Life after ‘the Blackout’

Chicago pop punk veterans Allister have been rocking the music scene for nearly 10 years. Their infectious, upbeat punk has earned the band great success, from the amount of records that disappear off the shelves to the number of crowded venues they jam-pack with energetic kids.

Kyle Lewis, Tim Rogner
photo by Lynn Wallace
Kyle Lewis, Tim Rogner

As of this September, 2002’s Last Stop Suburbia stood as the band’s most recent release. The album did exceptionally well, as it sold a towering total of 80,000 copies and brought in a killer promotional tour that included bands such as Sum 41, The Starting Line and Less Than Jake. However, not long after the band completed the Suburbia tour, two of their members left the band – guitarist Chris Rogner and drummer Dave Rossi.

In an effort to fill the gaps of Allister’s then-indefinite lineup, Mike Leverence, friend and former college bandmate of vocalist/guitarist Tim Rogner, was recruited to play drums. Shortly after, the band added guitarist Kyle Lewis, who had previously toured with Allister when he was in the band Show Off.

With the new lineup in place, Allister began work on their third and current record, Before the Blackout. The album hit stores this October, three years after the band’s previous effort was released.

Allister recently joined fellow Drive-Thru Records artist Fenix TX on the road for a reunion/farewell tour with the band which, after a 10-year run, broke up in 2002. The list of shows, which was appropriately named the “Before the Blackout After the Breakup Tour,” is scheduled to hit a wide array of U.S. cities before the tour ends in Chicago on Dec. 4.

On the breezy, outdoor patio of a bar in Jacksonville’s historic Five Points district, I recently sat down with Allister to talk about Before the Blackout, their change in lineup, and life on the road with Fenix TX.

• •

First of all, I think the new album is awesome. What are you most proud of on this record?

Kyle: The fact that we’re still a band.

Tim: The fact that we put down 3,721 beers while we recorded it. [laughs] No, I’m just kidding, I don’t know how many there were.

Kyle: I’m just pretty stoked that we actually put out a new record. It’s hard to beat these days.

Scott Murphy
photo by Lynn Wallace
Scott Murphy

It’s been three years since the last album. Why did it take so long for the album to come out?

Kyle: I think like new band members…

Tim: Yeah, we went through some member changes. And we kind of have a harder time writing when we’re on the road. Basically, the last two years of our lives have been non-stop touring, so it’s harder for us to write songs. So when we actually had a chance to sit at home… it wasn’t really until, ya know, about a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago. That was when we finally actually got down to writing the whole record. And why it took a long time.

Kyle: And it was like a process of all of us gellin’ together and like, ya know, making it feel like it’s a band. ‘Cause like you lose two members and two new members come in – that’s half the band right there.

What brought on the band’s lineup change?

Tim: I think pretty much everybody just got sick of touring; I guess [that] is why most [people leave]… It’s either, you know, people always leave bands because girls, school, or…just girls.

It seems that ‘girls’ is a common reason.

Tim: Well, it’s hard. I mean, being in a band is like being in a relationship. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t go well. But you’ve got to work through it if you really want the relationship to work. And there’s gonna be times when you hate each other and there’s gonna be times when you love each other more than anything in the world. So you get by the hard times and the good times are even better.

Are you guys in the loving stage right now?

Kyle: Yeah, we all get along.

Tim: Yeah, right now. And that might change in about a month when we’ve been on the road for two months.

Kyle: It’s funny, though, ‘cause we tour with a lot of bands…and every band thinks they have their problems. But we tour with a lot of bands where we’re like, ‘Wow, we really do get along.’ [laughs] We see these bands fighting about things like, ‘You can’t wear that t-shirt! I’m gonna wear that t-shirt!’

Tim: I think we’re just all over and done with that. ‘Cause we’re kind of older and so we don’t care about a lot of that kinda shit. We’re just four dudes having a good time. Out there, drinking beers, playing shows, writing music. Not too many people get to do that, so we all feel pretty lucky and pretty fortunate that we can still do it and still be moderately successful at it.

How long did it take to write and record Before the Blackout?

Kyle: I think we were seriously writing, probably about seven months.

Tim: Yeah, I think we had about – yeah, about seven to eight months – of serious writing where we went in and practiced every day. You know, we’d come up with new ideas every day and try to work things out. But, like I said, the two years prior to that, we were on the road for so long, it’s hard to write songs on the road, because you don’t really get much of an opportunity to do stuff.

So are you guys pretty happy now that the album’s out?

Kyle: Yeah, we love the record.

Kyle Lewis, Scott Murphy
photo by Lynn Wallace
Kyle Lewis, Scott Murphy

Are you pleased with the end product?

Tim: Yup. Absolutely.

Is there anything you would have changed with it?

Kyle: It’s one of those things where we wouldn’t release it if we thought there was something we could change about it to make it better. I’m sure six months down the road or a year down the road we’ll be like, ‘Ya know, we should have done this.’ And that’s when we’re going to start thinking about writing a new record, so obviously the new ideas are going to be coming in. But, right now I think we’re just happy that it’s done.

Tim: And, you always try to better yourself with each record. And I think that’s what we did. We consciously made an effort to write better songs and become more of like a band – as far as experimenting with different things and trying out new things, you know – and it seemed to work pretty well with this record.

I noticed on this album you’ve kind of branched out to a harder rock sound than before. What influenced that?

