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.

The Written Confession of a My Chemical Romance Fan, and why People Hated Them

Hello internet. It’s me, Kenny Rollins. You may remember me as the guy who rambles about superheroes, baseball and douchebags. That is, if you’re one of the ten people who MIGHT read each one of my posts. Otherwise, you likely stumbled here by accident and don’t know shit about me.

For the record, I look like this.

Anyways, one thing that you may/should know about me is that I’m a huge music fan. I’ll listen to anything as long as it’s relatively dubstep- and auto-tune– free. However, my preferred genre is punk rock. If ever I get a Wikipedia page (Unlikely) for being the front-man  for a successful band (EXTREMELY unlikely), my listed influences will be a veritable compendium of classic 70’s punk, 80’s hardcore, 90’s pop-punk and skate punk, and present day melodic hardcore.

Also, Eminem, because why the hell not?

However, since my band will likely be known as an unflinching melodic hardcore quartet that remains hard-rocking while retaining pop sensibilities, there would be one band that may come as a surprise to some. This band is My Chemical Romance, and yes, I am a fan.

No, really.

Now, understand that when I write the word “confession”, I mean just that. “Something that is confessed.”

I’m not ashamed of being an MCR fan. Rather, I’m apprehensive of why the majority of people don’t care for them. Before beginning my essay though, I’d just like to defend my love for the (now defunct) band.

Now, let me be the first to admit that some of MCR’s music was total shit. Specifically, their debut albumI Brought You My Bullets, You Gave Me Your Love. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people gave this album positive reviews, but skip ahead a couple albums. Have you listened to The Black Parade? It’s pretty fucking good. Sure, it’s overblown and pretentious, but I’m willing to look past that  if it includes songs like “Welcome to the Black Parade” and “Famous Last Words.” Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys was almost as overblown and not as good, but c’mon. Listen to “Na Na Na.” That song is catchy as fuck. You can’t not like that song, but more on that later..

Also, the video included this, whatever it may be.

Anyways, I’ve narrowed the various reasons people hated MCR down to three. First off, the low quality of some of their music. Secondly, The rabid fangirls associated with pretty much any fanbase.  Finally, The ever-damning “emo” label, which has plagued the band since their inception.

To begin, I’m gonna get one of the more obvious ones out of the way: Some of MCR’s music really sucks. Shocking, right? The band that co-headlined the 2005 Warped Tour with Fall Out Boy put out some bad music.

I find it hard to believe that anyone imagined Patrick Stump with sideburns and thought it was a good idea.

Take their first album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. With the exception of the initial single, “Vampires Will Never Hurt You“, and the initial instrumental guitar piece, there is nothing notable about this album. The rest of the songs range from extremely forgettable (“This is the Best Day Ever” and “Skylines and Turnstiles”) to pretty bloody awful (See: “Drowning Lessons” and “Our Lady Of Sorrows.”). Oh, the critic were fairly positive, calling it “unique” and “convincing“. Convincing, I get. Lead vocalist (And cartoonist) Gerard Way pours his  heart and soul out through mostly intense screaming about vampires, drugs and suicide.

Insert Twilight joke here.

But “unique”? Um, maybe. I couldn’t tell because the music really shortchanged me in the “gripping” department. I’m not one to dismiss music as being a mass of mindless screaming…

Usually.

… But that is really all I got from a good part of the album.

Now, the second album, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, was an improvement, but the lyrics somewhat deteriorated into, well, average territory. They plummeted into straight up atrocious territory on the awfully titled Top 100 single, “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”. Really. I can’t stress how awful that title is.

The final two studio albums (The Black Parade and Danger Days: The True Lives Of the Fabulous Killjoys) and the Conventional Weapons compilation were all large improvements, but they failed to erase the following two problems, one pf them being…

Hint: They drew this.

Fangirls! (And fanboys, I don’t discriminate)

Now, I’m sure everybody reading this  knows of the idiocy of Justin Bieber’s tween fanbase/private, devoted zealot militia, the Beliebers, whose crimes range from being run-of-the-mill dumb preteen girls to insulting people that would rather not get run over by some flash-in-the-pan tween-pop bitch or sending death threats to the girl unfortunate enough to date their idol instead of them. Sure, considering he’s over eighteen, that’s pedophilia, but goddammit, it’s meant to be!

Yep, nothing that would land him on an FBI watchlist here…

But sometimes, we focus so much on the Beliebers of the world (And the Little Monsters…And Juggalos…) that we forget that decent rock groups have insane fan bases as well. The first that come to mind are the Beatlemaniacs , one of which showed their devotion and love for the band by murdering John Lennon. And you’re dreaming if you think MCR was free of near-insane fans. They’re not so much like Mark David Chapman though. More like somewhat annoying religous fanatics who may be obnoxiously loud, but are easily drowned out.

Apparently, they’ve never heard the Ramones.

“MCR saved my life” is a recurring statement on MCR’s comment boards. On one hand, it’s nice that young fans have found a band to call their own . On the other, I humbly call bullshit.

Shh…. Don’t cry…

To those that insist that they would have slit their wrists and passed away if MCR hadn’t come along: Have you heard their fucking lyrics?!!!

“The amount of pills I’m taking counteracts the booze I’m drinking.”

“I think I’d love to die alone.”

“I’ll end my days with you in a hail of bullets.”

Also, the entire Black Parade album, which is literally about death by cancer. How exactly is that a life-saving aid and not the guy, looking up at the guy about to jump of a building, yelling “Do it! Do it! Do it!”

Of course, I am in no way endorsing the Daily Mail’s opinion of My Chemical Romance, which is that they inspire an emo suicide cult.

“Oh sorry, you’re not a cult, you’re an….army? Does that make it better or worse?”

The word “emo” was in the early 21st century what the word “hipster” is today. A broad, catch-all term for a subculture widely despised by the mainstream.

This dude is surprised when he is told that 'Coachella' means 'stupid white guy'

Mostly for good reasons.

The band themselves have rejected the genre, with Gerard Way having this to say about it:

Basically, it’s never been accurate to describe us. Emo bands were being booked while we were touring with Christian metal bands because no one would book us on tours. I think emo is fucking garbage, it’s bullshit. I think there’s bands that unfortunately we get lumped in with that are considered emo and by default that starts to make us emo.”

Quite true Gerard, but, again, when you co-headline with Fall Out Boy in the Warped Tour, you can’t be exactly surprised when they start lumping you in with that crowd.

So, to conclude, the main reasons that the only tears that were shed over MCR’s demise were eyeliner stained “MCRmy” tears were some of the lackluster quality of their early music, some annoying fans and the “emo” label.

However, before any angry MCRmy members (What a stupid fucking name) comment angrily, I want to stress that I love this band, and Black Parade ranks among my favourite albums. And I will defend myself against anyone that says I’m not a “real punk” for liking them. So I call for peace.

So can’t we all just pick something to agree on?

Like how much Falling in Reverse sucks ass?