This Friday, Alkaline Trio release their much talked about new album ‘Damnesia‘. Much talked about, as it features the band re-working fan favourite tracks from their previous releases in a primarily acoustic manner. There is also a couple of new tracks, and a Violent Femmes cover thrown in for good measure. To find out a little more about it, Deborah Konopnicki recently caught up with Matt Skiba to chat about it. Click below to expand this post and take a read. You can pre-order ‘Damnesia‘ now on CD or Vinyl [Here].
Hey, Matt. How are you?
I’m well! How are you?
Not too bad thanks. I’m pretty excited, as I’ve just heard the brand new album that you guys have dropping in July. It’s quite amazing how you guys have transformed some of your tracks. How are you feeling about the record at the moment?
Oh, we’re really proud of it. We had a really good time doing it. Hopefully the listener can feel that energy when they hear it. We worked really hard of it. We were all bunkered down in the studio and working on all of the tracks together and we tried to take them in a bunch of different directions. We worked on them until songs really found their new home and we’re really proud of it.
You’ve got a pretty loyal fan base. Was it ever at the back of you mind that fans might get a bit irate with the changes to some of their all-time favorites?
Well, the list was massive at the start. There’s 15 songs on the record and we had a list of almost 30 songs. Some of them didn’t really work. There are some songs that are fan favorites that we tried our best with and we tested them with people that we know that are fans and we sort of just asked them what they thought. The songs that we picked, some of them are on there and some of them aren’t. I guess that any song that can be re-worked it’s just that some of them are easier than others. We just put the ones on there that really worked. A lot of the songs were actually written on an acoustic guitar to begin with so that made it easier.
How did you actually go about compiling that initial list of 30 songs? Were they songs that you specifically wanted to hear differently or was it very much a case of making sure that they were songs that the fans wanted to hear?
No, we just wrote down a bunch of songs that we know ourselves to be fan favorites. We ran them by people who are close to the band that also have an outside perspective. They were able to guide us. Ultimately we decide what we’re going to do. We just wrote the list down and decided together. We had the opportunity to work at Hurley International, the surf company that have a really beautiful studio with all of these beautiful amps and guitars – we had all of that at our disposal so we would go into one room like the lounge together with three acoustic guitars and just hash out a song. Then we would go to another room and try it out in a few different ways, whether it be with just a piano or whatever it may be. We had all of these different things to try. It made it a lot of fun. Usually the easier that it was to transpose the song like, the easier the song was to get back to it’s roots were the ones that got chosen.
Are there any songs on there that really surprised you once they were re-worked? Perhaps you’ve found that you’ve developed a bit of a different relationship with some of the older tracks?
I mean all of them. We never want to do anything half arsed. As a band we definitely get lazy but not in the decisions that we make in the studio. We always try to make the most of it. You only have one chance to try and make a record and to make it exactly the way that you want. As time goes on those ideas change but we put a lot of effort into it and we’re quite proud of it. It came out a lot better. It came out better then we had even planned. That’s quite an accomplishment in our little world.
I think that at this stage my favorite track is definitely “Radio”. I love the way that it’s been slowed down and sounds like a totally different song but it still has the original energy. With some of the songs like that, that just sound so natural could you envisage what they might sound like when re-worked or was it very much trial and error?
We had no plans for anything going in there. We just knew that we were going to re-do some fan favorites and that was it. We had no idea what we were going to come out with which was part of the excitement of it. We really enjoy writing records but this time around that wasn’t something that we had to worry about. We cut out that whole part of the typical record equation that can be a lot of fun but also very time consuming. It was an easy record to make. I think that sometimes great records come from struggle, great songs come from struggle and a really great record comes from a band and a performer having fun and relating those hard times rather then having a hard time making it. If you’re bummed out in the studio and not enjoying your craft then the record probably might not turn out as good. It might be good but it’s not as good as it could be. We really had a lot of fun doing this record. Not having to write new songs and we got to do all of the fun things that the studio permits us to do without doing any really writing and brainstorming work.
Yeah, and not having to meet deadlines with new tracks whether they’re personal deadlines or something set by the label.
