It's been 12 years since the Alkaline Trio unleashed their simply titled, memorable debut album, Goddamnit, to the light of day. Six albums later, the Trio are still mutilating sonic and lyrical boundaries with their songs about love and life, all veiled in a shroud of darkness and irony. From tales of revenge by radio to methadone as a metaphor, the band continues to be at the creative forefront, writing incredibly catchy songs, but with enough lyrical depth to reach the distant gates of Hell. Sarcastic, fearless and honest can describe the typical Alkaline Trio song and it could also describe co-singer and guitarist Matt Skiba, who sat down with Gen Handley from Punknews to chat about meditation, muses and about the new album, This Addiction, which comes out on February 23.
How's it going overall?
Everything's good. We're just gearing up to get this record out and play some shows.
That's awesome to hear that the new album is complete. Are you pretty happy with the new album?
I'm quite happy with the new record. Yeah, all of us are very proud of it.
Right on. Can you talk about what it sounds like?
(pauses) I think it sounds like if we were to make our first record now.
A lot of the elements that we used in Goddamnit were the same for this record as far as the writing process and how quickly we did it. We decided we wanted to make more of a punk rock-influenced record. We wanted to make a record that's fun to listen to. Like, we have fans that like our older stuff, but we had kind of a parting-of-ways in our sound and new fans came in. There are people that have been with us the whole time, who we are extremely thankful for, but you could see us changing as we became more of a rock band than a punk band.
I don't think we ever lost touch with our punk-rock upbringing, but we got a little more experimental and started messing around with some new ideas. I think this new record is a progression again, but we used a lot of tools we used on the first three records - like recording in Chicago and recording with Matt Allison. We also wrote these songs with all of us in the same room, which we haven't done for quite some time.
Sounds really good...
Yeah it was a lot of fun and we have had a great time playing the songs - we've played a few live.
I can't wait to hear it. This might be a dumb question, but…
No, I haven't seen Avatar yet.
That's not a dumb question. There are people who have not seen that movie yet. (laughs) Sorry, what were you going to ask?
(laughs) What's the story behind the title, "This Addiction"?
Well, the first song on the record is called "This Addiction" and it's a metaphor. It's about dependency. Like, drug addiction or alcohol addiction isn't too different from being addicted to love. (laughs) You know, like that song?
We were going to call the record Might As Well Face It You're Addicted to Drugs [referring to the Robert Palmer 80s hit], but that didn't go over too well with the higher-ups. (laughs) They were like, "Yeah, not so much. Target might not want to carry that."
So yeah, it's a metaphor that's been used before and this is our take on it. I think for some people, love is a drug. If you listen to the lyrics in the song "This Addiction," it's about trying to kick this thing you can't seem to get away from. There are references to heroin and methadone - to kicking that and staying clean.
Are there are specific references on this album to any real addictions that you've experienced in your life?
No. I've never had problems with heroin - I stayed away from that stuff. I had friends that went down that road and I watched them either get deported or die. I've tried it, but never shot it and I never got addicted. I think I have somewhat of an addictive personality, but I never let it get the best of me. If I start to feel that I'm falling prey to it, I stop because I have a lot of blessings I don't want to squander. I like to have a good time and I think you should do whatever you want and do whatever makes you feel good just as long as you're not hurting yourself too badly. (pauses) Like, hangovers suck, but risking life and limb for a buzz? I don't think that's a wise idea.
Do you have any addictions now? Is there anything you can't do without?
I have obsessions, but I don't really have anything that I could call an addiction. I'm definitely obsessed with a lot of things - primarily film and literature. A good film or a good book is amazing for me and I like a good story. I fancy myself a bit of a history buff as well so I spend a lot of time with my nose in a book.
Really? Like U.S. history? World history?
World history, yeah.
Cool. So why did you choose to work with Matt Allison on this record?
