Artists and Bands

Alexisonfire’s George Pettit talks curses, self-scrutiny, why Cancer Bats should tour less and shows off his best East Coast Canadian accent

For nearly a decade, Alexisonfire has been a testament to just how great Canadian music can really be. The Juno-nominated band has been impressing audiences and gaining critical acclaim ever since its debut, self-titled album went gold. Two platinum records followed and the band’s latest full-length, 2009’s Old Crows/Young Cardinals, was the fourth gold certification for Alexisonfire. Clearly, they’re not going anywhere any time soon and on November 2 they surprised fans with a four-track EP, Dog’s Blood, which introduced a whole new side of Alexisonfire to the world. A Canadian tour followed the release and vocalist George Pettit sat down with me backstage at Montreal’s Metropolis to talk curses, self-scrutiny, why Cancer Bats should tour less and even took the time to show off his best East Coast Canadian accent.

Q: You’re just finishing up your Canadian tour, how did the road treat you?

A: It was nice and cold, as it usually is at this time of year across Canada, but the shows have been fantastic.

Q: So nothing too out of the ordinary happened?

A: What we do is so out of the ordinary most of the time [laughs], but we had no big precarious events or anything. We kind of, we have a history, or a curse if you will, of Christmas shows around southern Ontario and being snowed-in in the mountains and being stuck in the snow in the mountains in British Columbia, but its been absolutely uneventful and for the best on this tour. So we’re keeping the positive mental attitude and hopefully we’ll make it through this without one big blizzard hitting and ruining a show. Almost there – home stretch!

Q: When you get back home after a tour like this, is it at all weird?

A: It’s not weird, [but] it’s definitely a bit of a shift. You pick up some certain habits when you’re on the road because there’s, I don’t know, just what we do, there’s a lot of downtime and then you get home and you have responsibilities and usually it takes a couple days to get back into the groove of doing laundry and vacuuming and things, and then you’re right back into it. I love going home and I love living locally and being at home,  but I also love playing in our band and waking up in a different city every day. I wouldn’t say it’s weird, it just takes some adjustment getting back home.

Q: Before this you were in Australia, Europe and Japan – have you noticed any differences between audiences in different parts of the world?

A: There’s certain cities you’ll play in where the culture is very noticeably different, but for the most part, on a whole, no matter whether we’re playing in Tokyo or Sydney or Toronto or Montreal, we attract a certain type of kid that expects a certain thing to happen at our shows, which is largely like mosh pits and dancing and sweaty, fun kind of show. So across the board it’s pretty much like that. It’s usually just kids going nuts and crowd surfing and singing along to the songs, so I don’t know if there’s necessarily a big difference.

Q: I was talking to Cancer Bats, who I know you’re friends with, a few months back and they mentioned that touring can take a real physical toll on your body/voice – do you find that to be true?

A: Some days are worse than others, but there’s a monotony of touring. It’s not all, I’m sure I’m gonna crush some kids’ hopes that backstage is all hot tubs and cocaine parties and stuff like that, but there’s a lot of hurry up and wait. There’s a lot of like, you wake up, you go for breakfast, you come back, you do a soundcheck, you do press, you go out for dinner and then you play the show. And I think that can kind of get tiring if you do it as much, especially as much as the Cancer Bats. Cancer Bats tour way too much is their problem, if you ask me. I want them to stop touring so I can hang out with them. I never get to see them!

But yeah, this is the smallest violin in the world playing just for all the guys playing in touring bands, if that’s the worst thing that you can complain about is that you have a slight bit of monotony in your day. We have the best job ever. It’s not tiring – you feel hurt, but it’s a rewarding hurt. The first three shows are usually, you’re getting your legs about you again, your body aches afterwards, but after those first three shows you don’t remember what it was like before your body started aching. And now it kind of becomes, it numbs itself out after a while and you just feel great. We still live for that hour and half we get every day to kind of go up and yell at kids.

Q: You’ve said that the tracks on the new EP are songs you felt wouldn’t fit on a full-length album – is trying to achieve that specific Alexisonfire sound something you’re constantly thinking about when recording an album?

