Alexisonfire to play Rogers Center on Jan. 22 with The Distillers
the griff: You’re the backbone for a few legendary Canadian bands — Alexisonfire (AOF) and Billy Talent — and have announced a string of shows with Alexisonfire across Canada with support from The Distillers next month. It must feel pretty great to be creating with Alexisonfire again and getting back on the road?
Jordan Hastings: Absolutely. Alexisonfire hasn’t played together since last July, so it’s been quite a while. Actually, now that I come to think of it, that was the last time I played a show with any band. We always get a little apprehensive when we haven’t played in a while but it usually takes only one rehearsal and we are like, “Shit, we still know how to do this.” So yeah, we are definitely looking forward to it! We’ll probably start rehearsing early in the new year and then get ready to hit the road late January.
So earlier this year, you released “Familiar Drugs” and “Complicit,” which marked your first new songs in nine years — what lead to this extended hiatus and what is the dynamic of the band now that you guys are touring again?
JH: I think in 2012 we decided that we were going our separate ways. As much as we disliked the idea of it, Dallas (Green) wanted to focus on City and Colour, which was understandable. We tried to carry on without him, but then Wade (MacNeil) then got offered to go play with Gallows. He really wanted to do it so we were like, “Alright, I guess let’s pack it in for now.” Then in 2015, I think we collectively realized that we missed playing together. We really hadn’t seen each other much, so we got in contact with each other about meeting up and jamming. When we did, we started writing some new material. It went over real smooth and we got some great feedback from it, so we kept at it.
From that point, we decided that we can’t perform together full-time because we are just too busy with other projects and life in general, but what we can do is play together for a couple of weeks to a month each year. This way we don’t overdo it — I think what led to the demise of the band initially was just over-touring. Just grinding the shit out of our gear, day after day, and it just got to be too much. This way we just get to dip our toes in every year and have a lot of fun with it opposed to burning ourselves out.
From my knowledge, “Familiar Drugs” started off as a riff that you guys had been trying to make work for years, and the pieces for it only recently fell into place. Do songs like these usually require focus and sustained effort or have they flown more organically in the past?
JH: “Familiar Drugs” has been a riff that we have been jamming for like a decade. Dallas wrote the main riff for it like a long ass time ago while we were on the road. It’s kinda been sitting around for a while so it made sense to work on that one because that is where we left off. It came together real easy. It’s funny, we are always kinda like, “Is this going to work?” We are always a bit anxious about AOF some reason, I don’t know why, but whenever we end up coming together it turns out fucking amazing. For us, there is something magical about the five of us being in a room together and just being able to spitball ideas off of each other.
You guys recently enlisted the help of Edmonton local film director, Michael Maxxis to direct the video for “Familiar Drugs,” who has also worked with you and Billy Talent for your new episodic film release of “Forgiveness.” What is it like working with a filmmaker like Maxxis? And what was the process like for producing the video for “Familiar Drugs”?
JH: Maxxis is unreal. For “Familiar Drugs,” we weren’t intending to make a video. I mean the first time people really started to notice the band was because of our music videos on MuchMusic, but for a band like AOF music videos have always been kinda awkward. Maxxis came to us and said, “I have an idea. I want to shoot a grainy video with old camcorders that people would use for like home videos from the ‘90s with VHS recorders… and I can do it for 5,000 bucks.”
We were like, “Damn, well if you think you can do that and make it fucking cool then let’s do it.” Like we trust him and he’s never let us down before, so we did it. He found this abandoned empty storefront in Toronto and we went down there for the day and shot all the individual parts and had a really good time.
There is another side of Maxxis though, the side where his creativity can really flourish when he’s got a little bit more money behind him, as you can see in the episodic film that he directed for my other band, Billy Talent, which we shot in the desert at Cowboy Cerrone’s Ranch in New Mexico. It’s really mind-blowing stuff.
For this upcoming tour, the band has partnered with Indspire so that part of the proceeds from every ticket sold will be donated to build brighter futures for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Your latest single, “Complicit,” also deals with the topic of white male privilege — how effective of a tool do you feel that music can be in pushing the envelope for recognition of societal issues like these?
JH: I think it’s one of the most valuable tools there is. Every now and then we will get a bit of backlash for tweeting something too political, and it’s like, “Have you ever listened to our music in the last 15 years?” We’ve always been extremely political. That’s never been something that we’ve dodged or tried to avoid. We are a political band. We came up from punk and hardcore roots and how we’ve always written music, so it’s funny to me that people are surprised. Music is one of the most powerful ways to get your message across. If you can be as fortunate as we are in this day and age where we are still able to fill these huge arenas with listening fans, then we better use that to our advantage. It’s not like we are trying to do that or that we have a political agenda, but we’ve always had something to say and that’s the way it always has been.
I heard that you guys are currently working on some of your heaviest songs to date. Are these new songs a combination of the sounds you’ve been working with your other projects, or are you guys just picking up where you left off with Old Crows/Young Cardinals?
JH: I wouldn’t say it’s going to be the heaviest, but it’s heavy. I guess in a sense we did pick up where we left off with that album. The new stuff is not the same stuff you would hear from us in 2009. I think if anything we just matured and are doing what comes naturally. People always say, “Maybe you should do some edits and go for radio,” and we definitely could, but we’re not going to. We are just going to keep doing what we want to do. If we put it out and people like it that’s great and if they don’t, well that’s too bad.
MK: What’s in the future for Alexisonfire? Are these singles a preamble to something bigger, or are you guys just playing it by ear, creating music as it comes and enjoying the process for the time being?
JH: That’s exactly what we are doing. Like we touched on earlier, we just want to make and play music as much as we can and if it comes to a point where the process isn’t fun anymore then we are going to stop. The whole point is to be happy doing what we are doing and so far, we are. So yeah, we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds for Alexisonfire. I wish I had a more definitive answer for you, but I really don’t. We are just going to keep hanging out, keep creating, and see where it takes us.
Alexisonfire will be playing Rogers Place on Wednesday, Jan. 22 with The Distillers and Nobro.
Photos: Vanessa Heins