Twenty-two years ago, McHenry East Campus alum Matt Skiba, threw caution to the wind, diving head first into the punk rock scene with his band Alkaline Trio. Their blunt lyrics and banging drums and guitars demand attention and have been the catalyst for the building of an army of diehard fans.
Skiba returns to Chicago, the birthplace of Alkaline Trio, this weekend to perform with band mates Derek Grant and Dan Andriano as part of Sunday’s lineup for 2018 Riot Fest at Douglas Park.
Lindsay Weber, Northwest Herald correspondent, sat down with Skiba to talk about Alkaline Trio's latest album, “Is This Thing Cursed?”, defining moments, and the current state of blink-182.
Weber: This is your first time back on a full U.S. tour with Alkaline Trio since 2013. You’re coming back to Chicago where it all started for Riot Fest to perform with your original band Alkaline Trio. What’s it like to “come home” in both senses?
Skiba: Well, it always feels great. For Alkaline Trio, Chicago is our hometown. The band started there. Even though we all live in different cities now, we still call Chicago home and it’s always really exciting to come back and play for our best crowd. Our best crowd in the world is our Chicago crowd so it’s gonna be a blast.
Weber: You joined blink-182 in 2015. When you took that on, what was your plan to ensure you maintained a separate voice for Alkaline Trio vs. blink-182?
Skiba: When I first was asked to play with blink, it was sort of a trial period. They had one show booked. They lost their singer and needed me to fill in for a festival that Travis [Barker] throws every year called Musink. So I was filling in for that show and it was a trial to see how it went. We ended up booking a couple of other shows leading into Musink around Los Angeles. It was sort of like we’ll see what happens after the shows, and after the shows went great, we booked more shows and ended up making a record. So it was something I sort of eased into and as far as juggling the two bands, it was something that sort of just worked itself out rather than something I had planned in my head.
Weber: You were supposed to perform at Riot Fest with blink-182 as well, but had to cancel due to a medical condition with drummer Travis Barker. What is the status of Barker?
Skiba: They’re still running all sorts of tests. He has blood clots in his arms that they’re monitoring closely. He’s going to specialists and doctors, not that anyone wants to go to specialists or doctors, but I know he’s spending a great amount of time with them trying to figure out a solution to this. I’m not sure they know exactly what’s going so I don’t have any updates for him medically. I just know that Travis is a strong guy and a fighter so he’s gonna do anything and everything he can to play his drums and be able to live his life as he wishes, hopefully not hindered by this much longer.
Weber: You were 20 years old in 1996 when Alkaline Trio was formed. You’ve been at it for over 20 years. What would you want your 20-year-old self to know that you know now?
Skiba: I feel like everything happens for a reason. Obviously all of us are always growing and learning and hopefully every day we’re growing and learning something new. So I think I would probably tell my 20-year-old self that you don’t know anything. When you’re 20, you think you know a lot more than you do.
Weber: Do you miss anything about McHenry?
Skiba: My family. My parents, of course. I’m really thankful for the time that I grew up in that we didn’t have cell phones and we made a lot of our own fun. I think it made us. I look at kids now and it’s a completely different world. A lot of my memories as a kid growing up in McHenry, you were close enough to the skate park in Rockford that our parents would kind of trade off taking us to every weekend. Of course, the city was only an hour away. It was cool to grow up in a smaller town but also to be close to big exciting things like the skate park in Rockford, or Chicago, or snowboarding in Wisconsin, depending on what time of year it was. But the people that I grew up with and my family that are still there are the biggest things.
Weber: Speaking of your family, the Northwest Herald ran an article in June about the protest that took place on the Woodstock Square in opposition of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Your parents were there and featured on the cover photo that you posted to your Instagram. How did you feel when you found out and what do you think about your parents’ involvement in local activism?
Skiba: I talk to my parents almost every day. We’re really close and my parents are my heroes. I’m really lucky that I can say that I come from a family where I was raised with love and compassion, and the desire to better one’s self. My parents have always been a huge influence on who I am whether I knew it or not. I look at my parents with so much love and respect and to see them stand up against something that I myself protest and to see my sisters and my parents and all of us feeling the same about the injustices in the world and doing very similar things about it makes me very thankful. I took a picture of the cover of the Herald and posted it on my Instagram so I’m very proud.
Weber: What do you think was your defining moment as a musician or as a band?
Skiba: There’s always new ones. In the beginning, we took things in baby steps. We didn’t have some grand plan to begin with. It was sort of like, it would be great if we could get a van, and then it would be great if we could go on tour, and then it would be great if we could play this venue or sell out that venue and have this x-amount of people come to shows in random cities all over the world.
