Two years prior, Alexisonfire played in St Catharines knowing that they were breaking up after the show. They hadn't told anyone, so for the fans it was just another face-melting Alexisonfire gig. But for the few of us in the know, it was a pretty shitty day.
In 2012 the band decided to get back together for a farewell tour, giving their fans the chance to say a proper goodbye.
The grand finale was at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario. Incredibly emotional from start to finish, and absolutely one of the greatest nights of my life. I was so fortunate to have been right in the thick of it on stage with the band.
It was explosive and gut wrenching. It was the last time these five bandmates, friends, brothers would ever play these songs. (as AOF fans know, the band reunited years later but that can't take the feeling out of these photos).
Towards the end of the night Dallas gave a very emotional speech then walked over to his amp to compose himself. With his back to the crowd Dallas was standing right in front of me while I sat behind his amp wiping tears from my eyes. I looked towards the drums and Beard looked back at me with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes. It was a lot, but I loved every second of it.
The photo of Steele and Dallas leaning on each one another is such a tender moment. And the first photo of the series is probably the most powerful moment I've ever captured. So much going on. Wade destroyed his amps and guitar, and a good chunk of the stage floor. It was the most magnificently violent end of an era.
One post can't do that night justice, but ten years ago I made a 165-page interactive ebook that tells the whole story with 150 photos and audio commentary from the band.
This is a great example of a casual stroll around the neighbourhood with a camera. First Aid Kit were playing at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto's East End and after sound check we found three or four spots to shoot within a couple of blocks of the venue.
All very simple backgrounds with similar tones and textures. The off-white stucco wall was perfect and it was just the back parking lot of a Shoppers Drug Mart. With the right subjects and nice natural light you don't have to go far to get a great shot. Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg are so photogenic and lovely that I almost couldn't go wrong.
I was on tour in Europe with Billy Talent, and guess who our dressing room neighbours were at the two biggest festivals in Germany? The D!
I didn't meet them until after they played at Rock Im Park but the next day at Rock Am Ring they said I could join them on stage with my camera. This is the biggest festival I've ever been to, with a capacity of 100,000 and what a lineup: Refused, Tenacious D, Billy Talent and Metallica!!
It was my first time witnessing their pre-show huddle and majestic entrance onto the stage and later, their equally impressive exit. Awe-inspiring. And as you can see, Germans love The D.
The first photo is one of my best. I love it. Tenacious D rocking so many socks off. German festival-goers seem to know every word to every song by every band on the bill. The audience participation there is wild.
Later that summer I was lucky enough to spend the day with The D in Toronto and shot music videos for Rock Is Dead and The Metal. I'm currently working on a 10th anniversary director's cut. Stay tuned.
Thank you JB, Rage Kage, Kones, Spiker and Brooks for letting me hang out!
Year after year the guys came back from Europe telling me how incredible the festivals are, and in 2012 I finally joined them.
Up first was Rock Im Park in Nuremberg, Germany. Massive crowd who sang along the whole show. It was easy to see why the band feels so at home in Germany.
The next day, also in Germany, Rock Am Ring in was WILD. 100,000 fans chanting “Billy Talent” over and and over while the band tried to start the next song. I haven't experienced anything like it since!
Then it was straight to Warsaw, Poland for Ursynalia Festival. I love this photo of Ben looking out the window with Aaron sleeping in the foreground. Falling asleep in one country and waking up in another, day after day. I only did it for a week and was exhausted.
Warsaw was special for me because it's where I found out that I had my own fan club! I know, I wasn't expecting that either. It'll probably never happen again so even though my friends are tired of hearing about it I'm going to tell you the story ;)
A photography student named Milena who was also shooting the festival emailed to see if we could meet in person. She was with some friends who won Billy Talent meet & greet passes but when it came time to go meet the band they admitted that they were really there to meet me. They were all so nice and we hung out in the field talking about photography and life. What an unexpected treat.
Despite some hard rain, the show was awesome! After the show the guys chatted with some fans and then took it easy in the dressing room. The tour manager came in to say some more fans were outside wanting to say hi. As a joke, and an excuse to get out for fresh some air I announced “don't get up, I got this”.
When I got outside I heard my name and on the other side of the fence there was a group of kids waving for me to come over. It was my new friends from earlier plus a whole lot more. I said the band was relaxing and I can't bring them back. Turns out they were waiting out there to meet me! In 20 years shooting bands I'd never been asked for an autograph, and that night I signed a bunch ❤️❤️❤️
The final stop on my European Vacation was Amsterdam where Billy Talent had a sold out show at Melkweg. We also had a day of there and spent part of it doing new portraits for their upcoming album Dead Silence.
The night we arrived the guys went to see NOFX and I decided to take a stroll looking for locations for the next day's shoot. I'd never been to Amsterdam and didn't want to wander aimlessly with the band on their one day off. The rest of their summer tour schedule was pretty non-stop.
We went to Amsterdam Centraal Train Station during rush hour and I had the guys stand really still while I did long exposures to blur the commuters. I made the aesthetic choice to get rid of the support cables that attach the black tiles to the white ceiling, but it otherwise looks like this in real life. This photo ended up on a bunch of the band’s merch on the next tour.
This great looking stone wall is by the water just across the street from the train station. Jessica Sands who was on the tour took the photo of me with the band. (that’s her in the next one)
That night at the show I went up to this really narrow catwalk right over the crowd to get a photo that ended up being one of my favourites from the tour. Such a cool view of the crowd and stage with the backdrop. I think the catwalk is meant for hanging lights and it's definitely not open to the public. It was a tight squeeze!
The final photo is a sweaty and tired me right after the show, realizing that this awesome time with my pals had come to an end and I'd be flying home the next morning. Photo by Aaron Solowoniuk.
In the years following their breakup in 1998, Refused were pretty adamant about never getting back together. I mean the band's guitarist, Kristofer Steen made a documentary called Refused Are Fucking Dead.
Whenever I saw singer Dennis Lyxzén I'd hint at it and he would laugh.
Then one day in 2012 the news broke that Refused were getting back together for a handful of shows. I immediately grabbed my phone. “I guess you heard the news”, said Dennis with a chuckle. He was waiting in line for a movie and said he’d call back later.
When we spoke I told him I'd do anything to document the rehearsals and tour. For a variety of very valid reasons, the band didn't feel comfortable having a photographer hanging around just yet. They hadn't played together in 14 years and no one in the band but Dennis even knew me.
They had a show booked in New York at the end of April so I tried Dennis again, telling him that I was driving down with some friends. By then they had a couple of shows under their belts and he said it would be cool for me to bring my camera.
Terminal 5 in NY was packed to the rafters, mostly with hardcore Refused fans who never got to see them play before they broke up. The place was ready to explode. 14 years of pent up energy and love for songs that we never thought we'd get to see live. I can't even describe the feeling.
I started in the balcony where it looked like a scene from Thunderdome, then moved to the front of the stage. What I was wtinessing felt historic.
After the show I said hi to Dennis but it wasn't until June that I formally met the rest of the band. When I was in Europe with Billy Talent the first two shows were with Refused. Even though we had just met that day, the guys were cool with me being on stage with my camera and even let me ride in the shuttle with them. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits.
In the end I think I saw them 5 times that year. Go to 2014 to find what happened next!
1-5: New York. 6-13: Germany