It’s been a tough road to Dooms Children’s debut album. Rehab, depression and trauma have all been obstacles to be cleared—not to mention the global pandemic and its resultant isolation. But Wade MacNeil had a plan: “I was doing my best to write my way out of that. It was just really pouring out of me.”
After all, once you’ve been in as many great bands as MacNeil—Alexisonfire, Gallows, and Black Lungs, to name a few—you get a little bit of licence to experiment. Your fans will trust you and join for the ride. But this project was different; it may have been sonically experimental compared to his previous work, but it was based on a need: “I felt like I needed to do it. It was a way for me to try and survive through things I was dealing with,” says MacNeil.
Dooms Children feels like a diary entry, a glimpse inside the head of a talented but troubled artist. Look at album standout ‘Psyche Hospital Blues,’ where MacNeil’s ramshackle grizzle echoes over simple chords: “My father cried when he dropped me off at rehab, Caused so much pain, I didn’t even know.” What a gut punch for the listener, but what does it feel like to write that? “Freeing and also horrifying. In one respect I’ve been as vulnerable as I can be and as honest as I can be, to paint a picture of my experience and myself. So there’s nothing else I can really do—that’s the best I can possibly do when trying to make something,” says MacNeil. “On the other hand, opening myself up like that can be really painful.”
The sound beneath the pain is like nothing he’s attempted before. It’s Tom Petty on shrooms, Springsteen in a hard-core band. It’s upbeat chords and psychedelic tones, spiralling out of your speakers like an uppercut between the eyes. “I’ve always been a big Neil Young fan, an Allman Brothers fan. As a guitar player that’s some of the stuff I listen to the most. That blues based guitar soloing is my favorite stuff, stuff that is not too shreddy, got a lot of character,” says MacNeil. “But I’ve never really felt the desire to make anything like that. In trying to write something a little bit softer and cozier, that’s when I started trying to take on the idea of making something like this.”
But don’t be fooled by the positive music. It’s lyrically bleak, a contrast that amplifies the realism. “A lot of the early songs that I wrote are very mournful songs but musically they’re very happy. I think that’s about the best I could do at that point, I wasn’t capable of writing something tender or soft,” says MacNeil. “The songs eventually got there. Even in the darker moments there’s still some beauty in there, and life can certainly be like that too, if you’re present enough.”
MacNeil is fighting his inner demons, soothing them with happy music before exorcising them with honesty. He’s done it for himself, but hopefully it provides hope for those listening. Comedian Marc Maron once said the only edgy thing left is complete honesty, and if you believe that then Dooms Children is the bravest record this year. It’s like nothing he’s ever done before, setting it apart from his previous work. “For me to put out a song like ‘Pysche Hospital Blues,’ that details an experience of me going to treatment and trying to get sober and completely change my life and and deal with addiction and trauma and come out the other side of it and try and turn that into something positive; it feels like there’s a lot more on the line then for an Alexis song that’s about go karting,” MacNeil explains. While he says neither song is more important, it’s easier to shrug off criticism aimed at the more trivial lyrics. Barbs about Dooms Children’s topics cut deep however; “When someone’s like, ‘that song is straight trash,’ and I go ‘you don’t like the wildly, accurately detailed account of the suffering that I went through last year?’ It feels a little bit different.”