Canada’s finest export Alexisonfire have just released their fourth Studio album ‘Old Crows/YoungCardinals’ on Dine Alone/Shock Records, and it’s been a long time coming for fans.
It’s been almost three years since the AOF released their highly acclaimed album ‘Crisis’, which, like their previous two LP’s, went platinum in Canada.
Frontman George Pettit was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
Let¹s get down to business then? You guys wrapped up the sessions for Old Crows/Young Cardinals in April. Can you walk through us the whole recording process?
Well we went to the beautiful city of Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, to record at armory studios. We were all holed up in one hotel suite like some bad sitcom. Every day we would wake up at around 11am and walk across the Berrard St. bridge on our way to the studio. Get there, order some sandwiches from the local deli and get to work until around midnight, then walk back to the hotel. Armory has this amazing live room so Beard, Dal, Wade and Steele would play the song about 10 times and we would record the beds live off the floor. Nick, Rob, Juice and I would sit in the room with the board and they would turn knobs and I would look confused. After we finished recording the instruments we headed back to southern Ontario to Juice’s home studio to record the vocals. Juice lives on a farm on Hamilton mountain so that was nice. You can read the day to day break down on www.youngcardinals.blogspot.com
Nick Blagona who worked with you guys on Crisis handling the engineering duties on Old Crows. What made him the right man for the job?
Nick has this crazy history in the music industry. He was the house engineer for Decca in the 60¹s. he has worked with all sorts of legends from all over the musical world and if you want your Hammond to sound like the voice of god he is your man. He also shares a sick sense of humor with us which is good for some laughs. Nick really doesn¹t fuck around. He knows how to record music, it¹s as simple as that. One day he will write a book and it will be filled with all sorts of barbaric tales and I will buy it.
This record marks the third consecutive time Alexisonfire have worked with Julius Butty in some capacity. What does he bring to the table that keeps you guys coming back?
I would say it is equal parts talent and comfort that bring us back to juice. We were on the brink of going to LA to record and we had a few ³big name² producers lined up but in the end we chickened out because there was too much guesswork involved. Juice was safe. He is incredibly versatile too, so we knew that he could make a great sounding record but he would have the foresight to make sure it was different from the previous work we had done with him.
It¹s not uncommon for a contemporary band to spend months and months in the studio, but you were able to wrap up everything from tracking to mastering in around 2 months. Did the band spend a lot of time on pre-production making sure everything was air tight, or is that the way the band always works?
We spent the better part of 6 months writing oc/yc but even if we wrote the record in three weeks, it¹s hard for me to imagine a scenario where we would spend 6 months in the studio. Recording for months and months probably involves some big egos and lots of cocaine. We have neither.
Do you think your raw and organic sounding recording style allows you to capture your live energy, something that so many artists are unable to do?
I think that something gets lost when you over produce a song. so much of what we do is our live show so we wanted to do our best to capture that.
That was a lot of the reason why we decided to record the instruments live off the floor. I don¹t think that isolating everything and making a record sound pristine makes the songs sound any better. I listen to a lot of older music and you cant tell me that any motown hit isn¹t good because they only had two tracks to record on. If you ask me the sound of the room is almost as important as the music itself.
Since Crisis was released (in 2006) the various members of Alexis have released solo records and taken part in other bands. Do you think that time away from the band gave everyone a fresh set of eyes and ears which ultimately helped in the creation of Old Crows/Young Cardinals?
Exactly. The side projects act as a vehicle to get all of the other ideas out of our heads. Sometimes you write something and it isn¹t an alexisonfire song. so by putting out our side projects it kind of clears the slate and in the end we have a more focused idea of what alexisonfire is. Also we toured on crisis for about 10 months straight and I think it was important for us to spend some time away from alexis. So I would say that the side projects definitely helped in the writing of oc/yc.
Eight years into the band¹s career, was there anything in particular you were looking to achieve with Old Crows/Young Cardinals?
We have never been a goal-oriented band and I don¹t think that now is a good time to start. Even if we have goals in our heads, to speak them aloud would probably just jinx us. We are just going to continue doing what we always do, write music and tour. The future is still largely unwritten for us.