A: This was our first time ever really writing for an EP and I think there was something kind of freeing about that. When we write for a full-length we’re scrutinizing every song very intensely whereas an EP, a bit of that pressure’s off. We just kind of, we wrote those songs on the road. We wrote them, they were done, the instrumental was a B-side from Old Crows/Young Cardinals that didn’t make it onto that record, we wanted to do something with it and it fit nicely with the concept that we had. Yeah, so it was definitely the most gutteral thing we’ve written in that we didn’t really self-edit ourselves too much with it, we didn’t try and over-record it. We recorded it in two days at a small studio and we just put it out, we just wanted it out. When you write an album there’s a lot more self-editing, there’s a lot more strategy to it whereas the EP was just like a simple kind of thought that just happened instantly.

Q: Do you ever wish you could record a full-length the same way, without all the scrutiny?

A: No, I think they both work for different things. If we’re making a full-length record, I want to scrutinize, I want to think about it and I want to chew on the songs for a while. Everyone gets their opinion in on the track listing, and what songs are gonna make it on and what songs aren’t. That’s something I think is necessary when you’re making a full-length album. But the EP, again, it was just our first time ever really doing it. It was just such a thought that happened and then we were just like, ‘OK do it’ and then we did it, and then it was done. They work well for different reasons, for different things. If we do another EP we’ll probably do it like that. Just do it as quickly as possible, get it out. Write the songs, have them done, done.

Q: You guys also have quite a few side projects, like City and Colour and Black Lungs, is it difficult to balance everything? Have the other projects ever taken away any creative energy from Alexisonfire?

A: I think, if anything, its been the excess of creative energy that’s created those things. The side projects have made Alexisonfire more concise. They’ve made it more what it is as … [because] we’re not trying to force in our other influences. A lot of the time we just don’t listen to stuff that sounds like Alexisonfire, so you wanna play in a punk band or you wanna play in a folk band or something like that, but you don’t want that to overlap into Alexis because Alexis is what it is. It’s the product of all of our minds when we get in a jam space, you know? But sometimes you just have an idea or a riff that just does not fit in that environment, so it becomes something else. If anything it hasn’t changed Alexis in more that its made Alexis more of what it is.

Q: So do you EVER listen to your own music?

A: Rarely. Usually I listen to them for a few weeks after they’re done, I’ll really scrutinize it and think about all the different songs, and then I’ll put it away and listen to music that I listen to. Listening to your own music just sounds a little self-indulgent.

Q: While on the road, have you ever been greeted with any funny Canadian stereotypes?

A: Yeah, well, we live the Canadian stereotypes. We have this weird sort of self-deprecating patriotism where everybody’s just like ‘Yay Canada! We’re the underdog!’ And if you’re on the road, you’ll be in England and someone will be like, ‘Oh, what are you a Yank?’ we’ll be like, ‘No, we’re Canadian!’ We get really pissed off at ’em for no reason, so that’s one thing. Yeah, Canadian stereotypes – they all exist. We all love hockey, we like to eat poutine. They’re all true!

I love going to the East Coast. East Coast feels like the purest Canadian culture to me. It’s weird, that English/Acadian kind of vibe and you know, fishing towns and people [puts on a freakishly accurate East Coast accent] ‘Oh, you going to Mike’s Lounge? Yeah, oh, it’s a great place there!’ [laughs] Weird kind of Canadian accent – I like it a lot.

Q: So what’s next for Alexisonfire? Any plans to record new material any time soon?

A: Probably around February we’ll all get antsy. We got a new jam space now so I think it’ll be tough to keep us all out of there for too long, but I think we’ll probably take the month of January and just try and step away from all this for a while. We’re not in a big rush to get back out on the road either, we’ve all got a lot of things coming up. Jordan’s getting married and I’ve got a kid now, and we’re all pretty invested in home right now. We’re gonna go back and get back to reality.

Q: And finally, finish this sentence for me, “Alexisonfire is…”

A: Is going home very soon and very grateful that everyone’s made a very successful Canadian tour for us. Thank you.

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