Though their popularity sprouted in the mid '00s, punk rockers Alkaline Trio have been playing together for nearly 17 years. The band first gained notoriety in 2003 with their album Good Mourning, and continued their upward ascent with follow ups Crimson (2005) and Agony and Irony (2008). Currently touring behind their most recent release this past April, My Shame is True, Alkaline Trio's vocalist/lead guitarist/song writer Matt Skiba sat down with Where Y'at to discuss their upcoming Voodoo Fest performance.
WY: How's your latest tour been going for My Shame is True?
Skiba: It's been great. We've been out for the past 2 months touring the whole U.S., with the exception of New Orleans, of course, which we'll be playing during Voodoo Fest. The response to the new songs has been amazing. As far as us as a band, we have hit a point in our career where this is one of the best tours we have done in the states. We are about to come see you guys, and then we're off to Russia.
WY: Most of your songs deal with dark subject matter, particularly heartbreak and personal issues. Is it hard to relive these songs on stage?
Skiba: Song writing is sort of the catharsis - the performance is a celebration of those things being a thing of the past. When you are performing you kind of get lostnot thinking about the things you are singing about; then, seeing people singing along and smiling to what you have written - how they respond positively to it - that makes it rewarding, it turns it into a positive thing for you. This last album I was going through a hard time during the writing phase. When you are writing about something personal and something that hurts, you tend to go down some dark roads. Playing it live, though, we just love that people are in to it. It's hard to get bummed out on stage when people are enjoying what you do. That's not to say there aren't times performing when things cross my mind, but I don't think anyone notices. For the most part, I've gotten it off my chest by the time it is written, or recorded in the studio.
WY: Everyone in the band is involved in multiple side-projects. How does this bring energy to the creative process for Alkaline Trio?
Skiba: I think our side projects are sort of a subconscious way of exploring something new. Song writing is a process - it's like meditation, or a martial art - you are reaching for some form of enlightenment that you may not otherwise reach. But with music, or anything creative, whether its a side projects or working with other people, you pick things up that you wouldn't otherwise. I think when you try something new you always take something away from it - hopefully positive. As it relates to Alkaline Trio, whenever you play music you are refining your craft, you're building on your experience. The other day I was sitting around my house and picked up my guitar, just playing around, and got an idea for a new song in about three minutes. I don't think anything you do artistically is insignificant. I think all our outside endeavors are healthy - there are no egos, we aren't trying to compete with each other. My band mates are friends and people I love and look up to, and I encourage whatever they involve themselves in.
WY: Year's ago you got into meditation. How does this affect your writing? Has it helped take you from that darker place, or in a different direction?
Skiba: I don't think it's taken things in a new direction. It really helps to focus your life - and, in that way, it focuses the music. I got into it partly from reading "Catching the Big Fish" (by writer/director David Lynch). Lynch has been a hero of mine for some time. I love his movies - he just writes some dark, twisted, f#$ked up, wildly creative stuff. In this book, he says if you have an edge, it (meditation) sharpens it. Therefor, if you have darkness in you, meditation doesn't turn you into a flower child, it amplifies those emotions. At the same time, it allows you to control them; it helps you to confront your emotions without fear. In that way, it's had a profound effect on me for the five years I've been doing it. In that time, I have found the darkness I feel hasn't gone away, but it has allowed me to explore it alongside other emotions, creating a duality. I'm now a more positive person, and respond more positively to negative situations. As an artist, it allows you to navigate fear and ego, which destroy creativity. Writing comes way easier to me now.
WY: A few years ago, Alkaline Trio released Damnesia, an album of acoustic renditions of classic songs. Can we expect any acoustic renditions during Voodoo Fest?
Skiba: We'll still definitely roll a few out - after the release of (Damnesia) we did it much more often. On the current tour, we've performed a few older songs in this vein for fans that aren't necessarily fully acoustic, but in that same cadence. We've found with festivals, it's a challenge because you are faced with more of a time constraint, as well as a lot of people who have never heard your band before, so you want to have as memorable a set as possible. You want to deliver them the best smorgasbord of your musical history that you can.
WY: What is your favorite song from the new album?
Skiba: I can't say that. I don't have children, but I fell it's like picking your favorite child. "She Lied to the FBI" is the lead track and has been getting great feedback when we do it live. For me, the best songs are those that are a bit calmer and allow you to interact with the audience. Also, if the audience is having as much fun as you are you know you are doing your job right. I'll say "She Lied to the FBI" just for the sake of answering your question.
WY: What young bands excite you today? Do any different styles of music influence your writing?
Skiba: We just toured with Off With Their Heads, a great young band, a great punk band. We couldn't ask for a better band or a nicer group of guys to tour with. I really listen to a little bit of everything, to tell you the truth. I'll do ghost writing from time-to-time, some for pop-singers, some hip-hop acts, so I do listen to a lot of different things. That said, those songs are not Alkaline Trio; it's not like it's my primary thing and I'm making millions of dollars making Britney Spears hits…not that I'd be objected to that. It's fun to do, because many of these people are figureheads, so you need to approach the writing from their perspective, and how they are perceived. A lot of times, I won't event meet these people. We'll submit the song to their manager, and they'll either approve it, or it's back to the drawing board. You won't ever see my name on any of these songs…that's why it's "ghost writing."
WY: What bands are you most excited to see at Voodoo Fest?
Skiba: Nine Inch Nails, for sure. They are one of my favorite bands. I think they are going to be one of those timeless bands, you know?...and the new stuff is great. Trent lived in New Orleans for the longest time, so it's a pseudo-homecoming of sorts for him. We have family in New Orleans as well, so it will be a homecoming for us as well. We love New Orleans.
Catch Alkaline Trio November 2 at 6:45 p.m. on the Carnival Stage.