TORONTO — When Alexisonfire announced their breakup eight years ago, lead vocalist George Pettit stood before an opportunity to hit reset on his career.
After thrashing around in the St. Catharines, Ont., band for the better part of a decade his life was at a crossroads. One direction would lead him back into the music industry, while another could take him nearly anywhere else.
He jotted down a list of jobs for a veteran musician. Band manager, label executive, record producer — none of them broke outside the formula, until he pushed himself to think past his own expectations.
“I was like, ‘What do you really want to be? What do you want to do?'” he remembers.
“And I don’t know, firefighter seemed like a fairly noble pursuit.”
Four years after joining the fire department in Oshawa, Ont., Pettit says his priorities are much different than they were during his Alexisonfire days. Professionally, he considers himself a firefighter first, and the voice of a successful post-hardcore rock band second.
“My world changed very drastically when the band broke up,” he explains.
Pettit, 36, hesitates to divulge too much about his new profession in the public sector. He’s managed to keep his firefighter position mostly off the radar of music magazines.
“The job has built-in respect to it,” he says. “It’s not something I tend to broadcast.”
Each member of Alexisonfire went their separate ways after the split in late 2011. Bassist Chris Steele trained as professional barber, while Dallas Green focused on his music project City and Colour.
Jordan Hastings migrated over to Billy Talent as a substitute drummer, and guitarist Wade MacNeil began writing scores for movies and video games.
“The breakup turned out to probably be the best thing to happen to all of us,” Pettit says. “It caused us to kind of grow up a bit.”
Yet as the years passed the legacy of Alexisonfire refused to snuff out.
Music festivals wanted to book them, fans called for another tour, and sometimes the band obliged with surprise performances. For every opportunity they accepted, there were many others the band turned down in hopes of moving on.
It was enough to make the whole breakup thing feel temporary, despite what Pettit once said was not an amicable separation driven by Green’s interest to focus on City in Colour.
Pettit remembers how questions about the future of Alexisonfire lingered in the back of his mind, even as he looked towards starting fresh.
Eventually Pettit started to wonder why he staunchly refused to entertain the idea of a serious reunion.
“Every time we got together as a band it was fun,” he says.
So Pettit and his former Alexisonfire bandmates started to discuss their options, with a few caveats. Most importantly, he didn’t want the reformed act to “upset the natural order of anybody’s lives.” He also didn’t see the point of bringing Alexisonfire back simply to rehash old favourites.
“I don’t think any of us are all that interested in becoming some nostalgia act,” Pettit says.
Dallas Green suggested his Toronto home studio as a workspace for writing sessions. They agreed to work around Pettit’s firefighter shifts.
“George said, ‘Ya know, Monday mornings work really good for me,'” Green says.
“I just laughed. I was like, ‘Wow, are we ever doing adult screamo or what?’ Here we are closing in on our 40s and we’re talking about a Monday morning aggressive music practice.”
When plans started rolling, they picked up steam fast.
Already the band has roughly 20 songs “on the burner,” Green says, and while none of them are fully developed they could theoretically wind up on a new album. The new single “Familiar Drugs” was released last week to generate buzz for a mini-tour across four cities in June.
Beyond that, the guys aren’t making promises they can’t keep — including any guarantee a new album will see the light of day.
Each band member plans to keep their day job, including Green who will release a new City and Colour album for the fall.
In many ways, they’re treating Alexisonfire as one really ambitious hobby.
“We all see how lucky we are to be this long into it and still excited,” Green says.
“For us to put any sort of deadlines or pressure… it would sort of defeat the purpose.”
Pettit says he recognizes this unusual second act of rock glory is nothing to take for granted.
“I expect this to go away all the time — I’m more than prepared for Alexisonfire to not exist,” he says.
“Everybody likes where we are in life. This is just an added bonus.”
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David Friend, The Canadian Press