Interview: Alkaline Trio

Published in Drum Media (WA) | 25.04.13 | Issue # 335



It’s getting harder for the members of Alkaline Trio to find time to write music together, but vocalist/bassist Dan Andrianotells Daniel Cribb that, despite living in different cities and only playing the new songs together for the first time in the studio, they’ve produced a career-defining record in My Shame Is True.

It’s slowly creeping into the late hours of the night when Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano answers his phone from his Florida residence. He picks up, and one of the first things out of his mouth, between sips of a freshly poured alcoholic beverage, is an apology. “I know I pushed this shit around quite a bit, and that’s usually not my style,” he explains. The singer-songwriter had to reschedule twice. The first due to last-minute band-related activities in LA, the second, Disney-related. “On Sunday I was out with my daughter and one of my friends. I took them to see this show… I thought it would be like 45 minutes long, and this show was like two hours long!” he laughs. “I kind of always have to put time with my daughter first.”

While Andriano patiently sat through two hours of Disney classics, Alkaline Trio’s album new record, My Shame Is True, was quickly circulating across the globe. With the release of previous records, the band would be on the road most months out of a year, but having been around since 1996 and developing a solid following through relentless and painstaking touring, they can afford to ease up on their touring scheduled somewhat, allowing time for other activities, and family.

Playing music together for the better part of two decades, they’ve finally managed to capture the best elements of their previous eight studio albums, channel it into one unique sound and add a fresh spin to it all.

“I think [My Shame Is True]’s the best of what we do. We’ve tried a lot of different things, just because that’s who we are as a band – we always want to experiment a little bit in the studio and then simplify things on stage. We’ve been a band for over 16 years, so we want to do different things. If we’re always making the same record, there’s no point.

“But I think this time we really captured – and it wasn’t really a conscious effort – but I think we ended up capturing the magic that the band had when Matt [Skiba, vocals/guitar] first started the band, as well as some of the in-studio stuff that we’re interested in doing now as a band that’s a little bit older, that makes it more fun for us to record. So I’m really happy with the record.”

In keeping with a steady release cycle, pumping out an album every two to three years, the band went somewhat quiet after briefly touring 2011’s Damnesia, and each member splintered away from AK3 HQ to explore different streams in their careers. Andriano spent time touring the world with his acoustic guitar and released a solo album under the title of Dan Andriano In The Emergency Room, Skiba released two records with two different projects (theHELL, Matt Skiba & The Sekrets), and drummer Derek Grant lent his talent to different bands – most recently touring with The Vandals at this year’s Soundwave.

“I’m very excited to be doing what we’re doing, and I always have been, but, you know, it’s like, I didn’t go out and do my Emergency record because I was unhappy with the band or anything, and I don’t think Matt went out and did the Sekrets record because he was dying to be anything but Alkaline Trio, it just happened that we had a little bit of time and we both had these songs that maybe were a little different, and so we went out and did some stuff. In the process, I wouldn’t say that I had this realisation like I was not appreciative of the band, but I got out to play and go on tours with different people.

“I mean, I hadn’t toured with other folks in 12 years, and I went out and toured with Chuck [Ragan] from Hot Water Music, Dave Hause, Brian [Fallon] from Gaslight Anthem, and I went and did all these different kinds of shows and different kinds of tours without Alkaline Trio, and in doing that, it made me excited to get a bass back in my hands. I love playing guitar, I love playing acoustic guitar, I love writing songs, and just playing anything, but I started to feel like, ‘Alright, I’ve got that out of my system, it’s time to get back to what I feel like I’m here to do’, and that’s play with Matt and Derek.”

During their time apart from the band, Andriano and Skiba were constantly writing and demoing material for My Shame Is True. But living in three different cities in different corners of the US, it wasn’t until all three met up at the legendary Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, Colorado did the songs really take on new life.

“I’ll be very honest, we’d never even played those songs for each other – we’d sent them back and forth via email, and that’s kind of how we do things,” Andriano explains. “And so, when we finally get together to play them, they’re going to take on a life of their own. When I demo a song I put a little more emphasis on details and sounds and stuff. Whereas, when Matt writes and demos a song, he does it as fast as possible to get it done… due to natural of the way we write and rehearse these days as a band, things definitely change – the songs definitely come to life once we all get together,” he tells. “We write songs, email them to each other, and then wait to hear back, and someone will say, ‘Yeah, I like this, I like that part – can’t wait to play this’, or whatever. But it never really gets hashed out until we’re all in the same room.”

Long-time friend, idol, Descendents drummer and producer Bill Stevenson played a big role in shaping the songs. During pre-production, one song in particular almost didn’t make the cut, but was saved by flying a special guest into the studio for a few days.

“I came home from – and this is going to make me sound way more masculine than I am – but I came home from a run where I was listening to some pretty heavy music and I felt really, like I said, pumped, masculine, whatever. I was like, ‘I’m going to write a song right now, I’m going to write a high energy tune’, and so I wrote that song, I, Pessimist, really fast. I was kind of angry, I was kind of excited and I wrote the song about depression and insecurity kind of leading you down this path of madness, and that’s what the song’s about. As soon as I wrote the song I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really fun, but I can’t sing this song, so I don’t know what I’m going to do with it’.

“Bill seemed kind of lukewarm about it. And I was like, ‘But wait! This is not how this song is supposed to be – I’m not supposed to sing this song. I want to get someone like Tim [McIlrath of Rise Against] or someone’, and as soon as I said that, Bill kind of lit up like a Christmas tree and got really excited and called Tim… he agreed to come out in like a week and he did it so fast and hung out for a night, and we all went out and got delicious vegetarian Chinese food and then he went home, and that was awesome.”

Daniel Cribb

Drum Perth (Apr 25, 2013)