Back in 2015, at Toronto’s Riot Fest, Wade MacNeil triumphantly declared that “Alexisonfire is officially back”. Rightly so, everyone excitedly took that as fact but what the guitarist actually meant was the most literal interpretation of “back” - they were physically all in one place for a couple of shows together.
Wade’s proclamation and the subsequent online frenzy actually prompted Alexisonfire to collectively issue a statement to clarify that actually... well, erm, they were kinda just all friends again and playing a couple of shows. Alexisonfire were back, kind of.
Flash forward four years and those few shows have become many shows around the world at infrequent, short, bursts, but as they dropped ‘Familiar Drugs’, their first new music in nine years, it felt like Alexisonfire were back; for real this time.
And now, just a few months later, they’re back again with ‘Complicit’. Where ‘Familiar Drugs’ is rock anthem with a stoner twist, ‘Complicit’ is a different beast altogether. This single is the more driving, menacing, side to Alexisonfire with vocalist George Pettit at his snarling best as he shares a message of inclusiveness and continuing the fight against racism, misogyny and heterosexual supremacy.
“It’s hard to write a song like that,’ George begins. ‘Writing an anti-racist song or anti-homophobic song, it's hard to tread those waters because a lot of songs have been written like that. And if I felt that everything had been said and everything was done, then I wouldn’t have done it, but I think it's really important right now. Racism, homophobia, misogyny are all on the rise in some regards - maybe not “on the rise” - but a lot of people who feel that sort of thing are feeling very empowered to talk about it publicly.”
While Alexis are no strangers to politically focused tracks like ‘Sons of Privilege’ or ‘We Are The Sound’ and anthems for empowerment like ‘Accept Crime’, the inspiration for ‘Complicit’ came from a pretty unlikely source.
George explains: “The motivation for the song was the Childish Gambino music video came out for ‘This Is America’. I was really moved by it...” Wade enthusiastically seconds it adding: “Punkest shit that has happened in 10 years!”
He continues: “This is so punk. It’s so amazingly punk. It’s punker than punk. It’s so fucking visceral. How do I get behind the things he is speaking about in the song, and how do I be an ally to this cause?’
"After thinking about it for a while, I think the first step for everyone is to realise compliance in that. Maybe it’s not active, but I have benefitted from the privileges I have as a white heterosexual male, and that is what the song is about.
"I have people in my life who don’t fall in that category - people who identify as something other than a white, heterosexual male - who have to navigate a world that is very different to the world I navigate at times.
"It’s a tough thing for people to swallow, but it's the first step in recognising and changing. Just because you’re not marching with the fucking proud boys doesn’t mean you’ve not benefitted from the same world that has allowed those people to exist.”
‘Complicit’ is a view of oppression from those who aren’t oppressed, which sounds ludicrous, but it seems like a needed view to inspire more change. And, as George and Wade talk more about the track, it’s clear that, for them, its not about just making music as a result of their influences - a lot of which stems from punk and ‘protest’ music - but also using the platform they have to make sure those views are heard on behalf of people who can’t be heard.
George grew up in Grimsby, Ontario, which he describes as “very small, very white” where “homophobia was an open thing that was shared widely - people couldn’t be out and gay at school without drawing the ire of a lot of people”. But, thanks to albums like Propagandhi’s ‘Less Talk More Rock’, which had the words “Pro-Feminist / Animal-Friendly / Anti-Fascist / Gay-Positive” as its artwork, George began to see the bigger picture.
“I remember that being a young person and getting this Propagandhi record and it saying 'gay positive' on it. It almost awoke me to the idea of homophobia as an evil, and I wanna do that same thing for someone else too. I’ve been inspired by that kind of music my whole life."
“I think it's music like that is the reason we are friends," adds Wade. "I think, when we met, George was the only other kid around town who knew what Crass was. It was a very important thing in our lives, and those records largely shaped more of my opinion of the world than probably a lot of my teachers.
"There is a lot of important stuff in those records that made me realise some things for the first time. I lived in a town over from George, and my experience was not dealing with people of colour as we lived in a small Ontario town, and that was not my day to day. Hearing bands talk about what is going on in the world, and specifically things that are problematic in the world, and most importantly what are we going to do to challenge that and what are we going to do to fix that?”
It’s easy to see from their upbringing, and the way music has shaped them how frustrated George and Wade are by the way the world is at the moment, and that frustration is palpable in ‘Complicit’. “We are drawing a line in the sand," George announces. “Here is where we stand. Now is the time to fucking do it. I mean here in England, in Canada - the political climate- the people are getting quite regressive. And we are standing and saying, ‘No. We are not going back’.”
It’s easy to buy into the reasoning behind ‘Complicit’ but measuring the reaction to the new single is based more on how it sounds both comparative to ‘Familiar Drugs’ and the “traditional” Alexisonfire sound. As George referred to ‘Complicit’ like a “sophomore” release, the term carried a semi-conscious undertone that this song - with its more intense, direct, approach - was always going to polarise against the more straightforward rock single that was ‘Familiar Drugs’.
“A lot of people like Alexisonfire for completely different reasons. So I will read a comment online that is ‘Yeah, ‘Complicit’ is great, it sounds like ‘Crisis’-era Alexisonfire’, and then the next comment will be ‘Complicit is shit, it doesn’t sound like ‘Crisis’-era Alexisonfire!’ I think it's overwhelmingly positive, but I do notice that everyone wants a little something different from Alexis and so we are always upsetting someone at that same time as making someone elated.
Wade laughs: “Isn't that being a band right there? Making someone happy and on the other hand, ruining someone else’s day.”
It would seem natural that after releasing two singles over a few months, there would be a plan - an album, EP, something - but without the constraints of a label, Alexis seem to be revelling in the freedom to do whatever they want. It’s the “back to basics” approach that seems so appealing to all 5 members of band and ultimately making Alexisonfire work.
“We started the band again,” explains Wade. “And, what do we like doing? Playing shows and writing music.” And that is exactly what they are doing.
Wade is keen to point out that they have “a lot” of songs that they have been working on and that will be back into the studio after they’ve wrapped up touring. Again, that only works in their favour as working on one song at a time seems to be throwing up different results to what they’ve experienced previously from working solely on an album.
He adds: “Now we are trying to approach things a little bit differently and hopefully that leads us to some new territory that we wouldn’t have done if we had we been making records in a similar fashion.”
Despite having no plans for an album, George concedes that both him and Wade are “album people” and while the songs they have are not an album yet, there could be in the future. Wade maintains that while they have songs written, they don’t yet “feel” like an album and says he “can’t quite see it yet,” before George teases “That’s not to say it isn’t there”.
But, for “album people”, there lies an issue when currently they are only working on singles and not a cohesive selection of songs. Thankfully, they seem to have that covered too.
“There are songs that we would write where we would be like ‘as a single it might be difficult, and this might need to be coupled with something else to give it more context’. At some point, we will probably write something that will need to come out in a different form than a single. But we will cross that bridge when we get to it,” says George
“We are essentially doing whatever the fuck we want," Wade continues. "So if we want to release the ambient fucking song where we play toothbrushes on a keyboard next, we could do it.”
It could easily be considered a nonchalant approach, but the opposite is true where Alexisonfire are doing everything on their own terms now. It may be at a slower pace than what fans want in an age of demand and instant gratification, but it's important to remember that a few years ago it seemed almost impossible that you’d ever see Dallas, George, Wade, Chris and Jordan in the same room again. Alexisonfire are officially back, and this time they mean it.
Taken from the August issue of Upset, out now.
Featuring Simple Creatures, Sum 41, Alexisonfire, Lights, The Regrettes and loads more.