Alkaline Trio

They’re a renowned name in contemporary punk circles. recently sat down with Alkaline Trio guitarist/vocalist Matt Skiba ahead of new studio album, ‘My Shame Is True’ to discuss the current state of music, advice for aspiring musicians and quintessential Spinal Tap moments. 

G’day Matt, how’s it going?

Good man, how are you?

Yeah, going really well thanks.

What’s the feeling like at the moment? Obviously you finished recording a few months back and now just waiting for it to come out – it’s that in between period.

It has been wildly exciting man. In the interim between recording and releasing the record, I wrote a video for the band – my dear, sweet friend Milla Jovovich starred in and we were busy making that happen. I’ve just been doing a lot of interviews and I haven’t really been this hyped about a record, I’m always excited to put music out, but I feel this new record has something that is going to reignite the band and it is really, really exciting.

I know like you just mentioned there, how it has reignited the band and you’re really excited, from another perspective I saw today the album is streaming online. Do you personally take notice of the thoughts and reception of listeners or just you’re happy with it so that’s the main thing?

I look at it, the thing that has been really cool with this thing is, times for the music industry is a weird thing. I don’t think it is necessarily bad. CD’s are bullshit (laughs), vinyl is coming back up and the thing I love about mp3’s is there is less actual physical garbage. You’re not tearing down trees to print CD’s. We put out the CD, but to be on the very tail end of the compact disc and growing up watching cassette tapes being the new things, then CD’s made them obsolete, and now we’re at a time where CD’s are about to become obsolete. It is interesting.

It’s also interesting to see these big American magazines at least, like Spin magazine is not in print anymore, it’s only online. As these magazines are shifting the way they are doing things, we have to [as well]. And in a way, I feel it has brought, like Rolling Stone and Spin and Billboard, and all these big huge magazines here are in love with us and showing us so much love because we are all in this together. Whereas before you’re doing an interview with those magazines and it’s almost like they’re doing you a favour. Now, it just seems like, whether it’s press, which you’re obviously involved in or like the music aspect of it, we’re all in this together, and we all have to figure out a way to make it work. So, it’s a really exciting time.

There was a time where everyone was like, “We’re all fucked!” (laughs), but I feel like getting love from these big names and them being really passionate and patient, and making us look really good, it has been a really amazing thing. It is pretty wild – those are the things I pay attention to – the fact that these people are so interested in us, and the way we’ve done this last record, the newest record. I pay more attention to the rewards of that. I do look at my Twitter and my Instagram or whatever, and people are so jazzed about it. There is always going to be people, I don’t go on chat rooms and I don’t research too hard, but everything I have seen has been really positive and that has been without spending too much time digging for it (laughs). I don’t just do that. I’m too busy talking to people like you and promoting the record to be worried about people who don’t like it. If one person loves it, I’m stoked and apparently there is a fuck load of people who are into it, so that makes me happy.

That’s awesome. What you were mentioning before about CD’s becoming obsolete, that ties into one of the questions I was going to ask later. Bands before they release albums these days, it has become common practice to release lyric videos, and as you said with Twitter and Facebook, how much has this helped – being in a band to get the promotion out there and get the music out there?

I mean, the one thing, a friend of mine, he is a manager – a really well respected manager and producer out here in LA, he wrote this dissertation about ‘how do you market your band to no market?’ There is no market place for record sales anymore. Your biggest ally, the most important thing you can do is write a great song, first and foremost. But, present it in video form because YouTube, everyone can watch the video for free. If you make a great video, with a good song – you’re golden. I feel we’ve done that and it’s insane, anytime Spin, Rolling Stone or you, whoever we talk to, but the American stuff I’ve been doing mostly, I’ll do this thing, it will come out then I’ll tweet it and people who normally don’t look at Spin are all over it. The minute you send that thing out everyone is going to look at it. So I think it can work tremendously in a band’s favour if you do it right…and I feel that we are.

Another aspect of being in a band – the touring life. You’ve been doing this for quite awhile. From interviewing other bands, I’m always quite surprised and it’s cool, the constant repetition of playing shows night after night is actually a good thing. Where do you stand on that?

Well, you know, there are up and downsides to anything anyone does. With having a career in music, I really can’t complain too much. The road does definitely get exhausting, it does take its toll and anyone that is digging ditches that reads this, I grew up a blue collar kid and I worked a ‘jobby job’ to get where I am now. You just have to be respectful of people that are busting their ass or they’re in the military or doing crazy work, definitely watch your mouth when you start to complain about shit. I mean, being on the road 24/7, it wears on you.

My key to enjoying being on tour is just be in the present. This show, this day and it is just as important as any others, no matter where you’re playing and it’s the only time it is going to happen. It also ties in with the YouTube thing. You play a set, someone is going to be there recording it, everyone is going to see. So, every show, even if it just some little ass town and there is not that many people there, it is wildly important that you throw fucking down every night. You have to be a better band and you have to be on every night. The only way to do that, you don’t look at the laminate and all the dates you have left and you can’t wait to get home and that happens when you have loved ones at home, our bass player has a kid. It’s like yes, sometimes it starts to feel like a job and you have to remind yourself, you’re a lucky motherfucker, you get paid to play. Just living in the present has done wonders for me. I found that myself through transcendental meditation. Like just talking to you now, I’m right here, this is the only time we’re going to have this conversation – it’s really important. It has taught me to just appreciate every day we’re out there even when you’re worn out and you just want to go home and ride your motorcycle, and take a bath and fuck your girlfriend (laughs), that will happen, [but] just enjoy this right now, most people would kill to be in your position.