I¹m lucky enough to have a copy of the new record man, and every song on there has these huge fucking choruses and hooks. Now, you guys have always had a huge melodic element within your songs but am I right in assuming that writing your most memorable, cohesive rock songs was high on the priority list with this record?
I think that when you tour and play songs live you learn pretty quickly what works and what doesn¹t. the songs that the kids sing back at you the hardest are the ones you end up playing the most. Some time around watch out we learned that it¹s ok to write chorus¹. I like lots of music that isn¹t exactly pop sensible, we just aren¹t one of those bands. But on the other hand I don¹t think there was ever a point where we were sitting around and we decided to make ³memorable, cohesive rock songs.² That¹s just how we write I guess.
Your lyrics have always covered a variety of different subjects, from the very personal to the political. What topics did you focus on or draw from this time around?
Lyrically oc/yc is all over the place. Metaphysical rebellion, nomadic lifestyle, 19th century Methodist hyms, the disappearing middle class, mans ever growing web of conflicting ideology. All kinds of pretentious shit. Ha.
Alexis were unfairly given the screamo tag early on in your career, is distancing yourselves from the pack something you¹re conscious of when it comes to writing new material?
Screamo has become a bit of a four letter word. I don¹t think history is going to look back on screamo fondly. so yeah, I guess that was in the back of our heads when we were making the record. Honestly we don¹t listen to screamo. As far as music is concerned we are on a completely different page.
Crisis saw Wade have a more prominent contribution in the vocal department than your previous releases, something that¹s continued on with the new record. Do you think the contrast between his and Dallas¹ voice is what allows you guys to continuously create something that sounds fresh?
I think our ability to mesh three vocalists together has gotten better.
There is a lot more harmonising and singing together. It is difficult to have multiple singers with drastically different voices and have it flow nicely in a song. but for some reason it works with us.
I know a lot of bands don¹t like to talk about who or what influences them, but were there any bands or artists that got you guys excited during the writing and recording of Old CrowsŠ that maybe weren¹t present earlier on in Alexisonfire¹s career?
Musical influence is ever changing in alexisonfire. I cant speak for all the guys but some of the records I was listening to were things like Reigning Sound too much guitar, Skip James hard time killing floor blues, the constantines Kensington heights, fucked up chemistry of common life, the wipers over the edge, Trojan rocksteady rarities box set, nick cave and the bad seeds dig lazarus dig, Torche meanderthal, Leonard cohen songs of love and hate, velvet underground live at maxs Kansas city etc etc.
I don¹t think that the new alexis sounds much like any one of those records really but that was my sound track to the writing of oc/yc. I think we are more influenced by bands we hate. Like when you see a band that you don¹t ever want to be like and it pushes you away from that sort of sound.
You guys have got some solid touring ahead of you for this record, how are the new songs sounding within the rest of your set?
The new songs are a lot of fun. The kids are starting to figure it out and sing them back at us.
You¹ll be playing the US Warped Tour this summer, which has a fairly diverse spread of bands on board this year. Do you think the festival still has the communal vibe it did when it first started out, or has the inclusion of less and less punk bands compromised what Warped was all about?
Its hard to say. I wasn’t at the first warped tour but if I had to guess I would bet that there wasn’t as much corporate sponsorship. I don¹t tend to look at the warped tour like it has some sort of underlying diy ideology to it. Its just a tour opportunity for bands to play in America. It¹s a business just like any other business and maybe that isn’t so "punk" but at the same time it is hard to talk shit. It is a lot of fun to do the warped tour. sure, there are a lot of dorks cruising around but you just find the likeminded bands on the tour and circle the wagons. Most days are spent bbqing and riding around on a bmx shirtless.
When are your Australian fans going to get a chance to hear the material live?
February 2010. See ya then.
That¹s about all we¹ve got time for George, is there anything else you¹d like to add?
Thanks again for your time mate.
‘Old Crows/YoungCardinals‘ is out now via Vagrant/Shock Records. For more info on the band head to their Myspace page.