The third album from Chicago melodic punk quartet, Allister, Before the Blackout, is a triumphant shout from the back of the bar, a euphoric realization that, in a world overrun with despair, mediocrity and compromise, honest, energized rock music can still electrify and invigorate the soul.
It isn't just the band's shout-along choruses, foot-stomping beats or fist-in-the-air riffs. And it's not the yearning vocals, which are driven by pain, but motivated by the urge to persevere. The secret of Before the Blackout has more to do with the intangibles - the way a certain passage can leave a smile on your face and an ache in your heart; and how the right combination of notes can generate more power than an industrial generator.
And maybe more than anything, the disc is a defiant declaration from a veteran batch of road warriors who refuse to conform to trends and remain dedicated to touring endlessly and writing songs that remind them of the great rock they grew up on, be it the Ramones, Screeching Weasel or Green Day.
To achieve such an impacting sound on Before the Blackout, Allister shuffled their formula a little, adding elements of power pop and album rock into their punk-pop foundation. "So many bands right now sound the same," says singer and guitarist Tim Rogner. "We grew up on pop-punk, and that's what we love to write, but we also want to do something different, so we tried to incorporate more straight-up rock n' roll stuff like Foo Fighters and Marvelous 3 because I think a lot of that is missing from this kind of music."
The results are stunning, injecting dimension to the group's songs without detracting from their primal appeal. "Blackout" is dark and menacing, laden with sharp, tinny guitars, echoing atmospherics and tribal drums before bursting into the kind of chorus meant to be blasted from car stereos. "From the Ground Up" is a bouncy blend of upbeat riffs, speedy beats and harmony-tinged vocals, "Easy Answers" starts with a stealthy power chord riff, then segues into a driving rocker and "2 a.m." is a slower, more plaintive number driven by ringing guitars, longing vocals and dynamic musical phrasing.
Before Allister could unleash their latest triumph upon an unsuspecting public, the band had to overcome some serious personal and personnel problems. Shortly after touring for their 2002 disc, Last Stop Suburbia, Tim's brother and guitarist Chris Rogner left the band to devote more time to his other group, and drummer Dave [last name TK] left because he was sick of touring and wanted to go back to school. "For a while it was just [bassist] Scotty [Murphy] and I, and we were like, should we just end the band?" remembers Rogner. "But we decided to try to keep it going and slowly worked out way back up to where we are now."
First, Rogner called his friend, drummer Mike Leverence, who had played with him in college in a band called The Conways. "He was the first one I thought of," Rogner says. "And fortunately he wanted to join, so that was easy."
The addition of guitarist Kyle Lewis was slightly more complicated. The band got along well with him when they toured with his former band Show Off, and liked his aggressive playing style. However, Show Off were still together when Allister first tried to recruit Lewis, and Rogner was forced to audition several other players. "We had a guy we thought might work out, then at the very last minute Kyle called and said, 'Hey, my band broke up. Are you still looking for a guitar player?' And we knew instantly that if he wanted to join, he was in."
"It was a pretty natural fit for me because I knew the guys, so the chemistry was great right off the bat," Lewis says. "And my playing style is pretty suited to the music they play, so it didn't feel like that much of an adjustment."
Even after Allister secured their lineup, Rogner still had to sort out some personal demons, involving damaging relationships and various types of overindulgence. The album title, Before the Blackout, is a reference to the many drinking binges the singer underwent before entering the studio.
"It has to do with that period right before you black out where you're in this weird zone and you're not really sure what's going on and everything around you seems really surreal," Rogner says. "There were about seven to eight months where I was drinking a lot of alcohol and not really knowing what I was doing and blacking out every day. It wasn't a period I was very proud of. There were just so many things going on in my life that all I wanted to do was get drunk and not remember what was happening."
While drinking provided a temporary escape, Rogner found that the most effective way to cope with his problems was to write songs about them, converting painful and negative energy into something cathartic and positive. "Blackout," is about the frustrations that drove him to drink, "Potential Suicide" recalls an ex-girlfriend who was trying to kick booze and drugs while they were dating and "Alotta Nerve" addresses a girl he was in a serious relationship with for two years, who left him in favor of a drug habit. "I kind of gave her the three strikes and you're out treatment and she struck out," Rogner says. "And me being such a sucker for this girl, I was like, 'Well, maybe I'll give you one more shot,' and she said, 'You know what, I'd rather have the drugs.' Needless to say, I was a little disappointed."
Rogner started writing songs for Before the Blackout in 2003, but was delayed because Allister was constantly on the road. Then in February 2004, the band was between tours, so the members rented a house in the Chicago suburbs and worked on new material. "We wrote nine or 10 songs while we were there," Lewis says. "A lot of the main songs were written after that, but it really got the gears going and after we left, we wrote the rest of the songs in the beginning of 2005."
In March, Allister entered The Vault Studios in Southern California for five weeks with producer Dennis Hill, who helped fine-tune the songs. But while the sessions were extremely productive, the band was under a tight deadline to finish, and wound up working long strenuous hours. "We were in the studio for 14 hours a day, seven days a week, so it was pretty grueling," says Lewis. "But we had a good time."
For Allister, who use music as a vehicle to escape work as well as cope with their problems, enjoying the ride is crucial. The seeds for the band were planted in 1995 by Rogner and guitarist Johnny [TK], classmates and jokesters who hooked up to play their high school talent show. The next year, they became a trio when bassist Skippy [TK] met Johnny [TK] at a University of Illinois math class. In 1997, they changed their name from Phineas Gage to Allister -- after Alasdair Gillis, the host of the zany Nickelodeon children's show "You Can't Do That on Television. By the end of that year, they were playing shows and in 1998 Drive Thru records released their first seven-inch "You Can't Do That on Vinyl."
The next year, Allister released their full-length debut, Dead Ends and Girlfriends for a cost-effective $700. Catchy and fast-paced, the disc was laced with humor, and included a cover of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want it That Way." In 2002, Allister put out their second disc, Last Stop Suburbia, which featured tighter songs that mirrored their love for Screeching Weasel, Green Day and the Queers. The record sold 80,000 copies and Allister supported the disc on tours with Sum-41, Less Than Jake, the Starting Line and others.
With Before the Blackout, Allister have paradoxically matured as artists and proven that energetic, enthusiastic rock is ageless. More importantly, they've illustrated how raging, confessional songs are the best way to treat depression and dependency since electric shock therapy. Or, as Rogner sings in "Alotta Never," "Was there a hint of honesty in anything you said to me? Yeah. I wrote it all down so I could scream it out loud." - From Allisterrock.com