We had made our last record (Agony & Irony) with Josh Abraham and it was a lot of fun and we made a great record with him. Working with Jerry Finn (From Here To Infirmary, Good Mourning, Crimson) was always an honor and so much fun. We love and miss him very much - we're also very grateful we got to meet him and got be as close as we were and make music together.
We wanted to make the record in Chicago and we wanted to make it with Matt. We wanted to go back to our original form, or our roots, and make more of a punk-influenced record. What better place to do it than in Chicago and what better person than with Matt?
This Addiction is the first release off of your new label, Heart and Skull. That's pretty cool, eh?
Yeah it is. We're really excited about it and we're really excited to be working with Epitaph on it - they're awesome people. Even before this deal, I'd hang out with Brett (Gurewitz) and his wife all the time and we were all friends. So we really love Brett and have some really good friends at the label so it couldn't be better. It's the best of both worlds - we get to call the shots and we have a really smart and really strong label behind it.
Have you always wanted to start your own label?
Since we started the band, yeah - we just never got around to it. Even now, I would say it's more of a partnership that we have with Epitaph. They've given us the imprint where we can possibly release our solo efforts and maybe even, one day, music from other bands. We'll see what happens. We try to take everything in stride and hopefully there'll come a time when it will make sense and we'll have the ability to put out records for other bands that we like.
Speaking of other bands you like, why did you decide to bring Cursive out on the road for the upcoming tour?
They're good guys and a good band. They're all cool, down-to-earth people, which is really important to us and we're all fans of their music - so it's good.
Aside from touring with the Trio and writing music, what else takes up your time these days?
Well, lately, I've been moving, but I spend a lot of time in the ocean and I love to surf. I like to paint, I like to read and watching films. I have a hard time sitting still and I try to use those things as inspiration for the other things I do - it keeps all of that going.
I read somewhere that you practice meditation. Does that benefit your music at all?
Absolutely, yeah. Profoundly.
What meditation does for you is what sleep, in essence, does for you. Like, physically, it affects your nervous system. For a long time I thought, "That's hippie shit. Wow, whatever new-age weirdo."
So then I read David Lynch's book, Catching the Big Fish. David Lynch is one of my heroes, I adore him and I love his films. I read that book and there were things that he talked about that blew me away. He's been meditating for 30 years and it's a specific type of meditation called transcendental meditation that's really easy to do.
Fortunately for me, I live in Los Angeles where it's not uncommon for people to meditate. More importantly, there's a teacher I have who teaches it for cheap and is amazing. A lot of the meditation gurus, as they're called, will charge people insane amounts of money. The woman who taught me is the same person who brought The Beatles to the Ashram in India…
…and kind of brought transcendental meditation, or TM, to the West. She's my teacher and she's fantastic and definitely at the forefront of that movement with The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Doors and all those bands that were doing TM in the 60s.
Anyway, it really makes everything in your life easier. You can physically feel the difference and will immediately notice the difference in your life once you start doing it. There's no dogma attached to it - you can be a Christian and meditate and you can be an atheist and meditate. You just have to be open to it and it will work - especially creatively. I mean, that was what sold me on hunting this woman down and learning from her. Like, last night I was in the studio, I meditated for about 20 minutes, went upstairs and picked up a guitar and then wrote a song.
And the song is really good. Like, it clears the paths in your mind. Even if you were struck with some kind of tragedy, you're able to see through it - you lose all your fear, you lose your ego and you start thinking very clearly. So when you're faced with something unpleasant, rather than it being this horrible thing that's going to hold you down, it appears to be more of a puzzle that you can figure out. Creatively, TM has been an amazing tool for me - it really works.
So you would consider yourself a very spiritual person then…
I do, yeah. I consider myself a spiritual person, but I don't consider myself religious at all. The woman who taught me to meditate once told me, "God invented spirituality and then the Devil came along and organized it."
I think that's pretty well-said.
Are you still a member of the Church of…
You can say it, you can say it, you can say it…
…of the Church of Satan?
