For the better part of a decade, Alkaline Trio
have carved out a loyal, almost frenzied worldwide following with their Vampire-kissed brand of Pop Punk. They even boast a Kiss Army-like fan club called the Blood Pact
. On albums like Maybe I'll Catch Fire and Good Mourning, the Chicago band blended candy-sweet vocal melodies, miserablist lyrics, and the kind of meat and potato styled arrangements that gave their material a timeless quality.
When the band announced that they were signing with Epic Records
, their followers waited with baited breath. Many worried that the band was going to alter their sound onto the poppier side of things to try and find a spot on the mainstream charts. In July, the band released the album in question, Agony and Irony
, and all the alarm was for naught. With hard-hitting tracks such as Calling All Skeletons and In Vein, the record will surely appeal to the die-hards.
With the album's lead off single, Help Me
, firmly planted in everyone's iTunes playlists, the band are out on the road with fellow punkers, American Steel and The Fashion. Ultimate-Guitar
had a chance to sit with the band's songwriting duo of Matt Skiba
(guitars/vocals) and Dan Andriano
on the eve of Agony and Irony's release. Check out the interview for their thoughts on the new album, Transcendental Mediation, and Joy Division.
UG: When you first started playing guitar/bass, did you concentrate on practicing on your own or were you more interested in the songwriting element of it?
I was way into just practicing. I was about 11years old when I started playing guitar and I had tablature books for Zeppelin and Metallica. That's pretty much all I would play. It wasn't until I was 13 or so and started going to punk rock shows that I thought I would try my hand at writing.
Who were some of the guitarists you looked up to back then?
I totally thought that Jimmy Page was The Man and I still do! He was the first person that made me feel like a guitar part could actually have a soul. But as I got into different types of music, I would say that guys like Johnny Marr and Billie Joe Armstrong had that same kind of effect on me.
Which Alkaline Trio album do you look back on now and see as a turning point for the band in terms of finding your sound?
|"We spent a lot of time going over the tunes and just exploring as many options as possible."|
I would have to say From Here To Infirmary definitely started to shape things up with more of a straight up rock kind of sound. I think the previous two albums are really great, but are a bit meandering. I think FHTI is when Matt and I both realized that we wanted to tighten the screws a bit, simplify things a little and focus more on punching you in the nuts with our rock; Metaphorically speaking of course.
On Agony and Irony, you worked with producer Josh Abraham (Slayer, Velvet Revolver). How much of an influence did he have on the songwriting and/or arrangements?
He had a pretty big influence on us in many ways. We spent a lot of time going over the tunes and just exploring as many options as possible. We left no stone unturned. He also just has a great vibe around that studio that helped us feel really relaxed and comfortable, so we could just have fun and enjoy the entire experience.
At this point in your career, when you were getting the material together for this new album, do you struggle with the expectations some of your more purist fans might have? For example, was there ever a moment where the band or Josh had some kind of sonic idea for a track and it might have been too radical within the context of what people know the band for?
There were a few things actually, most of which we came up with. But they were the kind of parts that I think we were excited about just because they sounded new and different for us and not necessarily because they were good. But as with everything on this record, we would take a few days away from it, then come back to it, and ultimately the decision always came down to what was best for the song; whether it was weird, or different, or whatever.
Matt, I know that you've said that the lyrics to Help Me were inspired by the Anton Corbijn film, Control. The cover art for the single even looks like Peter Saville sleeve. What about Joy Division and that film moved you so much?
I've always been a big Joy Division fan and I was quite touched by the film. I thought it captured Joy Division and Ian Curtis' life beautifully. The sincerity of their music combined with their imagery and art is like nothing else. Everything about them was artistic and unique. Our artwork and song is a tribute to a melancholic beauty that can never be replicated.
I Found A Way came out of your recent discovery of Transcendental Mediation. How did you get introduced to it?
|"I can honestly say that I now live without fear and anxiety."|
I read David Lynch's book Catching the Big Fish. Our manager gave it to me and introduced me to Nancy Cooke DeHerrera. She brought The Beatles to India to learn to meditate back in the day and has taught countless artists Transcendental Mediation. I can honestly say that I now live without fear and anxiety. TM is especially helpful with the creative process. I've gained incredible inner-peace and it's opened doors I never even knew existed.
Dan, Do You Wanna Know? like most of your writing contributions have a very descriptive, almost cinematic way about them. Matt draws inspiration from film but what kind of stuff did you draw from this time out?
As with most of my stuff it comes from life experiences. I've tried to write songs about other things like politics or social issues but it never seems earnest to me.
What kind of guitar rig did you use on the album?
We used all kinds of stuff. My Bogner and my Diezel came in handy but we also used Fenders and Marshalls as well as all kinds of boutique amps and pedals. As far as guitars go, we used mostly Gibsons. A 59 Junior, an SG, my Goldtop, and Silverburst.
What kind of bass rig did you use on the album?
I played my Fender P-Bass on every song. It's a 62 reissue. I love it, it's real comfortable and for the main tone I played through a 1970 Marshall Major and an 8 x 10. But we would also be running an old 50 watt Marshall through a 4 x 12 or a 1 x 15, for some real gnarl to blend in there. When you solo up the bass it sounds insane! It's like a tornado in my head but it mixed so easily with the rest of the tracks. It was a lot of fun!
What are some essential albums younger UG readers should get for their collections?
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures
Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady
The Clash - s/t
Social Distortion - s/t
Misfits - Walk Among Us
The Ramones - Ramones Mania
David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
The Damned - The Best of The Damned
Psychedelic Furs - Talk Talk Talk
The Cure - Head on the Door
Interview by Carlos Ramirez