Matt Skiba leads us through his life as the vocalist of Alkaline Trio and his loves and losses that went into the creation of their latest album.
While Australia battens down the hatches in the midst of torrential rain, Mike Skiba was enjoy his last sprinkling of California sunshine before heading back out on tour. It’s not strange for interviews to start on the lighter side of things like the weather, but it is unusual for someone to tell you that they’ve been following your weather reports from the other side of the world. Especially when it’s from the vocalist of a punk rock band who formed in Middle America. “I read your surf reports all the time,” admits Skiba, who took up surfing when he moved to Los Angeles around 10 years ago and while he says he’s still not very good, he “god darn” tries.
This serenity found in a hectic life, lived mostly on the road, is something Skiba is reluctant to let go of. “I think the same that can be said for anyone. Anybody that surfs will feel better when they hit the water,” he says.
With My Shame Is Truth released earlier this year, Matt Skiba will soon be travelling and this calmness will be far behind him, much like the experience of making the album itself. It’s no secret that a great deal of Alkaline Trio’s work comes from a deeply personal place, based around their views, experiences and the world itself. For the eighth studio album, many of the experiences emoted come from the cathartic experience of letting go of a painful break up.
While Skiba says that, to him, it is almost cheating when he writes about something that is so personal that has happened to him, he also believes the “challenge is turning it into a story without the ‘poor me’ feel. Instead, it should be powerful, but also truthful.” The result of writing about his “gnarly breakup” is an album lacking any of the Taylor Swift moments or sentimentality that comes across as “corny or trite”. The rough, raw feeling comes through, resulting in an album that people can apply to their own lives and experiences, because let’s face it, everyone goes through heartbreak and loss. What Skiba hopes is that listeners “can make their own story about it” and use it to get through their own life events.
Skiba has always found a way to focus the negatives of life into positives. He is undeniably a workaholic. Aside from the band he helped form in 1996, he has launched various solo projects, formed various side bands and been guest vocalist for everyone from New Found Glory, Kill Hannah and Rise Against to working with Chuck Ragan and The Bouncing Souls. His work ethic is something that he believes comes from his father. “I think I inherited a lot of nervous energy from my father that I manage to harness… thankfully. I have a really close family, but my family is fairly neurotic.”
“My dad came from nothing. He grew up very poor and is now teaching oral surgery at the University of Chicago. He just really worked his arse off to get out of that dark place and out of the trailer park, and there is nothing wrong with trailer parks, but they were really poor and that’s where they lived. He is self-made.”
His dad worked to ensure his children would start off with a leg up and be able to find their own way, but Skiba says he chose to go against his father’s wishes and decided not to go to college, resulting in a few rough years between them. Skiba says: “He had worked really hard to give that to me and I didn’t want it. I want to go earn my own battle, not with daddy’s money. So when I didn’t go to school it was kind of rough for a couple of years, but now he couldn’t be prouder.” While he admits that he may have been a “total fuck up” back then, it’s obvious that there is a lot of respect for the achievements of each other, and even more love as Skiba talks of his family.
The decision to take on music as a career couldn’t have been too much of a shock to his family – Skiba played a variety of instruments from a young age, and at an even younger age, had set his goals on travelling the world. Around the age of five he dreamed of tour buses. Having never seen one, and not yet old enough to make friends with people that had travelled on them, this prediction of the future is something that he still reflects on when travelling between shows. He knew that his love of music would mean he had to spend time away from his family and on the road and this brought sadness to him even as a child. “Even as a little kid I would think ‘I would like to be a musician but then I’d have to be on a bus and never see my family and I would be homesick all the time’. That was my concern at an early age and it wasn’t like ‘if I choose to do that’ it was a matter of it’s something I have to do.”
Beyond the buses, a young Matt Skiba couldn’t have imagined the plane trips he would also be taking. Alkaline Trio’s members are based in three different states, which made putting together their latest release more difficult than most. As luck would have it Skiba’s inability to stay still means he burns that nervous energy through travelling to work and collaborate with people, and in order to catch up with his bandmates, it means much of the music is written while on the move. He has a love hate relationship with planes – one part aeronautical nerd and one part antsy flyer. When his focus isn’t on how these metal bird stay in the sky, he is reading or writing. “I do a lot of writing up there. I think it’s kind of romantic, being nowhere when you’re creating something.”
While creating in music has always been something that he’s been able to do wherever in the world, the journey he’s taken with his recent work, writing and co-directing the bands video clip ‘I Want to be a Warthog’, saw a relationship spark with co-director Rob Soucy, that has seen a new career path blossom for Skiba.