Yes, they won't let me leave. If I leave, they'll kill me.
They will hunt me down and kill me.
So yeah, I'm stuck. I don't know what to do. I don't even believe in it anymore and they make me go to all of the ceremonies still. They said if I leave, they're going to kill me.
I went to the Scientologists and they said, "Get out."
So I'm scared.
(laughs) What inspires you lyrically?
It depends on the song. Usually it's a woman or a love interest or a muse of some kind. For me, often times it's a woman. Your muse might be an ocean or it might be a mountain or something, but I have an affinity for the female being.
The Alkaline Trio is generally known for its darker-themed songs. Is there anything out there that you are truly scared of?
No, nothing - I'm not kidding. A couple of years ago, my wife had some piece-of-shit magazine like People or US Weekly or some other garbage that I wouldn't ever touch. (pauses) Actually, that's not true. When I'm in line at the grocery store, I'll look through the smut. It cracks me up because they're like, "Look! These celebrities are just like us!" It's so fucking pathetic - of course they're just like us. They take shits and they eat at restaurants and who fucking cares?
Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah. So my wife asked me about this survey in, I believe, People magazine and it was a fear test. The questions were like, "Are you afraid of sharks?" No, I like to surf. "Are you afraid of heights?" No, I jump out of airplanes. Like, it makes me a little nervous, but that's where the fun comes from. So I answered these questions absolutely honestly and said no to every single one. So my wife kind of laughed at me and said, "Well, it says here that you're a liar."
So I started laughing and said, "Yeah, and you're reading People magazine so I win."
Not too long after that, we were on an airplane bound for New York City to do something for the band. So there were these crazy 80-mile-an-hour winds blowing over Queens where we were trying to land at JFK. Long story short, we went through this low cloud cover that was above these crazy winds and our plane went into a complete nosedive right towards ocean. At this point, I was already meditating - I meditate on the plane all of the time. It's one of the best places because you can shut off, transcend where you are and forget about everything. Just put some ear plugs in, close your eyes and if you have sunglasses on, it looks like you're sitting there like some weirdo, staring off into space.
Anyway, I was already meditating and all of a sudden I felt the plane dropping and getting blown around. Everybody on the plane started screaming, I heard people praying out loud, my wife was grabbing my hand and sobbing. Everyone was hysterical and I just sat there as calm as a Hindu cow.
There was no doubt in my mind that that was the night my life was going to end - you know it's bad when the flight attendants are screaming. So the plane ended up landing and when the shuttle came to pick us up, everyone was dead silent - like when we walked off the plane, the pilots looked like they had just seen a ghost.
But up in the plane when we were basically plunging towards the Atlantic, all I could think about was how bad I felt for all these people who were scared. Like, it's going to happen someday so why not tonight? I guarantee that it ain't going to hurt when we hit that water man - this shit's going to blow up and we're all going to be dust. I might have come into this world screaming, but I'm not going out screaming.
To me, death is far from the worst thing that can happen to a person. Living a miserable existence and dying unhappy is the worst thing and I would never let that happen to myself.
So, you're good on the fear then…
Yes. I'm good on the fear.
The Alkaline Trio was formed in Chicago and you obviously have a strong connection to that city. Do you miss living there?
(pauses) Not really. I lived in Chicago for a long time. I do love that city and it will always be home - like, when people ask me where I'm from, I always say Chicago. But I really needed a change in scenery and a change in weather. I mean, there's nothing like a beautiful day in Chicago, but those days are few and far between. When we were making the record, I was there for about two months and it was sunny and warm every day - I couldn't believe it. But yeah, the hot, hot heat of the summers and the cold Siberian winters in Chicago are not my friend anymore.
Yeah, I can totally understand that. I need to get away from the winters here in Edmonton - a few weeks ago, we were the coldest place in the world aside from Siberia.
Holy fuck! You know you're cold when you're up there with Siberia.
Yep, that's why I'm moving to Vancouver.
