Brandon Williams was nervous.
Over the past five years, the Whitby-raised, Hamilton-based musician has had many brushes with his heroes. But this was next level.
Williams was about to ask Dallas Green, the guitarist and singer known for St. Catharines’ Alexisonfire and City and Colour, to sing on a song he had written for his new record.
Green is the most visible artist to spring from the rich and long-running Southern Ontario punk and hardcore scene that also birthed Williams’ own music project, Chastity. Williams had opened for both Alexisonfire and City and Colour. He hoped Green would be game to collaborate.
So, holding his cellphone in sweaty palms, he tapped out his request and pressed send.
“Of course pal,” Green replied. “What do you want me to do?”
Green’s vocals on “Vicious Circle” elevate what was already a highlight of Chastity’s latest record, “Suffer Summer,” out Friday.
His enthusiastic response shouldn’t have been a surprise. Though it continues to bewilder Williams, admiration from a fervent group of fans and peers drawn to Chastity’s mix of emo, shoegaze and alt rock has come easy. He counts among his supporters Hollerado’s Menno Versteeg, who released Chastity’s debut through his Royal Mountain Records, and Alexisonfire manager Joel Carriere, who signed Williams to his Dine Alone label — home to many Southern Ontario punk and post-hardcore bands over the years — and has toured with F—ed Up and DIIV.
“Brandon is doing something that nobody else has managed to do,” said Stefan Babcock, lead singer of Toronto punks PUP, who took Chastity on tour in 2016. “There’s so many people trying to do the ’90s and not doing it well. Brandon is taking what made that era of music great and putting his own unique twist on it.”
Carriere agreed. “He has combined the influence of a number of genres over various decades of some of my favourite bands (and) wrapped it up in 2022 packaging,” he said. “There is an honesty in the way he approaches his music that very much reminds me of how we operated in the past with Alexisonfire.”
Although it’s just a 45-minute drive outside Toronto, Whitby felt a million miles away from anything for an “outsider kid” like Williams. Durham Region, which includes Whitby, is home to more than 600,000 people. “But there’s no all-ages community arts space and there hasn’t been for years,” though Williams is quick to point out there are 10 hockey arenas.
“So I do think it just kind of leaves a bunch of people out.”
Since Chastity’s inception, he’s made no bones about who his influences are and the kind of music he wants to make. Williams missed a lot of the “cooler” mid-aughts indie rock artists like Arcade Fire. Instead, he immersed himself in the local scene based around the now defunct basement venue the Dungeon in Oshawa. The popular stop for bands like Protest the Hero and Silverstein mirrored spaces in towns and suburbs across Southern Ontario, nurturing careers that would eventually expand across the country, the continent and even the world.
“What these bands had in mind was to write emotionally charged music that people could sing along with and feel togetherness,” said Williams. “I think it connected with me and made me feel less alone.
“This is what I love. I try to pay tribute to that.”
Chastity’s first two records captured that feeling capably; Pitchfork praised his debut, “Death Lust,” calling Chastity a “proudly suburban Ontario band” while Exclaim! included his followup, “Home Made Satan,” on its list of the most underrated records of 2019. But on “Suffer Summer” the choruses are bigger, the hooks stickier and Williams’ influences, at least in one case, physically present.
London native Linnea Siggelkow met Williams, her partner, through a mutual friend on MySpace as teens, and the two bonded over their love of punk music and involvement in their respective local scenes. Stuck together inside their Hamilton home due to the pandemic, Siggelkow, a classically trained pianist who records under the name Ellis, was amazed by Williams’ productivity during the album’s creation.
“I was having existential spirals constantly and he was just writing so many songs,” she said.
“He’s got the lyrics, he’s got the melody, he’s got the song totally mapped out in his mind. He knows exactly how he wants it to sound.”
Babcock, who co-wrote two songs on the record, agreed. “He’s a natural poet. His lyrics are amazing and they come out of him so easily.”
Previously Williams had been intensely private about his creative process, playing only totally finished tracks for Siggelkow. But she ended up singing on and co-writing a number of songs on the album.
“He’s very intentional about picking the people to help him execute exactly what he has in his mind to make it a tangible thing,” she said. “To see the way it works, which is so different from my own process, has been really exciting and special.”
“Vicious Circle,” the song to which Green added vocals, started as a voice memo and an idea for a guitar riff that he brought to Siggelkow. They finished the whole thing in a single sitting. She even co-wrote the text to Green.
Williams was in such disbelief the day Green recorded his vocals that he bought lottery tickets. He didn’t win, but tagging along with Green was just as valuable to Williams: Alexisonfire lead singer George Pettit also added harmonies to the track. “It was extremely surreal to be sitting in a studio watching them do this,” Williams said.
Babcock can likely relate.
“Most people, when they’re younger, will see or hear a band and just be taken aback that music could sound that way,” he said. Alexisonfire was one of those bands for both him and Williams.
“There’s going to be a lot of people who are saying what I’m saying about Alexisonfire, but they’re going to be talking about Chastity.”