Say HELLO!! to George Pettit, the "lead screamer" in Alexisonfire, a new Canadian rock band whose screamish traits are so distinctive that a new genre appears to have been named for it: "Screamcore."
On the phone, he shrieks, "HOW! ARE! YOU! TO! DAY! I'M! FINE! THANK! YOU! FOR ASK! ING! AAAAAGH!!"
No, he didn't.
Playing Monday at the Starlite Room, the 20-year-old professional screamist seems like a normal guy. He looks like a math student. He talks like a typical 20-year-old Canadian dude in that he says "like" a lot. He admits he's rarely angry enough to warrant the comments he gets from his cathartic stage performances - man, you must be one tortured dude. It's due to "excitement" rather than rage, he insists.
"I really don't feel angry most of the time," Pettit says. "I think it's more about energy than being pissed off at my father or something. We're having fun. And we're all dancing like no one's watching, like weirdos."
Despite being named for porn star Alexis Fire - billed as the only "lactating contortionist in the world," a dubious claim, but who's going to check? - this St. Catharine's band's lyrics are thoughtful, its melodies sophisticated, its arrangements a cut above the usual hardcore punk fare. There's a "regular" singer, too, in guitarist Dallas Green. Then just add a screaming front man on top of it all - each syllable of the aformentioned thoughtful lyrics delivered with a hearty "AAAAAGH!" - and we have a hit.
Certain questions spring to mind:
Q. How did you develop your vocal style?
A. "I don't think there was much developing going on. It just sort of happened."
Q. How to you get into the screaming field?
A. "We were all in bands before this and they all failed simultaneously and (guitarist Wade MacNeil) got together with Dallas and (drummer Jesse Ingelevics) and started writing songs and Wade called me up and was like, 'Hey, I want you to sing in my new band.' And I'm like, 'I can't really sing.' And he was like, 'Well, I want you to scream.' So then we got together to see how it worked and he was like, 'Hey, let's give it a shot.' "
Q: Do you ever forget lyrics? Would it matter?
A: "I improvise a lot of the time. But most of the time, the kids are screaming along with me enough that I can manage to remember the lyrics. It's not that difficult."
Q: Really? You're kidding.
This combo of melodic rock and primal screaming has made Alexisonfire instant superstars in world of screamcore. Let's go to the record company fact sheet, Jim: Voted best video at the Canadian Independent Music Awards, heavy rotation on MuchMusic, debut sells 25,000 copies without much promotion, tours with the likes of Godsmack and GWAR, invited to play hard rock festivals in Europe, notorious performance at Toronto radio station causes a near-riot and police are called, etc., etc., etc.
Radio has not been as kind.
Says Pettit, "No one understands screaming, really. Yet. I think there's a pretty sizable age gap between the people who run the record industry and the musicians. It's not even physical age. It's the age of their thinking. They pretty much want a safe bet and I don't think Alexisonfire is a safe bet."
With a new major label album called Watch Out hitting stores in June, Pettit says he feels no pressure to be successful because the band had no expectations. Like their lactacting namesake considering whether not to shoot A-- Angels III, this band set modest goals.
"No one expected this band to do what it's doing right now," Pettit says. "It was very recreational. We wanted to play shows and have fun. It just snowballed. If two years ago if someone had said, 'Hey, this band you're in, you're going to get on MuchMusic and all this,' I would've been like, 'What the f--- are you talking about?' It was just a series of flukes and coincidences that brought us to this point. It's a little bit of talent, a lot of luck. A lot of people were in the right room at the right time.
"I'm not feeling too much pressure right now. I don't know what to think of this success thing. To me, success is getting to play to a roomful of kids every night. It's not a money thing because, frankly, we all still live with our parents and we're all flat broke. Yeah, I get meals paid for when we're on the road. That's nice. But all the money is going right back into the band."