Before an Alkaline Trio show at the Hardrock Café in Las Vegas, Dan spoke to Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about the Trio's latest release, Damnesia, his dire take on the music industry and how Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room tested his – and his wife's – sanity.
So what's the difference between an Emergency Room song and a Trio song that you have lead vocals on?
The main differences are me writing and performing the entire song. Lyrically or theme-wise it might not end up being that different, but sonically and with the performance it becomes way different because while I write the song, it doesn't become a Trio song until Matt (Skiba) and Derek (Grant) help me finish it, you know? When Matt picks up a guitar and starts playing my part, it's obviously going to be different because he's a different musician than I am and Derek's drumming and songwriting abilities really help shape the tunes that I write for the Trio.
So this is a 100 per cent me and to myself, that's why (The Emergency Room) sounds so different.
Did you actually perform everything on the album?
I did. I played everything except my friend, Erin Lewis in St. Augustine, Florida, helped me play keyboards on two songs. And my friends Pete and Bryan Groleau helped me sing on "Me and Denver."
It sounds like a lot of work went into this…
I put a lot of work into it, yeah. I was home all winter and I pretty much started working on it at the end of January and I worked on it for a couple of months -it was kind of driving me crazy. Being the only person involved is enough to drive a person nuts because I didn't have anyone to bounce ideas off of and I got pretty wrapped up in it.
It's your baby…
Being a person who's actually had a baby, I wouldn't say it's my baby. (laughs) But it's pretty fucking close.
It was recorded in your home in Florida? Did you build a studio there?
I did, yeah. Well, it is what it is. I've got a lot of gear that's been building up over the years and I just kind of made it work.
Did it cause any interruptions with family life and the baby?
Well, she's like four now so I was basically working around her schedule. She would go to daycare and I'd have to get my ass out of bed and work because I knew she'd be coming home later in the day. When she's around, I'd rather be playing with her and hanging out with my wife than working.
So yeah, I was juggling a lot and got wrapped up in it for a while, which was rough because even when I wasn't up there working, I was still obsessing about it and thinking about it - I could tell it was starting to drive my wife a little crazy too.
What's the title-track, "Hurricane Season" about? A particular relationship?
Yeah, it's a personal song. It's about when people let things seep into their subconscious and it keeps them up all night and they become obsessive and borderline depressed. It really puts a strain on the relationship and I don't think I'm the only one who's gone through that. It's about when it has nothing to do with the other person and it's a completely personal issue, but it still affects everyone around you. That's what that tune's about.
I noticed lyrically that you often touch on themes like restlessness and sleeplessness. Are you a bit of an insomniac?
It kind of depends where I'm at. If I can get into a groove, I can sleep pretty good. But travelling and bouncing around as much as I do, yeah, I get pretty restless and I don't know what to do with myself. I end up doing whatever I can to get back to sleep or doing what I can from letting my mind fly out of control.
Sonically, your songs are pretty upbeat, but lyrically they can be pretty dark. Where does the duality come from?
Well I've always been a fan of pop music and as much as I'd like to write about pop music-type issues, I can't. I've been doing this for fucking almost 20 years now and most of the songs have come out when I need to get something off my chest. I fix an issue by writing about it and in my own mind, I've taken the first step towards an endgame…
So there's a lot of closure on the album then…
Absolutely there is. I'm not sure if anyone's going to notice, and I didn't intentionally do this, but the album takes a severe arch from start to finish. In the first line of the record I say, "It's going to rain all day." and in the last line of the record I say, "We'll die in the sunlight." The more I listen to it, the more it's apparent to me that it's about getting from point A to B throughout the course of the record. I'm starting to feel that more and more in my life I'm at point B, you know? When I spend enough time away from home or enough time worrying about real-life problems, I always slip back to point A and it's a little darker and lonelier. So yeah, there's a definite arch there that I find kind of interesting and pretty rad.
Why did you release the album on Asian Man and not Heart and Skull?
Well, Mike (Park) is an old friend of mine and we were talking about doing it on Asian Man and Heart and Skull, but I didn't want there to be any confusion. I just didn't want mess with the relationship with Epitaph, if that makes any sense.
I'm doing this project entirely myself - I recorded the whole thing, I did the artwork, I'm quote-unquote managing myself. I'm trying to do it all and keep it as independent as possible and that's the exact way Mike Park operates at Asian Man. He does everything himself. He doesn't run the biggest label in the world because of that, but he knows what exactly is happening with all of his releases at any given time. We work really well together.
What does his label mean to you? You've had a pretty long relationship with Asian Man Records…
Yeah, before it was Asian Man Records I was doing records with Mike when he was part of Dill Records. He knows what it means to maintain integrity in the music business, which is a pretty shitty industry at this point in history.
There are a lot of great labels out there that Alkaline Trio is blessed to be a part of, like Epitaph Records which is one of the only other good labels. There's a few out there, but they're few and far between. Yeah, Mike represents the true, DIY part of the music industry that's kind of lacking these days.
Can you explain why the industry's going through such a shitty period right now?
