Alexisonfire’s Relationship With The Tooth Fairy

"Most bands aren't seeing any money from record royalties," says Alexisonfire's George Pettit. "You get a check twice a year and you split it five ways. It's not a big amount of money. It's not retirement type of money. It's a little chunk of change. We've got two platinum records and we don't see a great deal of money from our record sales. Where we float the boat is doing this: touring, selling tickets."

- Sheila Busteed
Photos by Dara Hakimzadeh

posted August 6, 2007

Alexisonfire’s Relationship With The Tooth Fairy

     Shooting to stardom and staying there isn’t easy to do in the music industry, and even harder to pull off on the international scene, but Canadian screamo band Alexisonfire has managed to do so. With three highly successful albums under their belt and a tour schedule that keeps them on the road almost constantly, the band is one of the most successful and hard-working groups to recently come out of the Great White North.

     But apparently along with stardom comes cynicism. Frontman George Pettit and guitarist Wade MacNeil were recently in Ottawa for the band’s performance at the Bluesfest and talked at length about the music business and what they don’t like about it – a topic they say they never grow tired of talking about.

     “We’re all fans of music and you tend to get pretty heated when you see manufactured bands coming up really quickly. It kind of cheapens it for everyone else,” says Pettit. “Why get on board with something that’s so phony, bullshit, kitsch garbage when there are real bands out there that are struggling artists?

     “It would be awesome – something to be proud of as Canadians – if the media got behind real bands and didn’t always pander to garbage,” he continues. “If our biggest exports were bands like the Cancer Bats or the Constantines or Attack in Black or Ladyhawk, for any one of these bands it would be great. Maybe they wouldn’t just break up in two years because they’ve got to pay the rent and get a real job.”

     Instead, as MacNeil points out, the major labels are more interested in padding their own pockets than supporting great music, which is evident by their efforts to curb music downloading and free Internet radio.

     “As far as the Internet or free music downloading goes, we’re completely for it,” he says. “There are probably about a fifth the amount of the people working at major labels that I’d say were working their three years ago. They’re still doing the same amount of work and people are still getting laid off.”

     MacNeil even goes so far as to give music labels a nickname to reflect the role they play in musicians’ lives.

Alexisonfire Feature Article

     “They’re like the Tooth Fairy,” he says.

     Pettit elaborates on this theory a bit by explaining that the majority of bands are not worse off by the presence of the Internet and the ability to download music. In fact, he says, despite label executives’ claims that the Internet hurts the artist, some artists get more support from Internet activity than from their own labels.

     “Most bands aren’t seeing any money from record royalties,” says Pettit. “You get a check twice a year and you split it five ways. It’s not a big amount of money. It’s not retirement type of money. It’s a little chunk of change. We’ve got two platinum records and we don’t see a great deal of money from our record sales. Where we float the boat is doing this: touring, selling tickets.

     “The record industry is becoming more and more irrelevant and the live portion and the concerts are just as important and potent as back in the day,” he continues. “I don’t think anyone is going to suffer any loss if the industry was going to sink tomorrow.”

     Pettit suggests that the industry has recognized the plausibility of this scenario, which is why it’s fighting technological advances that are forcing it to change.

     “All those money hungry music industry people are going to squeeze the sponge until they tear it in half,” he says, referencing the current struggle that Internet radio faces in the United States with impending fees. “They’re really grasping at straws now trying to find all these different ways to get money.”

     However, they were sure to point out that one tool of the industry has done a great deal to help Alexisonfire break through to the mainstream market: national music video television station MuchMusic and, specifically, one of its former VJs, George Stroumboulopoulos.

     “They took a chance on us and a large reason they did was because of George Stroumboulopoulos really championing our band,” says MacNeil. “He fought to get our music played and said, ‘Kids are into this band. It’s interesting and we should take a chance on this.’”

     However, Pettit notes that, since Stroumboulopoulos’ departure from MuchMusic in 2004 to anchor a new prime time news program on CBC Newsworld, The Hour, MuchMusic has been somewhat lacking credibility.

Alexisonfire Feature Article

     “For every one step forward, they’re kind of taking two steps back now,” says Pettit. “There’s a business aspect to it, it’s a very money-driven industry and not an art-driven industry.”

     MacNeil adds that, in recent years, the MuchMusic programming has shifted to imitate that broadcasted by its American competitor, MTV, by filling airtime with reality shows instead of music videos.

     MacNeil’s explanation for the change is simple: “You’re not going to lose anybody doing that because that’s safe,” he says. “That’s depressing.”

     “We don’t need to be like the Americans right now,” adds Pettit. “The Americans have fucked their industry so much that it would be hard for me to see another Nirvana coming in and blowing everything to pieces.”

     Shaking up the industry is something that Prince did recently when he gave away free copies of his album Planet Earth in British newspaper The Mail on Sunday just weeks before it was due to be released by Sony BMG. Pettit says alternate ways of releasing an album is something he’d love to see Alexisonfire do.

     “I almost feel like we could release our next CD for free and put it on the Internet,” he says, adding that they would probably still release it on vinyl with interesting packaging to appeal to collectors.

     “That’s pretty much what we want to do: make good records and make something we won’t cringe about four years from now.”