“We’re writing videos for other bands now and we only met a month ago. We hit it off and this magical thing just happened”, says Skiba. “I feel like I’ve known the dude forever – that we were separated at birth. We can read each other’s minds and when we were doing the video we would just give each other looks and we would just know what we were thinking. Which I think is very much like Alkaline Trio, which is a rarity. That chemistry. I’m excited to venture into screenwriting. I think it’s a lot of fun.” Believing that a great song with a great video is the best thing that a band can do, this rare find means that he’ll be helping propel even more bands into the eye of those hungry for more music.
For now, the band is continuing to lock in tour dates and preparing themselves for what will undoubtedly become an international tour. Having travelled the world, the band feeds off the energy from crowds, which fuels them on to the next leg of their tour.
European, American and Australian audiences project a very similar vibe. Skiba says, however, that for him one of his favourite reactions is in Japan. “The main difference is Japan because in between songs the Japanese don’t clap”, explains Skiba. “They think it’s rude. So when you finish, there is just silence. Utter and complete silence. And we’ve played in front of 20,000 people at a festival before and we’re in front of all these people and you can hear a fucking pin drop. It’s awesome. It’s powerful and it’s almost like the most intense applause.”
While talking of Australia and previous visits, Skiba say he promises to visit soon, and that on arrival he’ll show us his new full back piece. Something that he’s been in discussions with Dan Smith about over time, and which he describes as some crazy “Cape Fear style shit”. While this large real estate has been carefully planned, not all of Skiba’s pieces have had much thought. “I keep all my shitty tattoos. I love them. They’re like a moment in time that you have on you,” many of which are tour tattoos where the band decides to get something together. Like the emerald they all picked up in Austin Texas, or when icon tattooist and friend Oliver Peck joins them on the road and often lends them his machines so they can give each other “terrible, shitty tattoos”. No matter whether spur of the moment or planned, Matt Skiba’s body – much like his music – reflects his life: bumps, scratches and mistakes, all captured in time.
Tonight, a relationship that began 10 years ago comes full circle. In September 2003, the Islington Academy threw open its doors to the gig-going public for the first time, with a headline show from Alkaline Trio. The intervening decade has proven colorful for both parties. The Academy has gone on to host the likes of Kiss, Muse, Paramore, Biffy Clyro and Alkaline Trio’s musical heroes, The Damned. In roughly the same time frame, Matt Skiba’s ghoulish punks have released five albums - spanning the sublime (Good Mourning) and the not so much (Agony & Irony) - while, of late, garnering a similarly variable live reputation. But, with latest album My Shame is True proving a return to form, and excellent appearances at Reading and Leeds, the omens for this 10th anniversary shindig are good.
Hand picked by the headliners as part of a K! competition, all-girl rockers Roses & Pirates only found out they were opening this show four days ago. This is a bittersweet triumph, though. In March, their drummer Fay Howell passed away suddenly. As a result, the trio are performing acoustically, celebrating their bandmate with the warmly received Lost Treasure.
The support bill is completed by Max Raptor, teasing their forthcoming album via the boisterous Grace and Favours, and The Drowning Men, who end with the polka stomp of Courageous Son.
While playing a venue of this modest capacity may be a pinnacle for these bands, this reconvening highlights that Alkaline Trio’s success has plateaued in recent years. They haven’t taken a step down, size-wise, to return tonight, like fellow venue alumni Biffy Clyro would be if they were appearing. And, unlike fellow pop-punk threesome, Green Day - whose very name receives a surprising chorus of boos when mentioned tonight - they remain criminally underrated. This is confirmed by the brilliance of this career-spanning set, beginning with a turbo-charged Private Eye before visiting newer highlights (I Wanna Be A Warhol) and even going back to “the first song we ever wrote,” 97 - a tune that predates this very venue by six years.
"This is the best crowd of the tour," Matt confesses. He may say that to all the crowds, but for sheer enthusiasm it’s hard to see how this one could be bettered. So, everyone back here for the 20th anniversary 2023?
5 MINUTES WITH MATT SKIBA
It it good to be back at Islington Academy after 10 years?
"It’s weird, because it seems like it’s gone by really quickly. It seems like only yesterday when they were saying ‘Oh, you’re the first band to play this venue!’ and then I look at the photo in the hallway [of the venue] of us playing here 10 years ago, and it suddenly seems like a long time ago. The time has gone by so quickly but, at the same time, so much has happened to us since we played here. It’s an honour to be back, but it’s very surreal. I’ll tell you that. I mean, the place is great and the people are great but, for us as a band, it really dates us in a sense… holy shit!"
How would you say you’ve changed as a band?
"I think we’ve just gotten better at it. Like any profession, hopefully with time you get better at it. Me and Danny’s [Andriano, Alkaline Trio bassist] one rule was always: if it stops being fun, we’ll stop doing it. Okay, this job isn’t fun 24/7, and it’s not as glamorous as some people might think, but I concentrate on the time when I’m onstage, because I’m in love with that. I think we got better at being really present and realizing, ‘This is the only time we’re going to play this show’ and making it as good as we can."
