Dallas Green – Alexisonfire ‘You Can’t Force Creativity.’
“Anybody with artistic ambitions is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child” – Tim Burton.
Does the famed filmmaker/director/actor (let’s be forthright, every attribute under the creative moon) Tim Burton need an introduction? Beetlejuice? Edward Scissorhands? The 1989 version of Batman? The Academy, BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe Awards? The Nightmare Before Christmas? If these accomplishments are not presenting an astonishing enough foreword, perhaps some simple investigation will be more than valuable, it will be life-changing. Nevertheless, this aforementioned statement has incalculable relevancy. The freedom of youth, the imagination, the inhibition for adventure, the creativity and countless more characteristics that helped define a person’s adolescence is a source of vivacity for the creative; so let’s discuss Alexisonfire.
Over two decades ago, the formation of the post-hardcore quintet came from the demise of three other outfits and the band’s career progressed quite rapidly. The five-piece’s debut EP: Math Sheet Demo released in 2002 caught the attention of Distort Entertainment, then incredibly in that same year Alexisonfire’s debut self-titled album was released (which was certified Gold in Canada in 2005 and went on to achieve Platinum status) and opened many doors allowing the band to support the likes of Glassjaw and Billy Talent, appear at Hellfest and even tour with Rise Against in Europe to mention just a few accolades. A remarkable feat considering the Canucks had referred to their sound as: “Two Catholic School Girls In A Knife Fight!” and were barely out of high school when Alexisonfire became a full-time enterprise.
Fast forward to 2012: AOF have released a further three full-lengths all attaining Platinum sales in Canada and charting throughout the globe, the five-piece toured the world performing at the most infamous alternative music festivals to crowds of up to 80,000 people as well as selling out prestigious venues in numerous continents. Juno Awards, TV appearances, countless EPs and live albums and even an appearance at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics that went drastically wrong = the post-hardcore titans had practically done it all to the point that their flame could not burn anymore, Alexisonfire played their farewell shows in numerous countries ending in Ontario in December 2012.
Now it is 2022 and after an impressive run of reunion shows and a few sensational singles, AOF are back with a new album Otherness and an amazing artistic ambition, just like when they were the kids they used to be (get it?). As Dallas Green enlightens us as the days unfold before the quintet’s first LP in 13 years is released; the trajectory and path the five-piece had been on leading up to this moment was a catalyst of sorts to undertake the project of a new record and proper reconciliation.
“Yeah, I think, you know, when we started playing again a few years ago, we were all just pretty excited just to be playing and the shows were sort of few and far between; we had come down to Australia to do a few shows or we went to England do a festival. And you know, we were all living our own lives outside of that – right? It was just this sort of excited thing for us to be able to still play those tunes and have people still be kind of stoked on them.”
“I think as the years went by, and we would play like, you know, five or 10 shows a year. There kind of became this thought of like, let’s see if we can…” In deep thought Dallas pauses, as if reflecting in an autobiographical fashion of how much he, his band mates and planet Earth had changed in a true storyteller fashion, then continues – “Because when we started playing again, if it hadn’t been good, if we had like felt like we sucked or if it felt like we were just going through the motions, I don’t think we would have done it. So that was the first key I think. Then I think it was in 2019, maybe even 2018, when we started talking about writing again, we made those three songs: ‘Familiar Drugs’, ‘Complicit’ and ‘Season Of The Flood’ and those were all, I even know, kind of confusing to some people thinking: ‘They’re the singles from a record or whatever’. But for us, that was just like, let’s see if we can still write together, you know? We wrote those three tunes and we recorded them; we didn’t have a record label and we were very just sort of doing it on our own, we thought we’ll just put out songs as we record them as we go.”
So when did the actual discussion or first steps of creating a new Alexisonfire full-length become a reality?
“So really, I think we all wanted to do a record. But it wasn’t something that we felt like we were going to try to force or it wasn’t something that we had planned, so in reality, it was the pandemic. That is really the reason we were able to make this record, because we had the time to be with one another. Wade (MacNeil guitar/vocals) had messaged us back September 2020 when he was coming back into town, and said: ‘Dude should we jam?’ Because it was something we could do because Toronto was completely closed much like I know you guys experienced, Australia had a very long lockdown. So we started jamming just because it was something for all of us to do; we could get out of our houses, we had a private space we could go to and it wasn’t like we weren’t breaking the law.” Dallas laughs with a hint of punk rock spirit then elaborates further – “I think we started jamming and playing and it was such a beautiful creative explosion; I mean we felt so lucky that we had this thing to go and do outside of the sort of darkness and uncertainty of what was going on outside.”
“Then it was just like: ‘F**k, it was on’! So it started with Wade kind of mentioning this band practice. Then when I think back about it now, that was probably September or October 2020; by the end of February, we were done recording.”
From his delightfully detailed answers one can tell that Mr Green is ‘Heading For The Sun’ about album number five upon recalling its creation. With such a whirlwind velocity from the writing process to recording (“We recorded it in about seven days” he clarifies), it is undoubtedly an artistic marvel that an outfit like Alexisonfire, who have been selectively present for the last ten years are still able to construct their ‘fire when in a room together so organically.
“If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me.” – William Shakespeare (Macbeth 1606).
As obscure as it is to place a William Shakespeare quote as an intermission of sorts in an article, there is method to the madness; whilst the creative “hive-mind” was fast at work for the five Canadian gentlemen in the lively construct of Otherness, there had been seeds planted in the musical “genius garden” so-to-speak years prior. ‘Reverse The Curse’, was in fact miraculously an abandoned anthem of sorts from over a decade ago, a seed that was allocated for the sessions which would become Old Crows/Young Cardinals.