Tim: I think we’ve made it more like a concept, throw a little bit more rock into it. I mean, we all listen to rock bands like Motley Crue and Poison and newer rock like Butch Walker and Marvelous 3, and stuff like that. I think all of us on some level kind of feel that the music right now that’s coming out is a little stagnant and it’s all kind of sounding the same. You know, not that we’re terribly different in any way, but we wanted to consciously make an effort to put out something that was, you know, a little bit more like the shit we used to listen to when we were kids. Like we’re all fans of the Guns N’ Roses heavy rock, big stage theatrics. That’s just really cool. So we try to make an effort to put some of those rock riffs into this record, and I think we did a pretty good job of it.

Scott Murphy, Tim Rogner, Kyle Lewis
photo by Lynn Wallace
Scott Murphy, Tim Rogner, Kyle Lewis

Before the Blackout seems a lot darker and more mature, both lyrically and musically, than the two last albums. What influences played a part in this?

Tim: Probably age more than anything. We’ve seen and experienced so many things in the last three years compared to like the first five years of being in a band, and it just all kinda came out into one single thing.

Kyle: And it’s not necessarily saying that every record we put out from this point on is gonna be rock…it’s not like every record is progressively getting heavier and heavier. We don’t know, maybe our next album is gonna be even poppier than Last Stop Suburbia, we have no idea. It’s one of those things, when you get together and write songs you just…

It just depends on your mood.

Kyle: Exactly.

What else do you think makes this record different from the last two records that you’ve released?

Tim: Last Stop I think is good, but I think the more you listen to it a lot of the songs just kind of like…it’s just one record. A lot of the songs have a similar sound, and the new record I feel like each song kind of has its own personality and has its own vibe to it. And it feels like more of a complete record, where it’s not just one thing and it all sounds the same.

What are your favorite songs from Before the Blackout?

Kyle: I like “Waiting.” It’s the first song off the record.

Tim: I think mine would be “Blackout” just because it’s a lot different than anything we’ve really ever written before. And it was kind of fun to write that song because it was coming together and it was like, ‘Whoa, this is really weird.’ And probably what was happening was because we don’t write stuff like this. But, you know, we went with it, we thought it was kind of cool.

Kyle: We even almost debated not putting that song on the record because it was a little too crazy and out there for us. But, we were just like, ‘Fuck it. We wrote it. We’re Allister. Put it on the record.’ [laughs]

So are you guys trying the experimental thing on this record, kind of trying things out?

Kyle: Yes and no, I mean I think we tried to a little bit, but not in the super gung-ho sense where we were like, ‘This record needs to be completely different than anything we’ve ever put out.’ Ya know, it was always in the back of our minds, but…

Tim: …it wasn’t like it was a conscious effort.

Kyle: Yeah, and to a point it was, but we were just like, ‘Well, this is what we like right now. This is, you know, the kind of stuff we’re listening to. This is what we kind of want to sound like, so let’s see what happens.’ And so, we would just sit around and write a bunch of stuff and, you know, it’s kind of what came out.

Tim Rogner
photo by Lynn Wallace
Tim Rogner

You guys have been on the road with Fenix TX this tour. What’s the best part about touring with them?

Tim: They’re older. [laughs] Lately, we’ve been like getting a lot of tours with younger bands ‘cause a lot of the bands are younger now. And, I don’t know, we’re kind of more like, you know, drink beer and hang out kinda bands. Like these other bands are all like on the Internet all day, on their computers, and…

Fenix TX is just kind of more laidback and fun to hang out with.

Tim: Yeah, they just chill more…because they’ve been doing it for longer than we have and, you know, that’s a long time. And it’s cool to tour with the [younger] bands ‘cause they’re excited to get out and do it, but they don’t really know exactly how the road works… Well, they do, but it’s like…

Kyle: Younger bands have a different way of doing things than older bands. And we’re not really old, but we’re on that threshold where we’re maybe one or two years behind these other bands that are… It’s just weird, it’s a whole different way of touring.

Were you guys excited to hear that Fenix TX wanted to do another tour, even after they had broken up?

Tim: Yeah, it was cool. They signed to Drive-Thru before we did and so they were one of the first real bands that I had contact with that were actually out there touring and selling records and doing pretty well. So it’s cool to have ‘em back, you know. I used to listen to them when I was around 16, 17.

What are some of your favorite things to do while you’re on tour?

Tim: I don’t know. There’s so many different things that you can do and there’s so many things that you want to do, but you never really get a chance to do ‘em. Like when we were in Philadelphia the other day, I really wanted to go see the Liberty Bell and do the tours and stuff, but we really didn’t have a whole lot of time. So I wasn’t able to do that. Usually, you know, just like kinda hang out and watch football at bars, or baseball games. Now that the White Sox are in the World Series, we’ll probably be watching that a lot.

What are some of your all-time fave bands?

Mike: Ramones.

Tim: Guns N’ Roses, Marvelous 3, Screeching Weasel, Green Day.

Kyle: A band called Failure, Dillinger Four.

Where do you see Allister in the future?

Kyle: I don’t know where we’d see ourselves but, what we’d like, we’d just like to keep playing clubs like we’re playing tonight, just packin’ ‘em and having fun, and ya know…

Tim: It’d be awesome if we could just start like drugs, money, women. Everything a grown boy could ask for.

Mike: I’m really into material things. The more cars we own, the more pairs of shoes.

Tim: The bigger, the larger my wardrobe, the happier I am.

Kyle: No, if we could just keep touring and having kids coming out to our shows, that’s a dream.

Tim: This is the greatest job in the entire world. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. So if we could keep doing it…

Kyle: But the cars would be pretty cool, too.


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