Interview with Alkaline Trio: Evolution Through Intuition

Alkaline TrioAlkaline Trio has been a band for a long time, all things considered. They’ve inspired countless bands (some of whom they’ve unfortunately had to open for in recent years) and made some pretty influential albums (see their 1998 debut Goddamnit). Now the Chicago trio (who don’t all reside in Chicago anymore) is about to release their seventh full-length album, Agony And Irony, on major label Epic Records–and it doesn’t quite sound like the same band that started out struggling on then-fledgling indie label Asian Man Records. Singer and guitarist Matt Skiba discusses the new record a week too early to be grilled about his band’s gross appearance on reality show The Hills.

Does it feel like you’ve been a band for 11 years?

I’m happy and thankful to say that time flies when you’re having fun. Things change from when you’re 20 years old and you’re young and made of rubber. The lifestyle changes a little bit as you get older, but that’s good though. We still like to have a good time, but we take much better care of ourselves and I think we put on better shows. So it’s still just as much fun, just in a different way and a lot less chaotic.

Do you think your evolution as a band has been a conscious thing?

You can never really plan anything too much, but there’s definitely been growth. Progression is something you always want. You never want to make the same record twice. That just comes naturally. Our tastes change and our ideas change and that’s going to have an affect on the music. We made an Alkaline Trio record, but if you listen to our first record and you listen to this record, I think you can call us the same band but it’s more experienced. There’s a little more insight to it. We always want to progress, but we never have a plan of how we’re going to do that. It just happens naturally.

Has the way you write a song changed as the band has changed?

The elements are all the same, it’s just the inspirations that have changed. I think living in different cities affects that. I’ve learned more in the last 10 years than I’ve learned in my entire life. That’s definitely going to have an affect on the way things are thought of. But the basics, the actual process of writing, hasn’t changed very much.

Do you think this album still sounds like the band that made Goddamnit?

I feel like our new record doesn’t sound anything like Goddamnit, but I also feel like it in a lot of the same spirit as that record.

Do you listen to your old stuff when you start making a new record?

The only time I go back and listen to old records is when we’re making a new record, just sort of for reference. When we’re making the album I listen to it a lot as its taking shape just to make sure we’re doing it right. I definitely listen a lot while we’re doing it, but once the record’s finished I hardly listen to it at all because we hear it every night when we play it.

Was there anything specific you wanted for the new album when you started writing it?

We wanted to make a record that we wanted to listen to. We always try to do that, but we had to do it this time. We had to make a record we loved. Being on a new label and a bigger label, it’s always potentially scary, but we were really lucky in that the people at the label said ‘Just make the record that you love.’ And that was easy because that’s what we were planning on doing anyway. That was the goal. We wanted to make a fun record, we wanted to make a profound record. I’m not sure if we accomplished it, but for us we did.

How do you feel about the finished product?

We made a record that’s honest. At least for the songs that I write, if somebody were to ask me what that song is about I could tell them. I don’t mean profound by anyone else’s standards, just by my own. When I listen to a song it puts me in the place I was when I wrote it and it tells the story. Bad art is something that doesn’t evoke any kind of emotion or imagery. That’s the point of art to me. So my songs are profound to me. I’d feel proud and confident in explaining the record to somebody if they were interested. Although it might not seem so on the surface, it’s one of the most personal records I’ve ever been involved with writing.

What was the recording process like?

It just was really natural and really fun. We definitely put in the hours and the work, but it all came together really nicely. It’s kind of unheard of for a band in our position to put a record together so quickly.

How long did you spend in the studio?

Six weeks, which is a short amount of time for us.

Can you pinpoint anything that was inspiring you while you were making the record?

I always have my eyes and my ears peeled to where other people are going. I do a lot of painting myself. It’s all sort of one thing. Art is art to me, whether you’re recording it or painting it. I’m just as influenced by Andy Warhol as I am by Joy Division in writing songs. It plays an incredible part in it. I just have bookshelves filled with art books and bookshelves filled with records and I’m always referencing things. There were a lot of things that I referenced while writing this record.

Do you have anything else you want to add about the album?

I just want to say that we really appreciate everyone’s support over the years and we hope they dig the new record. Other than that, we’ll hopefully see them soon.

Agony And Irony is available now. Alkaline Trio will be performing at the Fillmore @ Irving Plaza in NYC on July 12. For more info visit

Photo Credit: Cindy Frey