I think, as a musician and a band, my defining moment was the last day I worked as a bike messenger in Chicago. I remember going in and turning in my radio and my jersey and everything and riding home that day because we were leaving on tour the next day for what would be 20 years. When I was still working as a messenger when we had gone to Japan we had some cool stuff and some really big things as a band but working regular jobs.
And I think quitting school was a big one. As unpleased that my parents may have been that I quit school, I think what they understand now is, well not that they were so much unpleased, they were just concerned. When your kid says they’re gonna quit school to play punk rock, well that sounds insane. Like there’s no way in the world that’s gonna work, but I always just knew that it would. I was always just driven, not to prove my parents wrong, but to make them proud. And, you know, make them worry as little as possible.
I think that when we quit our jobs and were all on the same page knowing that this is what we were gonna do, it was pretty definitive.
Weber: What do you think the state of punk rock is today?
Skiba: I think it kind of depends what you consider punk rock. When I was growing up, punk rock was dangerous. It was not something that was fashionable. It was not something that was on TV or that was cool. It was very much the opposite. By the time I got to high school, Nirvana had broke, you know, Green Day had broke, these are bands I’d seen play. I saw Nirvana play in front of 30 people. I’d seen Green Day play in front of 50 people. I grew up with that. And even those shows, there was this element of ‘are we going to fight the security? Are a bunch of meatheads gonna show up and want to fight us because we’re punk rockers?’ It’s like those kind of things don’t exist anymore, I don’t think.
For better or for worse, I grew up in a time where punk rock was pretty dangerous, especially in Chicago, and fairly violent. But it was a violence that you always walked away from. You know, nobody had guns. Very rarely were people stabbing each other. But absolutely no one had guns. Obviously, it’s different now. Not that punk rockers are going to shows with guns, but unfortunately there’s that new element of gun violence, especially in this country. So it was like a kinder, safer, violence but there was way more of it. I feel like punk rock now is pretty tame, pretty fashionable, pretty safe, for the most part.
Weber: What band today do you think is still pushing that type of nostalgic punk rock?
Skiba: I think Social Distortion. It was one of my first punk shows and I think Social Distortion, Naked Raygun and Pegboy. Pegboy and Raygun are both from Chicago and especially Naked Raygun, holy hell; those were violent shows, but so much fun. I mean I was telling my parents I was going to sleep over at my friend’s house and then I’d wake to go to school with black eyes and stuff and they’d wonder, ‘where at your sleepover did you get punched in the face a couple times?’ So I think Social D. Just a couple weeks ago, Mike Ness jumped in the crowd and beat up a Trump supporter, so I think they’re still carrying that torch of violence a little bit.
Weber: What is your favorite compilation that you or Alkaline Trio have been included on?
Skiba: Probably rock against Bush. We did a song called “Warbrain” for compilation on Fat Wreck Chords years ago. When George W. Bush was up for re-election years ago, we took part in a tour. We were out registering voters. It was a movement that Fat Mike at Fat Wreck Chords started called Punk Voter. Where we were kids shows to hopefully vote against George Bush and the Iraq war. That compilation was great. There were so many little punk rock bands from San Francisco all the way up to the Foo Fighters involved. It was a really cool thing.
Weber: What’s next for you?
Skiba: I’m not sure. Travis’s stuff is kind of up in the air. We still have some blink shows coming up that have not been cancelled that hopefully we’ll be able to play. We have shows in Vegas coming up. We were on tour. Took a little break. I was supposed to be on the road with blink right now but we obviously cancelled. So I’m going off to meet the guys in Chicago this weekend, obviously to play Riot Fest. Next month, we finish the Trio tour, which is like two weeks. Then, hopefully, Travis is better and we finish our Vegas residency and then, we’ll see. Either Trio will go to Europe and we’ll finish the tour cycle and do the rest of the world, but it kind of depends on what happens with blink. We’re waiting to see.
Weber: With the latest Alkaline Trio album, did you have any unusual influences?
Skiba: It doesn’t sound like it all but when we were making this new Trio record…a couple years ago, I really fell in love with the record “Fear of Music” by the Talking Heads. Although you can’t necessarily hear it, it definitely made me look at writing in a different way. So there are definitely some references to Stanley Kubrick on that record. I was listening to a lot of Michael Jackson “Thriller” and Talking Heads. I’ve always been a huge Michael Jackson fan but I was especially listening to “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” and a lot of Talking Heads when we were writing this record.
Weber: What bands are you excited see this weekend at Riot Fest?
Skiba: I’m excited to see Blondie, of course. Interpol. There are so many good bands playing. Dillinger Four. There’s so many good bands and I’m gonna see as many of them as I can.
2018 Riot Fest runs from Friday through Sunday in Chicago’s Douglas Park.