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Members include Dallas Green, guitar; Jesse Ingelevics, drums; George Logan, vocals; Wade MacNeil, guitar; Chris Steel, bass. Addresses: Record company--Distort Entertainment, P.O. Box 267, Station B, Toronto, ON, Canada M5T 2W1. Website--Alexisonfire Official Website: http://www.theonlybandever.com.
Hardcore punk may be the musical genre that is least likely to lead to commercial success. An aggressive, abrasive, and speedy take on the sound of bands such as the Sex Pistols and Black Flag, it is a staple of the underground circuit--and has always seemed destined to remain just that.
That's why the success of Alexisonfire is so unusual. The Canadian fivesome from St. Catharines, Ontario, has defied the odds and, over the course of two albums, begun to make inroads into the commercial world with a sound that is clearly rooted in hardcore. What makes the band stand out is its sense of adventure, which pulses through its music and has led to critical acclaim, airplay on Canadian music video channel MuchMusic, and a 2005 Juno Award for New Group of the Year. The band's second album went gold in Canada, and Alexisonfire attracts so many fans to shows that some industry observers have begun to wonder whether the group can still be called hardcore.
"A Band of Extremes"
"This is a band of extremes: screaming and pleading, ugly and beautiful, poetic and obscene, obvious and sublime ...," wrote MTV.com. "Their songs scream of intellectual fury basted with ladlefuls of vocal pop melody; it's a bipolar magnet, and if you stop and listen or see a live show, it'll all oddly start to make sense."
Alexisonfire's music has been called "screamcore" and "screamo," though band members dismiss these labels. Still, they themselves have described their sound as being like "two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight"-- and their music is uncompromising, to say the least. How they've managed to enjoy so much success is something of a mystery to all five musicians.
"It just happened so quickly," drummer Jesse Ingelevics told Chris Dart of the Brock Press. "We just realized some of the things that have happened, that are still happening, and that's going to happen. There's tons of stuff, just blowing up in our faces. It just makes us rock so much harder, knowing that there is so much more we can do."
Though the members of Alexisonfire have been together only since 2001, all have paid their dues in other bands. Guitarists Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil played together in the punk group Plan 9, and Green had also been the singer-guitarist in Helicon Blue. This band came from the experimental end of the alternative scene, playing music akin to Mogwai meets Sunny Day Real Estate. This was very different from the previous musical venture of George Logan (aka George Pettit), who was the bassist in Condemning Salem, a tech-metal band. After recruiting drummer Jesse Ingelevics and bassist Chris Steel, band members rehearsed hard and then hit the club circuit running, delivering sets that sounded like nothing else out there.
From the outset, the music was hard and uncompromising, a car accident of a hybrid, blending the intellectual fury of Texan progressive punks At the Drive In with the melodic sound of early Get Up Kids. With Green and MacNeil carrying the tunes, Logan was free to slam in with an aggressive bark. Live or in the studio, Alexisonfire was never going to be easy listening.
Even the band's name seemed guaranteed to cause maximum discomfort once its origin was revealed. "It's the name of a contortionist stripper from Nevada," Ingelevics told Dart. "We saw her on a documentary on contortionists and said, 'That would make a good name.' There was actually a little bit of a legal problem with that. She e-mailed our Web master and basically told us to get rid of our Web site, because she had it trademarked and we couldn't use it. She said 'Good luck with finding a new name, you can't use it anymore.'"
Fortunately, the issue was resolved when it was discovered that the contortionist's moniker was not registered. With their name settled, band members were free to concentrate on writing music, performing live and recording a demo.
It wasn't long before the group caught its first break, attracting the attention of recording engineer Greg Below and Montreal journalist Mitch Joel, who were in the process of setting up a company, Distort Entertainment, and looking for artists. At the same time, Below was working at EMI Publishing and used his job to record the band at the company's in-house studio and land them a co-publishing and distribution deal.
Released in 2002, the group's self-titled debut album featured on its cover two Catholic school girls engaged in a knife fight, an image that provided an eclectic reference to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video, Britney Spears' early work and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The collection peaked at 127 on the Billboard chart and sold 30,000 copies, an impressive number for a band like Alexisonfire.