Yeah, Vancouver's cool.
So anyway, you're in L.A. now. Where are the other two guys living?
Derek (the drummer) is in Chicago. He's from Detroit originally, but lives in Chicago now. Dan (bass player and co-vocalist) lives down in Florida with his family.
So the band is all over the place…
Does that make the normal activities of a band more difficult to do?
No, it's easy. We haven't lived in the same city for a long time. With technology and airplanes, it's easy.
You have a solo album coming out on Asian Man Records. It's called Demos?
Yeah, because they're all demos. It's not really a solo album. The thing that's coming out on Asian Man are the demos for a record that I've just started recording recently with Danny Lohner from the Nine Inch Nails. So those demos are all stuff I did on my Mac and with GarageBand. They're super low-fi and just the skeletons of songs. Some of them are just me being stoned and messing around in my room and some are song ideas that are really going to get used. But yeah, it's called Demos because they're really just demos.
Is your full-out solo album going to come out on Heart and Skull?
Yes, I hope so. I'm going to try to get a couple of songs recorded for real and show them to my partners to see if it's something they're into doing. And if they say no, then I'm going to do it anyway.
(laughs) I'm kidding.
Yeah, that's the plan - I hope it's on Heart and Skull.
Will there be any guest appearances on the album?
There will be, yeah. I've already recruited some pretty serious cats and kittens for the solo record. The demo thing is just me, trying to work out some ideas and I thought I'd share them with people - hopefully they dig it. It's pretty obvious they're rough ideas.
Can you tell me who some of these of these cats and kittens will be on the solo record?
(pauses) I don't want to say anything right now - I just don't want to jinx it. But I've got some people who I'm pretty honored to be really interested in singing on it and playing on it. Once it's recorded and once it happens, the record will speak for itself and those cats and kittens will be credited on the record.
(laughs) Sounds good.
Their voices are pretty distinguishable so it should be really cool.
What's the status with Heavens?
There isn't really a status with Heavens. We were talking about making another record at one point, but my partner Joe (Steinbrick) in Heavens is doing a lot of commercial work with music - like in television and film. So his career is really taking off, which doesn't leave him with a whole lot of time and I'm really busy with the band and my other endeavors. We did it for fun and I'm proud of that album. There may come a time when we will do it again, but the timing isn't right and there are no plans at this point.
Yeah, that's something you want to happen naturally…
Yeah. We worked on some new songs and it was starting to look like we were doing a new record - I think I said a new album was coming out in another interview - but things started to get busy for both of us. So it's for a good reason.
What have you been listening to lately?
I really like the new Tegan And Sara - I think that's very good. I really like a band called Der Blutharsch from Austria - they just put out a new record. What else have I been listening to? I think the new Weezer is a lot of fun. I don't like that "Can't Stop Partying" song, but other than that I think the record is great. There's some oddly coincidental lyrical content on that record that applies to my life that I think is interesting.
Yeah, I was like, "Has this guy been spying on me?" Who else? Oh yeah, Beirut. I just got turned onto Beirut who I think are amazing. I just got turned onto The xx who I also think are amazing. (pauses) I could keep going, but that's probably sufficient.
Cool. So what's the near future looking like right now?
Well, we're going over to Europe next week for some shows, then we come back and start our U.S. tour with Cursive and then I'm pretty sure we're going out on the Warped Tour. Right after that, we'll probably go back to Europe for more shows. We've got our work cut out for us, but we're looking forward to it.
Are you heading up to Canada at all?
Yeah, we're going to do a full Canadian run for this record for sure. We were trying to pull something together at the end of the cycle for the last record, but it never came together. But yeah, we definitely owe Canada a full tour - it's been a while.
Last question, Matt. Is three ever a crowd?
No, three is magic. (long pause) Look it up on Wikipedia - very good things and very bad things happen in threes. (another long pause) Three is a very magical number and I say that without any irony.
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Posted by rich on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 8:00 PM (EST)
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