Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba has been especially prolific these last ten months, releasing with his band an album of acoustically performed chestnuts, “Damnesia,” last summer, then an EP as theHELL, a side project with Angels & Airwaves’ Atom Willard. Now he’s got Matt Skiba and the Sekrets, his first all-out solo project, and the debut album “Babylon.”
Of his fertile creative spree, the 36-year-old guitarist and vocalist says he’s channeled his energies into visual arts and various non-musical endeavors all his life; the three studio releases in under a year’s time makes him seem busier than normal but “really, it doesn’t feel like I am,” he says, quick to note that theHELL’s four-song effort was banged out in just three days. “We wanted to do something like we were teenagers in our parents’ basement again.” Skiba played some bass, at times gleefully sloppily, and the release was mainly comprised of one-takes.
The Sekrets album is another story, meticulously labored over and polished to fit an exact vision. Its provenance was an earlier release, "Demos," which Skiba released in 2010 to help him survive an “expensive, painful divorce.” He felt some hesitation first, and some guilt later, but ultimately put out the treasure trove of song-sketches with hardcore fans in mind. “It’s not that I’m not proud of it, I just…there was no effort put into it,” Skiba says. He’ll readily admit that if one of his musical heroes, say, Robert Smith of The Cure, released a similar piece, he’d want it. “I wish, man.”
Then, voila, welcome to “Babylon.” “‘Demos’ actually turned into something real that inspired me to do this thing that became a real band,” Skiba says of the Sekrets, with which he’s signed a multi-record deal with Superball Music. Three of the songs from “Demos,” originally recorded on GarageBand in Skiba’s bedroom, made it to “Babylon,” albeit in much-revamped form. Skiba felt a call to action to make something special after the rudimentary nature of “Demos.” He worked tirelessly, and also alone, in stark opposition to the democratic compositional style of Alkaline Trio.
"It was fun to just say, ‘This is the idea, this is the way I envision it and hear it, and this is the way we’re gonna do it,’" Skiba says. "Had I brought these same exact songs to the table as an Alkaline Trio record, it would sound nothing like this. It’s me singing and there’s similar guitar tones — you can tell that it’s me; that I can’t change — but I really did enjoy the freedom of making it."
Producer Cameron Webb (Danzig, Silverstein, Motorhead) advised Skiba along the way. “You can’t have any ego,” Skiba says of the recording process, which he likens to Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day” in its repetitious nature. “You have to be able to take your lumps and have people say, ‘This sucks. This idea is a bad one. It’s definitely an idea, but it’s definitely not a good one.’” Skiba’s cohorts on the album are My Chemical Romance’s touring drummer, Jarrod Alexander, and AFI bassist Hunter Burgan. Leslie Hardy of Murder City Devils recently joined the band on keyboards.
Skiba didn’t shy away from deploying his typical occult imagery — references to bones, crimson, flames and Lucifer abound. “That’s just me, that’s just the way that I write. Just as much as it’s my voice, it’s my interests and things that influence me,” he says, then casting off popular myth that he and his Trio bandmates are card-carrying Satanists. “To worship the devil, you have to believe in it first.”
Skiba stresses that the “witchy” vibe is for imagery’s sake alone, calling back to Alkaline Trio’s 2005 LP “Crimson,” which pulled heavily from Italian horror aueteur Dario Argento. He will concede that “Babylon” is a record both personal and confessional, evidenced by the inclusion of his first love song, “You.” “I’ve written songs about love or about a relationship, but never just, ‘I love you.’”
It’s a treat to hear Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano’s solo record, an acoustic, emotional affair titled "Hurricane Season," released last summer under the moniker Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room, and now Skiba’s rocking, new wave-infused album in comparison. The two support each other’s solo work and share in-progress songs. “The Sekrets record is very much me, and Dan’s Emergency Room is very much him,” Skiba says. “And then Alkaline Trio is very much ours.” Drummer Derek Grant, whom Skiba calls “wildly talented” and “a way better guitar player” than himself, has his own solo effort on the way. (And yes, the next Trio album should be recorded this fall; Skiba and Andriano each have a couple songs under their belts already.)
Asked for a Sekrets track to reel in Alkaline Trio fans, Skiba offers “The End of Joy,” a song that was oozing a Trio vibe he worked to eliminate before arriving at a “fuck it, this is the song” stance. “I’m in Alkaline Trio, I guess I get to rip off myself. I give myself permission,” he says. “There’s a little bit of Alkaline Trio in all of it, in a sense. It wasn’t on purpose, but at the same time I’m not gonna try and do something different. To me, that’s dishonest.”
For the inaugural Sekrets tour, Skiba is seeking a radically different experience from an Alkaline Trio show, calling on both the cohesively orchestrated punk gigs of his teen years and Marilyn Manson’s “adversarial theatrical vibe.”
David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period was another point of reference for Skiba. “When he was doing that, people were laughing at him; that record initially bombed,” Skiba says. “I’m not putting myself at all in league with David Bowie; that guy’s a legend and he’s one of my heroes. He just inspired this idea that it’s still gonna be me, but I did kind of want to reinvent myself for this project.”
In an unlikely pairing, Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland — such a good friend of Skiba’s that they’re jujitsu sparring partners — put his prowess at art and costuming to use on the Sekrets’ stage show; Skiba will don face paint and tribally accented garb replete with feathers. “The promo shots got online and people were like, ‘What is wrong with this guy?’ It’s like, I’m having fun. I’m 36 years old but I feel like I’ve been reborn a little bit. It would be really easy for me to just go out in a suit and a tie and be me and have this new band; with Heavens [ yet another side project, from 2006], that’s pretty much what I did. And I had a blast, but I felt like it was time to do something that scared me a little bit.”
Nothing is set in stone for the tour, but expect to see the full record and then some, although no Trio material and zero earlier Skiba material. “We’re not gonna be just blasting through the songs, but I’m also not gonna be doing a whole lot of drunken storytelling, either,” he says. “I have a very specific vision in mind. There’s not gonna be any silence; once we start playing, it’s gonna be loud the whole time.”
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