Musician Crash Course: Alkaline Trio

(And.. Once again, I wait an unexcusably long amount of time before writing another post. In my defense, discovering that FunnyOrDie is a thing isn’t helping my work ethic.)

If you were to look through every iPod ever sold, you would notice a couple similar patterns. First, everyone has at least two artists on there that they’re kind of ashamed of, but still enjoy listening too (Mine are Simple Plan and Fall Out Boy). There’s no shame in this. Every human being has the urge to rebel against something that society has deemed normal by allowing a little bit of badness in our lives.

Fight the power!

Another rule is that everyone would have at least around a dozen songs that just serve to help us cope with sadness. It’s not like anybody can listen to that relentlessly cheery crap on the radio every time they listen to music. Nobody’s that cheerful. Especially if they have internet access. Whether it be domestic problems, breakups, or just good old fashioned depression, these tearmongers prey on our human emotions in order to callously profit off our misery.

Adele: Seen here going for the jugular of her helpless, tear-stained victims.

Many diverse artists may fill this void for different people. Adele (Duh), Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Tears For Fears, Dashboard Confessional, My Chemical Romance, and, um, Black Veil Brides (Understand that I use the term “artist” loosely). Personally, My Chemical Romance is my go-to anti-depression method, but I’ve already written about them. So,  for this long-awaited edition of Musician Biography, I’ve selected another quasi-emo (For lack of a better adjective) band that I’ve been listening to since 7th grade (When I first got serious about collecting music). Ladies and gentlemen, give it up  for…

ALKALINE TRIO

Hometown: McHenry, Illinois

Active From: 1996-Present

Genres: Punk Rock, Alternative Rock, Pop-Punk, Emo

Legacy: Yet more disaffected teenagers who think that their favourite band are a group of mopey prophets because they sing about having their hearts torn out and dabble in Satanism.  When will the kids ever learn?

Apparently, never.

One faithful day in December of 1996 (Consequently, also the month of my birth) in the Chicago suburb of McHenry, Illinois, a couple of twenty-something bike messengers, Columbia College dropout Matt Skiba and Glenn Porter, as well as visual arts student Rob Doran, got together to form one of the best punk groups of the Nineties: Alkaline Trio. Skiba took over guitar and lead vocals while Doran and Porter took over drums and bass, respectively.

After some forays into the Illinois underground scene, the Trio released a demo album and their first EP, entitled Sundials. Shortly after the release of the 1997 EP, Doran left the band to focus on visual arts. He was replaced by Dan Andriano, formerly of the Operation Ivy-inspired ska-punk band, Slapstick. A second EP followed shortly, 1998’s For Your Lungs Only, which garnered interest in the punk scene, and led to their signing with the independant California-based Asian Man Records label. The attention obtained from FYLO prompted the release of their first studio album, later that year: Goddamnit.

Goddamnit, and the subsequent EP (1999’s I Lied My Face Off) and studio album (2000’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire) all achieved critical praise from underground media, showcasing Alkaline Trio’s inventive brand of punk that incorporated emotional, introspective lyrics to go with the band’s aggressive pop-punk style. It also proved to punks that love songs didn’t have to be terrible. I guess punks never listened to Elton John.

In 2000, Porter left the band and was replaced by Mike Felumlee, formerly of the Smoking Pipes. However, he left the band during the supporting tour for their 2001 album, From Here to Infirmary, released on their new record label, Vagrant RecordsWith a decidedly more mainstream sound than its predecessors, it received more mixed reviews from critics, but was also the band’s most commercially successful album to date. The album’s two singles, “Private Eye” and “Stupid Kid”, reached 51 and 53, respectively, on the UK Singles chart while the album itself reached #199 on the Billboard Hot 200 and #9 in Top Independent Albums. Prior to releasing a well received split EP with Hot Water Music, the band hired former Suicide Machines drummer and Face to Face guitarist Derek Grant to play drums. With the addition of Grant, the current lineup for the band was solidified, and the new-found stability really showed  on their fourth album, 2003’s Good Mourning. “Bigger, deeper and rawer”, according to Skiba, the album was praised by critics and reached #20 on the Billboard 200 chart. The two singles off of the album, “We’ve Had Enough” and “All on Black” both charted in the UK, with the former also becoming the first single by Alkaline Trio to chart, reaching number 38 on the Modern Rock chart. The mainstream success surprises me, considering the dark lyrical content of much of their music, occasional satanic overtones and the gruesome imagery depicted in songs such as “This Could Be Love.”

Step One: Slit my throat/Step Two: Play in my blood/Step Three: Cover me in dirty sheets and run laughing out of the house/Step Four: Stop at lake Michigan and rinse your crimson hands.

You took me hostage and made your demands./ I couldn’t meet ’em so you cut off my fingers one by one. 

One by one…” 

Yikes. Tipper Gore would have had a field day with that one.

