Bent, Not Broken
A mere three months after Allister’s sophomore album was released in 2002, the quartet lost half of their members, leaving the group without a drummer or guitarist. The Chicago-based outfit were forced to either end the band or search for replacements.
“It was difficult,” says singer/guitarist Tim Rogner. “There were definitely times when we almost cashed in our chips.”
And why not? After the successful release of Last Stop Suburbia, which went on to sell 80,000 copies, Allister’s guitarist and Rogner’s brother Chris decided to call it quits. “He wanted to pursue the band he started from scratch called August Premier,” Rogner says. “When [we were] on the road, that band got signed to Fueled By Ramen [Records], so we told him, ‘Yeah, absolutely go do that. You deserve a shot to take your band as far as you can.’”
Almost immediately following his brother’s abdication, drummer Dave Rossi also decided to exit the group, citing tour exhaustion and simply not wanting to be in a band anymore.
Rogner thinks both are content with the choices they made and says the lines of communication are still open with his brother. “But Dave I actually haven’t talked to in awhile, about a year ago. I respect [their] decision and I don’t think they regret it because I know they’re happy doing what they are now.”
Down to a duo, Rogner and bassist Scott Murphy held on. “Scottie and I sat at a bar one day for like three hours and discussed the whole thing. We both came to the conclusion that we love doing this and didn’t want to stop anytime soon because we felt like we wouldn’t be getting a fair shake. So we made every effort to find people to play with.”
The effort started with a call to friend and drummer Mike Leverence, who played with Rogner’s college band, The Conways. Leverence wanted to join, so that was an easy find compared to searching for a guitarist. The group was interested in Kyle Lewis of Show Off, a band Allister had previously toured with. But Lewis was preoccupied with his band, so Allister started auditioning other guitarists.
“Then when we were looking for a guitar player, [Kyle] calls and he’s like, ‘Yeah you know my band that I was in just broke up, so if you guys are still looking for a guitar player, I’d be interested in trying out,’” explains Rogner with a sigh of relief. “We basically knew right then and there that he was going to be our guy. We’d been friends for a couple years. So we were pretty excited about it.”
Now that the quartet was assembled, it was time to start working on an album. “It was a little strange at first,” Rogner admits. “We didn’t really know how each other wrote, so there was a little bit of a feeling out process.”
It was almost inevitable with half of the band being switched out, that Allister’s nine-year history of pop punk sensibility would be, at the least slightly adjusted. The change that surfaced was a rock ‘n’ roll aspect, which was absent from Allister’s previous two albums.
Rogner points out, “We still wanted to maintain a sense of Allister. We still love pop punk. We didn’t want a radical change. But we wanted to make somewhat of a conscious effort to make things a little more rock ‘n’ roll.” He notes, “We’re not terribly concerned if anybody is turned off by it or completely questions what we’re doing. Everyone wants to grow as an artist and try to write new things and that’s kind of what we did.”
Before The Blackout, which was released in October, is not only more rock tinged, it is also lyrically darker than Dead Ends And Girlfriends (1999) or Last Stop Suburbia. Allister matured, coming a long way from 1999’s humorous cover of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” Their first two albums were mostly about girls and relationships, while Before The Blackout touches on alcoholism, depression, and a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend. On the edgier “Blackout” Rogner sings, “These lonely times will strike me twice/The screams of 1,000 voices/Are whispers inside my head/The echoes of self defense.”
This album opens up a mature and personal side of the band that hadn’t been revealed before. But they didn’t make a complete about-face; there are still songs about girls that follow the fast, catchy, and melodic formula that made Allister who they are, like on “2 a.m.” and “Rewind.”
Rogner explains the songwriting saying, “Most of the stuff that we write is pretty heartfelt and pretty true as of our experiences in real life. A lot of that stuff that I went through, that we went through as a band came out on the album and is reflected on the album. You kind of write it as you go along, and however it comes out, it comes out.”
He reveals the album title is also reflective of how the band felt. “[Before The Blackout] is a reference to the almost euphoric feeling you get right before you blackout, like from say a long night of drinking. Everything feels really cool for that quick second and then you don’t remember a thing. That’s kind of how we felt, kind of where we are as a band, like things are very cool for us right now, but it could all end at any moment, you never really know.”
Although it almost ended when Allister lost their guitarist and drummer, they regrouped and aren’t throwing in the towel anytime soon. This is especially true in the aspect of touring, which they do rigorously. At the beginning of December they wrapped up a tour with Fenix TX and will be performing a string of dates in Japan starting January 11th.
When Allister return to the States, they’d like to do yet another tour. Rogner predicts, “Another headlining tour or maybe a support tour with a bigger band. We might go back over to England and do some European dates. I think we’d probably all go crazy sitting around at home. Our normal life is life on the road.”
No word on when they’ll be back to perform in Chicago, which Rogner says is one of his favorite places to play. “It’s pretty cool to play your hometown. And know that this is a town where you used to go see bands play that you liked. It’s kind of cool to think that we’re having the same influence on the younger generation as the bands did that I grew up listening to.
“We get to play our own music that we write everyday for kids that come to our shows. You can’t really ask for a much better job than that.”
Despite Allister’s fair share of ups and downs in the past few years, Rogner remains optimistic. “I’m glad we stuck with it. Right now it’s amazing. It’s by far the best lineup we’ve ever had.”
Knock on wood.
– Jill Haverkamp
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