Although the distribution deal with EMI certainly helped, the success of the album was largely attributable to old-fashioned hard work and word of mouth. The band's sweet-and-sour approach to songwriting and incendiary live shows helped Alexisonfire build up incredible grassroots support.
"I think kids telling other kids about us has been the hugest thing for us," Logan told Heather Adler of Chartattack.com. "We go through a city a bunch of times, and we see a big difference when we come through the next time. The Internet has helped us out a lot, too, because there's been people in all these foreign lands that we didn't expect to know us at all, but they are singing along to all our songs."
Indeed, some of the material was fairly accessible, sliding toward the pop-tinted sounds of emo (emotional punk), but the collection also shifted gears with alarming speed. "44 Calibre Love Letter" opened with a surprisingly subtle two-minute instrumental but swiftly became an all-out vocal attack and a bitter anti-love song that was both ethereal and a near-riot. "Daggers through the Heart of St. Angeles" was a diamond-hard track but less baffling than the unique "Polaroids of Polar Bears." Even the first track released to radio, "Pulmonary Archery," was a dense full-throttle rocker that most stations seemed to go out of their way to ignore.
"We're not doing anything new," Green told Larry Leblanc of Billboard. "But I like to think we put our own twist on music. We're a scream rock band."
Although Alexisonfire made an appearance on the Mike Bullard Show and "Pulmonary Archery" received some play on MuchMusic, the airwaves seemed resistant. Still, the band enjoyed modest success, as two other videos -- "Counterparts & Number Them" and "Water Wings" -- sneaked onto MuchMusic. The group also landed a sponsorship deal with Atticus, Blink 182's clothing line, and the video for "Pulmonary Archery" received a MuchMusic Video Award nomination and a Canadian Independent Music Award.
At the same time, the media cottoned on to the group. CBC host George Stromboulopoulos, who was then a MuchMusic veejay and presenter, raved about the band. "Alexisonfire's videos have been great," Stromboulopolos told LeBlanc. "They sound legitimate. They don't sound like Matchbox 20 with tattoos. Girls love them because they are cute and funny in interviews. Boys like them because they don't think they are soft."
The band crossed the country twice, building a following. They also made inroads into the United States and European scenes, playing with Billy Talent, GWAR, Juliana Theory, Godsmack, and Glassjaw. Clearly, the band was becoming more than a hobby for its members.
"Now it's getting to the point where I think, Yeah, this is my job and this is what I do for a living. It's pretty awesome," Logan told Adler. "Even on the worst days of playing in a band, it's still better than the best day at whatever other job I've ever had in my life, whether that was working in some video store, some crappy retail place, or a cherry factory in Southern Ontario. Those were all horrible jobs and I hated every day that I was at them."
Although the solid showing of their debut album led to interest from major labels, when the members of Alexisonfire began thinking about their second album, they decided that their interest lay in remaining independent. The decision was made for artistic reasons, as they figured staying independent would give them a better chance to develop and retain control of their fate.
Indeed, their second album, Watch Out!, represented a great artistic leap forward as band members seized the opportunity to make a much stronger and more diverse collection. Instead of using a big-name producer, Alexisonfire opted to record the album with Julius Butty at his studio near Hamilton, Ontario.
Success Was No "Accident"
They put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the material ended up sounding exactly the way they wanted-- and it paid off. The album's opener, "Accidents," was the band's catchiest track to date, until Logan's scream split the song in two. By the third song, "It Was Fear of Myself That Made Me Odd," it was clear that the band's new-found grasp of dynamics had come to the fore. "Hey, It's Your Funeral" built slowly and menacingly, and "Sharks" was a well-paced trip from a surprising keyboard opening to out-of-control noise, while "White Devil" was an intense tale about the evils of cocaine. The finest moment, however, came with "Happiness by the Kilowatt," another track that ebbed and flowed and revealed the interplay between Logan and the rest of the group.
The 18 months Alexisonfire spent on the road supporting their debut album had clearly turned the band into a focused, fat-free, lean and mean unit. Band members acknowledged that many of the songs on their debut had been first drafts. This time, as they honed the tracks, they managed to harness the aggression and let out more emotion.