I can't really answer that. I just think people have found out how to get music for free and the longer that goes, the more people feel entitled to free music - as kids grow up, getting free stuff here and there, it's going to be status quo.
I think, to a certain extent, music should be free. I don't see why people wouldn't give away songs and utilize the internet. I also believe that when an artist spends a fair amount of their life trying to put together a complete package of art like, with a layout and quality vinyl or something, you should want to pay for that and contribute to the scene.
The music industry just seems stumped. They're like, "What do we do? I guess we can't do anything. Let's stop putting out rock music because rock music doesn't sell anymore and we'll focus on pop because pop sells." Like, one rock band a year will get famous - not that fame is everything, you know what I mean - but I think last year was Kings of Leon and that album was huge. Other than that, there were really no big rock records, which I find really bizarre. The industry's just focusing on what sells and pop still sells. Unfortunately rock fans want stuff for free (laughs).
I don't know the answer so I'm just going to continue to do what I do. I don't pretend to know how to fix it and I just think it's an issue. It's not my fucking job to fix it - it's my job to try and write songs and support my family, you know? So I'm just going to keep on doing what I do and again, that's what I like about working with Mike Park because I know exactly what he's up to and we're just doing what we want.
Because there's so much of yourself in this record and you did everything on your own, is this album a creative pinnacle for you in a way?
That's a good question. I wouldn't say "pinnacle" because I'd like to be able to do more. On this album, I had relatively limited resources and I did what I could so I'm proud of that. The thing about creativity is that when you have people around you, it becomes more of a brainstorming session - when I write songs with Matt and Derek and we're in the studio, we can be three times as creative because I can come up with an idea and then Derek or Matt will take that idea and change it, opening a new door and then it snowballs.
With the Hurricane Season record, I didn't have anyone to do that with and I was trying to do my best and cover my bases without it getting out of control. I wasn't trying make a super-layered Queen record in my house, but I was trying to do as much as I could without too many bells and whistles while sounding not too stripped down.
Do you think Alkaline Trio's hit its creative peak?
I hope not because we plan on doing it forever. If we ever felt like that, I don't see why we would keep doing it.
What's your relationship like with the other guys?
It's great. We're like brothers. Everyone lives in separate parts of the country and have separate things going on when we're home, but we get back on tour, everything snaps back into place pretty quickly. We know each other so well that touring's easy and there are very few moments when anyone is getting on another person's nerves. I hear about it happening in other bands all the time, but it's something we don't really go through - it's pretty awesome.
It seems like you went through those motions before and got them out of the way…
Yeah, there have obviously been moments and it's no secret that Derek is our third drummer (laughs). So there were issues that made it difficult to tour and not so comfortable at times, but we took care of it. Derek's also been in the band for like 10 years now and it's a smooth-sailing ship as they say.
Was Damnesia an album that was more for the band or for the fans? How did it come about?
Initially, it started as something more for the fans, but as we worked on it, I think it became more for us. Initially, someone suggested that we do a greatest hits album for our 15th anniversary and I'm not going lie, I rolled my eyes and was like, "Greatest hits? What's the point?" With iTunes you can create your own greatest hits album with your favourite songs. Then the idea came up for Damnesia, which was a much more appealing idea where we pick, maybe, what would be on a greatest hits album. It was hard because we've never had an actual hit but we definitely have songs that people know better than other songs and we know what those are. So then it was maybe going to be an acoustic record and that sounded boring to me and the rest of guys. We started talking about, for lack of a better term, the unplugged style of a recording like what Nirvana did and what The Cure did - that started to sound like a cooler option and a good way to get really creative. Like, not just re-release these songs, but re-write them and re-record them doing stuff like blending an acoustic guitar with a drum loop and keyboard and just get fucking weird.
It became so much fun and that's why I say that it initially started as something to do for the 15th anniversary and the fans, but became more like doing a real record and something for us. When we do a real record, I'm really only concerned if the three of us are going to like it. That's what Damnesia. became, which was surprising and awesome because I didn't expect to get that excited about it.
I love the changes you guys made in some of those tracks - particularly "Radio." Did those small changes evolve naturally as you've played it over the years or were they conscience?
Well, we pretty much play that song the same way live all the time. So in the studio, we started playing through it and decided we wanted to produce it a little more and soften it up a little bit. It's a slow mellow song musically, but lyrically it's a very intense, dark and honest song. So taking something like that and softening it up while keeping the intensity of the lyrics was really fun. That all happened in the studio.
What versions are you really happy with?
I'm more drawn to the weirder shit we did like "American Scream," I think it's really cool. I really dig what we did with "Private Eye" and "This Could Be Love" with the drum loops and stuff. That was really fun because I enjoy being in a studio and using tricks and tools and shit, to make things sound distinct and weird.
Have you guys even thought about the next album yet?
We just started talking about it. We've been writing here and there for it, but don't have a plan or timeframe in place.
How about more Emergency Room albums?
Yeah, absolutely. Next time I want to do it in a studio with a band or at least some players other than myself. I'm going to try to do that next year sometime for sure.
Your wife will probably be happy recording in the studio instead of at home…
I think she will probably be ecstatic about that.