“You know what? Probably even earlier than that, I think, I had that riff probably when we were writing Crisis (2006), but it was just this riff I would play. It wasn’t ready to be turned into something; then when we went to write – I should admit, I don’t ever I never throw any ideas away, I keep them all. Because you never know. There’s usually a reason, especially when things stick around for that long, you know that there’s something in it, you just got to kind of pull it out, right? And some tunes just show up. They’re just like, you start playing, you’re like, well, I’ve written a song now. But some, they just gestate, so we tried to write that riff into what would eventually become a song on Old Crows/Young Cardinals.”
Dallas slows to a contemplative yet content spirit, as if he can see the path taken is one he is immeasurably proud of before proceeding – “It just didn’t feel like us. You know, it felt like we were trying to, I think George (Petit, vocals) said something that may sort of describe it: ‘It just kind of felt like we were maybe trying to force ourselves into a sound that we weren’t ready to make feel like us’. You know, because it is Alexis – we don’t really sound like anything other than us. We all have these different sort of inspirations, different things that we listen to and then when we get together, we throw it into the Alexis’ blender and see if it can come out and sound like this ‘band’. So when we were jamming, I brought that riff back, because I think we’ve all always liked it and then we started ripping on it, quickly we were like: ‘Okay, f**k, yeah, this! We can do this’! When we wrote the chorus, because the chorus didn’t exist until the later writing session, it was just that main pulsing kind of riff in the verses and stuff that’s been there forever. However, it was when we wrote that chorus riff, we were like: ‘Oh, this sounds like us’, and you would probably agree with me, that ‘Reverse The Curse’ sounds like it could be on one of our other records”.
It then hounded this writer to ask if there were any other “seeds” that may have been planted years prior in the fashioning of the new LP? Possibly parallel to how an artist has their entire life to write their first album, this might have been a similar evolution, albeit unwillingly and in a flourished manner?
“The music for ‘Sans Soleil’ I have had forever. I remember when I was living in Nashville for a bit Wade and Chris Steele (Bass) came down to visit me. We jammed a little bit in my music room and I remember showing them the the main kind of chord structure of that tune all those years back, which was probably I don’t know, 2016 or something. So again, I think when I wrote that I sort of thought there’s definitely an Alexis song in this. You know what it took? It took six, seven years for it to actually become a thing.”
He details further – “Wade actually wrote the melody and lyrics for that track over that music I had written. So it was like we needed to go through this experience, Wade especially, in order to pull this song out of the music I had written, then he let me sing it too. I think that’s probably the other oldest one. The rest of them all kind of comes from little bits and bobs of when we started jamming again, in writing for those three tunes we released a couple years ago.”
It would be ignorant not to acknowledge Dallas Green’s other project City & Colour (his name is a “city” and a “colour”) which has sky-rocketed the song-writer to another universe of international prominence. It actually became part of the motivation why Alexisonfire ended in this elongated hiatus; nevertheless, the intrigue lies in how Mr Green is able to write a folk ballad with his angelic voice in one mindset, but in another, he is able to be the voice for the “other” catholic school girl in a knife fight from his youth?
“I’ve learned this about myself now having just basically done this for 20 years or something. But I don’t do well when I try to force creativity. You know, I’ve written a lot of songs and I’ve put out a lot of music, but it really comes and goes as far as like, when I feel the spark or whatever. I think when I left the band, it was never because we didn’t like each other or like I had these dreams and aspirations of being some solo rock guy or whatever. I just didn’t have any of the songs left in me. It felt like I just had to go and explore a different type of music. That’s sort of why I took such a long time away from it because I felt drawn to a different style of music forever. But now, with making this record I do think that in a weird way I’ve maybe found, and maybe the boys and I have also found this weird way to now, I don’t want to say like incorporate the way I write songs for my other project because it’s, it is just me, I’m in both things. So I can be like, I can be both.”
Dallas says laughing with an acknowledgement of wearing two hats – “But I do feel like just having written so many songs in general, since Alexis started 20 years ago, I just feel like my idea or my understanding of song craft has just grown exponentially because of how much I’ve done it. You know what I mean? This has happened with the boys, too, on this record, we we really tried to. With every record, we’ve sort of progressed, we’ve tried to get better at writing songs, not necessarily just like parts, like we did when we were kids.”
Alexisonfire’s first visit to our shores was in 2004, an 18 year affinity where the post hardcore royalty returned nearly annually for over ten years. A new album, a new ambition – the final question remains: Will their be a new reconnection with how AOF saw things as youthful men in Australia with another tour? Will they return and see how much “We carry in our hearts” of adoration after all this time?
“We will be coming there as soon as we possibly can figure it out and put it scheduled. You know, as I’ve said this many times, it’s one of my favourite places ever to be and go and it all started with that first show in Adelaide with Alexis. That was where the love affair to me was born and I will keep coming back to this your country for as long as I am humanly possible.”
Tim Burton also said: “Half the fun is to plan”.
Interview by Will Oakeshott.
Stream Otherness here
Alexisonfire – Otherness tracklisting
1. Committed to the Con
2. Sweet Dreams of Otherness
3. Sans Soleil
4. Conditional Love
5. Blue Spade
6. Dark Night of the Soul
7. Mistaken Information
8. Survivor’s Guilt
9. Reverse the Curse
10. World Stops Turning
Chip in a buck or two for the WoS crew!
Want to help Wall of Sound grow and deliver more killer content? Support us by chipping in as little as a dollar to help!