Anyways, any punk street cred gained by the band with Good Mourning was lost instantaneously with the release of their 2005 album, Crimson. I don’t want to say that the album is their most radio-friendly record, (That would be From Here to Infirmary) but I find that the tone of the lyrical content was toned down from suicidal instability to serious depression.  The three singles, “Time to Waste”, “Mercy Me” and “Burn” all did well commercially, and displayed a more experimental style, which isn’t all that surprising, considering that the album’s producer, the late, great Jerry Finn, also produced experimental albums for Blink-182 (2003’s Blink-182) and AFI (2003’s Sing the Sorrow and 2006’s Decemberunderground), but I digress.

While the album was critically praised my major publications, including AllMusic, Rolling Stone and Kerrang!, I, personally, felt that the album got boring around the second half. the singles are all great, and the couple of songs that follow them on the track listing, “Dethbed” and “Settle for Satin” are just as good, but after that, the album succumbs to the typical problem with straight-up alt-rock albums, which is that it it seems to try so hard to be great, that it ends up being completely pedestrian. Then again, I thought that Dark Horse by Nickleback was a great hard rock album until a couple years ago, so don’t let me stop you from listening to Crimson.

Their next release was 2007’s Remains, an aptly titled collection of B-Sides and rarities that was well-received by critics. Following this, the band left Vagrant and signed with major label subsidiary Epic Records. Their first album in the big leagues was 2008’s Agony & Irony. This is probably my favourite album by the band. it has the Trio toning down the alternative rock sound of Crimson and becoming more of a straight emo/pop-punk band. It isn’t quite as intense as their early work, and the lyrics are relatively free of references to Satan or throat slitting, replacing the gore with self-loathing (“Love Love, Kiss Kiss”) and straight-up rock ballads (“Help Me”, my favourite Alkaline Trio song).

In May of 2009, the Trio quit Epic Records and announced, during a tour with Saves the Day, that they would be releasing their next album, This Addiction, on their own label, Heart & Skull. The album was released on February 23rd as a joint venture between Heart & Skull and Epitaph Records (Along with Bad Religion, Millencollin, Propagandhi, Pennywise and Social Distortion, Alkaline Trio is one of the last serviceable Epitaph bands left).

Seen here: Epitaph’s current flagship band.

This Addiction reached number 11 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the Rock, Independent, and Alternative charts. The album’s lyrics  focused heavily on the member’s personal lives, addressing themes such as Matt Skiba’s divorce and more general themes, such as love, addiction (Duh), death, suicide and war. Musically, it was a return to their roots, with much more of a punk-y sound than Crimson or Agony & Irony. My favourites on this album include the title track and single, “This Addiction”, and “The American Scream”, an ode to a veteran who came back from Afghanistan only to blow his brains out on his mothers’ grave. It was an unusual turn for the normally apolitical band.

In 2011, AT released another fucking album, this time a well-received compilation of fan favourites redone on acoustic guitar entitled DamnesiaThis album means nothing to me except just another way to waste my valuable time, when I could be getting some much-deprived sleep, but hey, it’s all for the love of writing, right?

Because that logic works out for everybody…

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Aside from Alkaline Trio, the band members have contributed to many other bands and side projects. Dan Andriano is a member of The Falcon, a punk supergroup which includes members of Lawrence Arms. he also has a solo project, entitled Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room, and has released one album under this moniker.

Derek Grant is an accomplished touring drummer, having filled in for The Gaslight Anthem, the Vandals and Good Charlotte, for some reason. He, along with Skiba, did a concert with Greg Corner and Johnny Radtke of Kill Hannah entitled Them Crooked Vulvas. Who says these guys are bummers?

 

Matt Skiba,the most prolific of the three, has played one-shot concerts with Kevin Seconds, Chuck Ragan, and, er, Them Crooked Vulvas. In 2004, he formed a short-lived Indie band with Josiah Steinbrick of F-Minus entitled Heavens, which ended in 2007 and has also done a couple albums with Atom Willard (Formerly of The Offspring and Angels & Airwaves). His most recent project is his solo work. He released an album entitled Demos in 2010 and, in 2012, a sophomore effort named Babylon with his band, Matt Skiba & the Sekrets, which includes Hunter Burgan of AFI and Jarrod Alexander of My Chemical Romance.

However, Alkaline Trio is far from over. Last April, they released their eighth studio album, My Shame is True and its’ accompanying EP, Broken Wings. While the musicianship is tight as ever, the lyrical content is considerably lighter then anything since Crimson. Also, the songs suffer from the same problem which has plagued alkaline Trio throughout their career: They’re not all that interesting. Even the one with Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, which broke my heart.

However, the album is steadily growing on me. And it does include two great songs in “She Lied to the FBI” and the stalker-riffic “I Wanna Be a Warhol”.

Plus one million points for including Milla Jovovich in the music video for the latter.

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