"What would the Matt Skiba of today say to the 2003 version?"
"Hmm, the one today would say, ‘You’re going to play this venue again in 10 years - so I’d get your shit together!"
Do you see yourself being here for the 20th anniversary show?
Even though Matt Skiba is supposed to be singing the praises of his new album with Alkaline Trio, the prolific punk songwriter is clearly excited about the record he’s recording with his side project.
The Hell is a band he founded a couple of years back with former Angels & Airwaves drummer Atom Willard. The fact that he fields this call from the studio is proof that he’s clearly not very good at sitting still.
"If I’m not recording something I’m painting something or making a mess of some kind somewhere," Skiba begins.
"But I love what I do and I have access to a beautiful studio and beautiful friends to make music with. You know with this new Hell record what we’re doing is a total studio piece. So it’s been a lot of fun."
The beautiful studio is Studio 606, which Dave Grohl moved from his basement in Virginia to Los Angeles and is topped off with the Neve soundboard featured in the Sound City documentary. “It’s the same board, it’s a different location but it’s very similar to Sound City minus the personnel and the bong on the console,” Skiba adds.
The new Hell record follows on from My Shame Is True, Alkaline Trio’s ninth album recorded in Colorado’s The Blasting Room with producer Bill Stevenson - a dream come true for Skiba, who grew up worshipping everything Stevenson laid his hands on, be it Black Flag, the Descendents or All.
"Yes, sir, it was really an honour," Skiba says. "Descendents and Black Flag are my two favourite bands. I grew up playing drums so he was always my hero as a drummer, and he’s such a great songwriter. He wrote a lot of the really catchy poppy Descendents stuff, and all the All hits. Bill wrote all that stuff, and he’s a shredding guitar player and killer producer, and a killer guy. He’s a mentor but also a really good friend."
Already thinking ahead to Alkaline Trio’s next album, Skiba says he’d like to record with band mates Dan Andriano (bass) and Derek Grant (drums) in a similar fashion to the way the Hell operate.
"We all live in three different cities and we don’t really have time to mess around," Skiba says.
"Maybe next time we make a record I would like to do it that way because the way we’re doing it here at 606, we’re building something from the ground up and doing it together, it’s really neat. And I have that relationship with my (Hell) bandmates you just don’t have unless you have the convenience of being in the same place."
Another new track, “The Temptation of St. Anthony” lyric video.
And an interview -
"I went through some pretty rough patches in my life and I’ve come out of them a stronger, more inspired and energetic person. I don’t personally feel that I’ve lost my fire," says Skiba, confident he once again found a way to channel "the young, angry, fuck-everything, who-cares kid that had no responsibilities," a fellow that Trio fans grew to know and love on 1998’s now-classic "Goddamnit."
"It’s kind of an unspoken feeling," Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano tells Rolling Stone, breaking down how he and his bandmates know it’s time to put aside their respective side projects and join forces in the studio for a new album. That feeling struck again last year: in short order, the three Chicago-native punk-rockers that comprise Alkaline Trio, including guitarist-vocalist Matt Skiba and drummer Derek Grant, made the trek to Bill Stevenson’s Blasting Room studios in Fort Collins, Colorado, to record My Shame Is True – their ninth studio album, and the first with the drummer and founder of the seminal punk act Descendents serving as producer.
Despite never having worked with Alkaline Trio, Stevenson has a long history with the cult punk band: Skiba forged a friendship with the drummer when Alkaline toured with the Descendents on several occasions over their career. Grant, meanwhile, first met Stevenson at a More gig in Detroit at age 14; the drummer happily relays a story in which he challenged the accomplished Stevenson to a drum-off. (Sadly, such a battle never came to fruition.)
Grant says Stevenson is the “most comprehensive producer” the band has ever worked with. Skiba appreciated the producer’s candor: “He’ll tell you whether [your music] is shit or champagne,” the singer says.
Having a keen ear like Stevenson’s in the fold helped Alkaline Trio cook up their most soul-baring and personal album yet. My Shame Is True, due April 2nd on the band’s own Heart & Skull label (a joint venture with Epitaph Records), retains the threesome’s trademark hard-charging punk ethos, anchored by a slew of gnarly riffs. It also leans heavily on sentiment. That’s not surprising: 2010’s confessional This Addiction hinted at a band eager to spill its guts.
Grant admits that when Skiba and Adriano, the band’s lyricists, first brought the new songs to the table, he was a bit uneasy with the album’s blatant honesty. “It just shocked me,” he says. “I was taken aback by how forward and heart-on-the-sleeve that a lot of the lyrics were.”
