India. He had a long stay there. But none of us have been there for music. I’m not too sure if we’ve gotten offers from there, but we’d like to. We like to go everywhere, it’s a big world [laughs], just a matter of figuring out how to get there. It’s just a matter of trying to go everywhere in the world where people are listening.