I think that is one of the distinctions, being in a band it is a 24/7 thing and it is a career. You’ve been doing this for so long, what is the thing that keeps you motivated?

The fans. Absolutely.

Just going back to the topic of the album. I know every album is different from the next, but what’s one thing you’d like listeners to take away from this one?

This record, we’ve definitely cloaked a lot of ourselves in metaphor and there are definitely metaphors through and throughout the record. This record for me was written in somewhat of a vacuum. It was this apology love note to my ex-girlfriend who I’m still very close with. I think the emotions presented on this album…I think it’s very human. I think everyone, whether they know what these songs are about or not, I hope people can apply these songs to their own lives and really feel that someone is singing their feelings for them. I mean that is always the goal, but I feel with this record we’ve come back to closely accomplishing that.

I know you’ve got a Spinal Tap inspired tattoo, what’s been Alkaline Trio’s quintessential Spinal Tap moment so far in the career?

The one main thing is, we’ve been through quite a lot of drummers. And as you know in Spinal Tap, one of the guys blows up and one of the guys chokes on someone else’s vomit. It happens with a lot of bands. There’s a thing we call “drummer-itis” (laughs). Whether it is the drummer’s fault or the band’s fault or whatever, it is like a revolving door with a lot of bands. Everything that happens in Spinal Tap is totally like stuff that happens to every band that fucking tours. So we’ve been through a lot of drummers, which is very Spinal Tap. We’ve also got lost in a lot of backstage areas (laughs). Hence, “hello, Cleveland” on my ribs.

Well that’s one of the things, I remember I was speaking to The Sword when they were down here for Soundwave and when they were supporting Metallica and they were playing in these big stadiums and on these big stages. Is that issue sometimes when you’re playing these big venues, the lights go down and then you’re trying to desperately find your way to the stage?

Yeah, it’s always festivals where you get lost. Because, like you said, there are stages everywhere and everyone is on radio, but for some reason they can’t figure out which band is playing where. I mean Spinal Tap is one of my favourite movies, I loved it before I started playing music for a living and travelling. It rings so fucking true to the reality of being in a rock band. It seems so glitz and glamour to people, and you know when you’re on stage it absolutely is, but the other 22 ½ hours of the day it is very human. We have a really good sense of humour about it. You’ve just got to keep that in mind. Anytime something happens and you’re immediately bummed by it, it’s like, “dude, it’s Spinal Tap, it’s just being in a rock band.” (laughs). It is totally quintessential, all aspects of it. The difference between us and Spinal Tap, is we don’t take ourselves very seriously. Obviously it’s a comedy and they are playing guys that take themselves seriously. That’s the one thing [with us] that isn’t akin to Spinal Tap, is we laugh at the Spinal Tap moments.

At the moment, what are some bands or musical styles that are taking your interest currently?

The stuff I listen to for pleasure really doesn’t sound anything like the music we play. I’m in to all different kinds of stuff. Lately my jam is the new Teagan and Sara record, I love that record. I love a lot of no-wave, noise stuff or avant-garde, art music, but you don’t listen to it in the way you listen to pop or rock music. When we were writing ‘My Shame is True’, I was listening to Devo and Teenage Head, and all the bands I wanted this record to have that urgency. The record, the subject matter is rather sad because that was what I was going through and you write about what you know. But I wanted it to be something where the lyrics might be dim, but the delivery is something that is uplifting, so that it has that duality. To me, all great art, all great people, all great everything has a dark and a light side. If you can combine the two and do it right, that is the goal.

Well-put. I know this album marks the ninth studio album for Alkaline Trio, but what is perhaps a key goal or a few goals for the future that you want to achieve in the band?

It’s all icing now man. I saw this sign the other day and it said, “Make a wish.” I never make wishes for myself, but I was like, “if I was going to, what would I wish for?” And, I still don’t know? I have everything I need – I have food, I have a roof over my head, I have the best friends in the world, I play music for a living, we’ve already done it. Now, everything from here on out is just icing on the cake.

For a young kid that is considering starting a band, what’s the best bit of advice you could give them?

Just write from your heart. Of course there is jokey, silly bands, but if you’re writing about your own life experiences just make sure you’re honest. If you’re writing music, you should be reading a lot. I think reading is so fundamental to being a good writer. I’m not talking about reading magazines. For me, Cormac McCarthy or even Stanley Kubrick’s films, all these really great storytellers, you can’t be as good as them, but you have to keep in mind what would they do – whoever your inspiration is? For me, it’s Cormac McCarthy and Stanley Kubrick. Those are two of the greatest artists of all time for me. Also, they weren’t musicians. I go to outside sources, but you have to tell the true story and as long as it is from the heart, even if it feels awkward or trite or whatever, if you’re honest, listeners will get that.

Were there any final words you wanted to pass onto readers before we let you go?

The reason I have a career and the rest of the band has a career is because of our fans and I would just like to thank them.

That’s a really good way to sign off. I really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat today Matt.

Likewise brother, thank you.

Hope the album really goes well for you and take care.

You too, thank you.

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