Yeah. We wanted to give ourselves enough time to make sure that the record was good enough to be a studio album. We basically went into the studio to make an acoustic – for a lack of a better work – greatest hits album and we ended up making this studio album that had some familiar lyrics and progressions on it.
When it comes to playing these songs live how are you going to go about it? Are you going to have specific acoustic shows? Split sets? What have you guys thought about so far?
We don’t know yet. We’re not sure. We have the month off so we’ll get together before tour in July and hash it out. I’m sure that we’re going to be playing a lot of these songs the way that they appear on “Damnesia”. How we’re going to work them into the set; we’ve been discussing it a little bit but nothing has been decided yet.
Have you had a chance to preview any of these songs to the fans yet?
I haven’t played them for anybody but a couple of friends that were around when we were recording. So, no… none of the fans have heard them yet. We never really do any of those listening parties or anyway. In this day and age records leak so quick that you can just send your record to the press and not have to put everyone to the trouble of putting people in a room and making them listen to a whole record. We’ll definitely have a release party though! We always do that!
There’s one track on this record that’s not an Alkaline Trio song; it’s a track by the Violent Femmes called “I Held Her In My Arms”. I love the spin that you’ve put on the track. Why did you decide to include that on the record as well?
We’re big fans of that song. We’ve played it live and I’ve played it live on my own. It was something that I’ve always loved and wanted to play. I’ve been a fan of it since I was in junior high. It was fun to do it. There’s a million songs that we could have picked to cover but that one had a really cool energy to it that drew us to it and made us decide that it was the one that we wanted to cover.
The tour that’s kicking off in July is in celebration of the 15 years that you guys have been together as Alkaline Trio. Coming up to that milestone does it make you nostalgic and make you think about the times in the band that have gotten you to where you are today?
Oh, of course. It really takes us back. 15 years has gone by in it seems like an hour which is a good thing! I still feel like a kid even though I’m 35. I’m kind of in that middle ground where I feel young at heart and I feel like this band has allowed me to do that. It’s allowed me to do something that I really enjoy and that I really love and it’s something that I would do anyway even if no-one was listening to it and even if I had to work a regular job… I would still do this. I’m really thankful that Alkaline Trio has gotten to do this and it definitely makes me nostalgic even now doing this interview, just realizing how lucky we are.
Are you guys going to do anything as just the three of you that’s something special to celebrate that milestone?
I’m not sure. All three of us like to party quite a bit so it’s very much a ‘see what happens’. Nothing is really planned at the moment. There’s usually definitely champagne involved and lots of it!
Is there anything over the past five years that really stands out in your mind as being some of the best times in Alkaline Trio and time that you look back on with particularity fond memories?
I think a lot of them have been on airplanes! Not that I have any crazy mile-high club stories or anything like that it’s just that being able to travel all the way around the world… I have a globe in my kitchen that has stars in places that I have been. There are a lot of stars on that globe! I remember when Danny first got his new computer; it was the first time that we were flying to Japan. I flung butter across the plane and tried to hit our manager on the head and it hit Danny’s new computer and it melted into the keyboard! He didn’t talk to me for a couple of days after that! Just the milestones of going to Japan and going to Australia and going to Europe and the United Kingdom and even the United States and Canada and just traveling all over the world. There are a lot of places that we still need to go. Travelling the world is definitely one of them. Coming to New Zealand for the first time recently was amazing. Every time that we travel to far off places. Complete strangers become our friends. It’s the best part of the deal.
Yeah, you were here pretty recently as part of the No Sleep Til festival at the end of last year. It looked like you guys and your fans were having quite a bit of fun! How was that festival for Alkaline?
Oh, it was amazing. Definitely a carrier highlight for sure.
Just finally; do you think that you’re going to get a chance to come back down here soon and celebrate part of your 15th year anniversary in Australia?
We don’t have any plans yet but we definitely don’t like to stay away for too long. Up until recently I can easily say that Australia was our favorite place to ever go. You guys have some stiff competition with South Africa. I don’t know how that’s going to go over when this gets out there (laughs) but we love Australia and coming down there. We’ll come down there as soon as we can.
ALKALINE TRIO – Damnesia – Instores Friday 15th July via Epitaph Records.