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June 2019 (Frank Iero cover)

Alkaline Trio: "It's like Lord Of The Flies; people start killing and eating each other"

Matt Skiba and co. return with an album full of spies, romance and murder.
Published: 10:52 am, September 24, 2018Words: Steven Loftin.
Alkaline Trio: "It's like Lord Of The Flies; people start killing and eating each other"

Alkaline Trio have returned; new album ‘Is This Thing Cursed?' finds the Chicago three-piece with a renewed vigour after an extended break - in part thanks to Matt Skiba's secondary home in pop-punk giants, Blink-182.

So how does Matt go about switching between one of the most upbeat bands in the world, to penchants of the macabre and emo?

"It's just me, and the darkness," he considers. "That's my worldview, [but] I think I'm one of the nicer, happier people you'll meet because I spend so much of it in the dark."

Having a chat with Matt while Alkaline Trio are on tour in the US - tonight they're in Pittsburgh, "Andy Warhol's birthplace" - he's quick to delve into the wealth of influences that run deep throughout the band's new record.

"I've always had a fascination with war history"
Matt Skiba

The first glimpse into ‘Is This Thing Cursed?' came from the surprise drop of ‘Blackbird'. A barreling return to form, it's a romance rooted in Cold War and spy plane metaphors - specifically, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a highly classified military aircraft operated by the United States Air Force up until the late-90s.

"Espionage, and the intricacies of war - whether it be a spy plane, or a bullet that was fired, whatever it may be. Maybe it's because my parents are veterans? I've always had a fascination with war history, but especially the balls on spies. Trade-craft and espionage are wildly fascinating to me. It's sexy, and it's dark. At least from my viewpoint.

"When you're involved in it it's probably very dark. I don't know how sexy it is… I don't think it's like the movies, it's probably a very strenuous, both mentally and physically, job that I wouldn't want - and applying those sorts of things; a war, or espionage, spycraft, tradecraft, to a relationship, in my case between a man and a woman."

"But you know," he adds, "hopefully it's open to women who love women and men who love men, and everywhere in between. It's not a gender-specific romance. It is, from my viewpoint, but hopefully it's told in a way that anyone can enjoy it and apply it to their own situation."

Building these worlds and stories, these huge narratives and characters, be it for Alkaline Trio or Blink-182, sees Matt immerse himself in songwriting, focussed on a singular vision.

"It's the same thing when you ride a motorcycle or drive race cars," he explains. "You have to think about what you're doing and only that. The rest of the world kind of melts away.

"[Whether] it's racing or golf, or anything where it's just you and a pencil and a piece of paper and a guitar, or you and a golf club, or you and a motorcycle… anything where there's a similar headspace you get into because of what you're doing.

"There's not some guy racing Isle of Man going, ‘I wonder what my wife's doing right now?' as they're hitting a corner at 150 km per hour or whatever it is. They're thinking about that corner. When you're writing a song, it's like, if it inspires a third person perspective I get into that character's headspace."

"Trade-craft and espionage are wildly fascinating to me; it's sexy, and it's dark"
Matt Skiba

Delving into everything from literature, cinema and art, to everyday experiences; there are little snippets of all sorts littered throughout 'Is This Thing Cursed?'. ‘Goodbye Fire Island' is a particularly interesting cut, inspired by the disastrous Fyre Festival; a 'luxury' event - which Blink were initially booked to play - that saw a lot of people with a lot of money briefly stranded in the Bahamas.

"I took that and made it into this dystopian survival island," he reflects. "Basically like Lord Of The Flies; people start killing and eating each other, with no one there to rescue them, and they're burning their money to stay warm."

He's a big fan of vivid, cinematic imagery.

"There are probably three or four references to [American filmmaker] Stanley Kubrick films," he continues. "Kubrick's take on The Shining very heavily influences the cover art. More recently we have a lot of The Shining-based art, based on the films, but also we're enormous Stephen King fans.

"I think you want to take your influences and make them your own. The red phone [on the album cover] is, obviously to me, the ‘oh fuck' phone that people have on their desks. The nuclear phone. It's the Batphone; it's the 'oh shit' phone. Having it on the cover, it has this Kubrickian feel to it. It isn't something explicitly taken from the book, in the case of The Shining there isn't a phone, or whatever the case may be, that just influences it."

That darkness is a truth that the band have always lived by, and it's given Matt a greater understanding of himself.

"It's cathartic, so you aren't putting it on your fellow man or woman, you keep that shit where it belongs," he muses. "You don't need it till you need it."

Taken from the October issue of Upset. Alkaline Trio's album 'Is This Thing Cursed?' is out now.

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