The band is communicating better than we ever have.
story by Chris McNamara
They’re labeled a Chicago band. Their fan base here is as fervent as anywhere in the nation. And while references to the Windy City litter their lyrics, Alkaline Trio’s zip code contains more than five digits.
While the band was born in Chicago in 1997, guitarist/vocalist Matt Skiba now lives in Los Angeles and drummer Derek Grant calls Indianapolis home. Bassist/vocalist Daniel Andriano is the only member who stayed local, living in the shadow of Wrigley Field. And yet, somehow, that distance has produced a new album, Crimson, (Vagrant) that is more uniform, more fluid, more “Alkaline Trio” than anything the band has produced in its 9-year existence.
“We didn’t set out to write a different album, we set out to write a more cohesive album,” says Andriano, who replaced the first Alkaline Trio bassist early in the band’s randomly rostered history and, along with Skiba, writes the songs. “We wanted it to flow a little better.”
Flow can be tricky to achieve when multiple members of a band contribute their own music and lyrics. Andriano is often labeled the “pop-oriented” songwriter (at which he bristles), while Skiba, according to the bassist, leans toward the funerary. “We never sit down and say, ‘We need to write this kind of song’,” he explains.
In fact, they rarely sit down to write any kind of song. The 13 tracks on Crimson were birthed of technology – they’re bastards of digital communication via DSL connections linking California, Indiana and Illinois. “We do a lot of home recording,” says the 28-year old. “When I write something, it’s easy to e-mail an mp3 to Matt and Derek. They let me know if it’s something they want to work on or if it’s fine the way it is. And Matt does the same thing. When we do get together as a band, then it becomes an Alkaline Trio song.”
Andriano admits that the long-distance arrangement can be a bit of a hassle, but he believes the band is comfortable enough in its sound, and each member in his particular role, to forgo the bandmate-as-roommate arrangement. (His wife undoubtedly agrees.) “Matt and I generally write the music and lyrics, but Derek has a huge impact on the structure of songs. He’s responsible for the extra-curricular parts, the strings and piano. He almost gets to listen to the songs from an outsider’s perspective.”
Skiba sings the words he writes, Andriano sings his. “That policy is not set in stone, but Matt and I feel our lyrics are pretty personal. We feel more comfortable singing what we write.” Skiba’s crisp vocal style complements his bandmate’s more affected, nasally sound – a pure Chicagoan’s voice.
As the songwriting process has evolved, so too have the songs. Early Alkaline Trio tracks often focused on booze and cartoonishly morbid topics – “smart assy lyrics”, as Andriano calls some of them. The current lyrical focus is much more mature and introspective. In “Smoke” Andriano writes, “I wish I don’t wish I still smoked/I wish I wrote you one original note/Take me home, tuck me in/Moon go down, do it again.”
And for a band that takes such care in crafting lyrical landscapes, there is no editing of one another’s words. “I think Matt is one of my favorite lyricists – I’m lucky to be in a band with him,” says Andriano. “And he has never been put off by anything I’ve written. We’re receptive to each other’s ideas. The band is communicating better than we ever have.”
Through miles and miles of DSL lines.
Alkaline Trio :: with Rufio :: Riviera :: June 18.