"This album I think people would've expected on our third album because of the overall improvement," Ingelevics told Carlo Gironi of truepunk.com. "This isn't taking away from our self-titled, which we love, we were all just in a better place and it worked out. I can sit here and go on about the differences, but you can go buy the album or stream some songs from online, and you will be able to figure it out. The fans are smarter than a lot of industry gives them credit, they know what's up."
Logan put some of the improvement down to experience. "I think if you do it long enough, then you get better at it," he told Brian Rutherford of MusicEmissions.com. "You're on the road a lot and you just get better. Also, we had a great producer, Julius Butty. We learned what we like to play. We're no longer virgins to the studio. We're just not quite the band we were a long time ago."
The media weren't the only ones who agreed that Alexisonfire was looking like a safe bet in the notoriously fickle music business. The band inked a U.S. deal with Equal Vision, a label based in Albany, New York, to release both albums south of the border and also licensed their music to companies in Japan and Europe. Watch Out! sold very well, rising to number 20 on the Billboard chart.
At the same time, the band's audiences and venues were growing noticeably bigger. "Playing in front of 2,000 people with a crowd barrier is a really cool thing, but playing in front of 2,000 kids with no crowd barrier in a packed little club where kids are running around on the stage and things get really hot, sweaty and dangerous makes it just amazing," Logan told Adler. "Its doesn't really matter where you are, that's what separates the shows."
Although MuchMusic backed the new album, playing the video for "Accidents," most radio stations once again ignored the group. Still, all five members remain as focused and driven as they were on the day they began playing hard-edged rock 'n' roll in a St. Catharines rehearsal room.
As for where Alexisonfire fits into the scene, band members don't much care--as long as it's somewhere. "People can call us screamo, metal, emo, punk or whatever, we don't care, it's more for them than us. We are indie in the sense that we are an independent band," Ingelevics told Gironi. "Regarding my thoughts on the scene, it's like every other scene. It's like grunge, we are in the phase right now where we are getting the Candleboxes of grunge regarding emo. That's cool, good music always prevails. To be honest, this is the most I ever thought about it and really don't care. I love music and appreciate everything about it; again, scenes seem to be there for the kids and the marketing teams. We play our music and love life and that is great."
by Andrew Burke
Group formed in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, 2001; began writing and recording demos; attracted attention of Distort Entertainment and signed management deal; signed distribution and publishing deal with EMI Music Canada and released self-titled debut album, 2002; signed U.S. deal with Equal Vision Records and released second album, Watch Out!, 2004.
Canadian Independent Music Award, Best Video for "Pulmonary Archery," 2002; Juno Award, New Group of the Year, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Alexisonfire Distort Entertainment, 2002.
- Watch Out! Distort Entertainment/EMI, 2004.
- Billboard, July 10, 2004, p. 59.
- Brock Press, June 24, 2003.
- Calgary Herald, January 27, 2005, p. E1.
- Edmonton Journal, October 1, 2004, p. T2.
- Globe and Mail, June 24, 2004, p. R3.
- National Post, June 9, 2003, p. AL1.
- Vancouver Province, June 1, 2004, p. B5.
- "Alexisonfire: Popular Enough to Move out of Parents' House," ChartAttack.com, http://wwwchartattack.com/DAMN/2005/01/11/02.cfm (August 15, 2005).
- "Alexisonfire," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/alexisonfire/bio/jhtml (August 15, 2005).
- "Alexisonfire - Alexisonfire," Music-Critic.ca, http://www.music-critic.ca/album-reviews/alexisonfire_alexisonfire.shtml (August 15, 2005).
- "Interview: Alexisonfire," MusicEmissions.com, http://www.musicemissions.com/features/interviews/alexisonfire.php (August 15, 2005).
- "Alexisonfire Biography," MusicEmissions.com, http://www.musicemissions.com/features/bios/alexisonfire.php (August 15, 2005).
- "Alexisonfire - Watch Out!," PunkNews.org, http://www.punknews.org (August 15, 2005).
- Alexisonfire Official Website, http://www.theonlybandever.com (August 15, 2005).
- "Interview with Alexisonfire," truepunk.com, http://www.truepunk.com/interviews/alsexisonfire/index.cfm (August 15, 2005).
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