The band’s open-book attitude is palpable throughout My Shame: amid the staccato riffing of “I’m Only Here to Disappoint,” Skiba drowns himself in a whirlpool of emotion. “I’m hurting for someone else to feel this pain,” he wails. Elsewhere, on the chant-aided lead single “I Wanna Be a Warhol” the 37-year-old contemplates his legacy, imagining himself a work of the iconic artist – “I wanna be a little piece of history/ I wanna be a painting for all to see.”
"I’m not scared to share," Skiba says. The singer adds that he finds it increasingly difficult to recognize himself even only a few albums back. "I don’t even know who that guy was 10 years ago," he says of the band’s breakout album, 2003’s Good Mourning.
Despite a collective insistence on looking ahead, the three members of Alkaline Trio share the belief that their years spent together have made songwriting a far smoother process. “There’s no secrets anymore,” Andriano says. “It’s not hard to read between the lines to [gauge] someone’s reaction to a song.” Adds Grant, “[The band] seems to be one of the most natural, organic things I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
That’s not to say there aren’t occasional obstacles. “You’ve got three guys with attention disorders that all want to play the other guy’s instruments,” Grant says, laughing.
Nearly two decades on, Alkaline Trio have no plans to slow down. In fact, Skiba says he feels as fresh as ever. “I can’t fucking believe we’re pushing 20 years,” he says. “I don’t even feel like I’m 20 years old!”
Alkaline Trio’s history as a punk band has a long tenured history in Chicago. Originally based out of McHenry, Illinois Alkaline Trio formed in 1996 immediately ingratiated themselves as a part of the Chicago punk/hardcore scene of the day. After many a lineup change and EP release, the band found their niche as a hard rocking punk power trio.
Alkaline Trio exploded onto the scene with their catchy vocal hooks and instrumentation. Not quite punk, not quite pop punk, the band got heads turning everywhere they went and in turn even got some much deserved mainstream attention. The band has worked very hard to get where they are, when they’re not road dogs they’re making records, and as of now there’s no sign of them slowing down.
Alkaline Trio are no strangers to playing the Metro, having played in their early days and during their ascent to stardom as a band. In 2010, Alkaline Trio held a brief residency at the Metro playing two nights in a row on February 27th and 28th. Both shows were nights to behold with the band Cursive opening up for them setting the mood for the energetic punk showcase. Alkaline Trio played two different sets full of new goodies and fan favorites and on both nights closed with two different Misfits covers. Never one to neglect their roots Alkaline Trio looks to recreate their insane residency this year on May 30th and May 31st.
You can now preorder Alkaline Trio’s new album “My Shame is True” here and get the new single on itunes here!
My Shame Is True out April 4th!
Cult punk rock heroes, Alkaline Trio return on April 2nd with My Shame Is True, their most dynamic album to date. In anticipation of the release, the band have debuted a brand new single “I Wanna Be Warhol” from the forthcoming album.
Recorded with Bill Stevenson of punk legends The Descendents and Black Flag and with Jason Livermore at the producers’ Blasting Room Studios in Colorado, My Shame Is True pushes the band into new musical terrain while embracing their classic Trio sound. The album contains 40 minutes of passionate punk-filled rock that showcases guitarist/vocalist Matt Skiba, bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano and drummer Derek Grant at their absolute best.
“We’re very proud of it,” says Matt Skiba. “Once we got in the studio, the songs really took on a shape of their own.”
From the album’s first melodic opener “She Lied To The FBI” to the first single, “ I Wanna Be A Warhol” the Trio waste no time setting the tone for their energetic, hook-filled, eighth studio album. For the first time ever on an Alkaline Trio record, My Shame Is True finds a guest appearance from Rise Against’s Tim Mcllarth on rousing punk rock anthem, “I , Pessimist”, while songs like “I’m Only Here to Disappoint” and album closer, “Till Death Do Is Part” remind fans of classic Trio, with stellar song-writing and catchy choruses.
Determined to never make the same record twice, Alkaline Trio have preserved the most electric elements of their collaborative songwriting abilities while pushing ahead creatively and as a band. With multiple world tours, numerous chart successes, and over fifteen years under their belt, the dark punk trio have cemented their legacy with My Shame Is True.
“It’s never been about being rich or famous,” continues Skiba. “We always wanted to have the band be our career… to have that longevity… that should be the goal. We are going to do it until it stops being fun. If it ever feels like a job, why would you be involved in the arts at all? We have the right chemistry as a band and with crowds, big or small. We have community within a community.”
Alkaline Trio enter studio with Descendants drummer Bill Stevenson
Alkaline Trio have announced they are recording their ninth studio album—the follow-up to 2011’s Damnesia—with the Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson, who has produced the likes of Rise Against, NOFX, Hot Water Music, Comeback Kid and more. Frontman Matt Skiba said, “If someone would have told 20 years ago that I would be making a record with Bill Stevenson, I simply wouldn’t have believed it. Today we start.”