Interview: Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba Reflects On 'Past Live' Shows

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 21, 2014 4:00PM

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Alkaline Trio perform at the Metro during the band's "Past Live" residency. (Photo: Katie Karpowicz)

We won't lie. Sitting backstage on the final night of Alkaline Trio's "Past Live" shows at the Metro on Sunday night, the band looked weathered. The shows brought the three members to their hometown of Chicago to play Alk3's entire discography over the course of four nights this past weekend.

It wasn't until later that evening when the band took the stage that the three members proved that there's rarely a reason to worry when it comes to the punk rock veterans' live show. Finishing out with live renditions of 2005's 'Crimson' and 2003's 'Good Mourning,' Alkaline Trio invoked an old band mantra: "If you're going to give everything you have left, just make sure you do it on stage."

Hours before the show a tired but gracious Matt Skiba sat down with Chicagoist to reflect on the residency.

CHICAGOIST: So, to start, I have to ask how long the band had to practice for these shows.

MATT SKIBA: We practiced for eight days as a band but I think we all spent the better part of a month just listening to the records. Any time I was listening to our band for the first time ever aside from when we make records. Then I'll listen to stuff just as a clinical study. There were 93 songs we had to learn.

C: Why did you decide to do this now? Did it just work out nicely with eight albums and four nights?

MATT SKIBA: It's our 17th birthday and, yeah, it is a nice, even number of records. We wanted to do something before the holidays. We still love playing and we wanted to do something special for the fans. We all kind of put our heads together and this was the idea we came up with.

C: And the response has seemed great so far. I couldn't believe how fast all of the shows sold out.

MATT SKIBA: Me either.

C: I remember reading an interview you did a few years ago when you said for a time you were a bit regretful about how personal a song like "Clavicle" was but then you grew to love it again. Has preparing for these shows caused you to warm back up to any other songs?

MATT SKIBA: Pretty much all of them. It's been more of a case of learning the songs rather than taking a trip down memory lane. We get to do that when we play them live but learning the songs, like I said, was a more clinical procedure. There wasn't any time really to be embarrassed by anything.

C: Were there a few songs you had never played live before?

MATT SKIBA: There were a bunch actually so it's definitely daunting but it's worthwhile to see the crowds as pleased as they are. It's really cool.

C: One of the reasons I've always respected Alkaline Trio as band is that you always seem to really stand behind your music. There have been stretches when it seems like one group of fans doesn't like an album as much as they did the last one or "the old stuff" but you've never shied away from being proud of what you produce. Who do you have in mind when you write new material: the old fans, potential new fans you're trying to reach or yourselves?

MATT SKIBA: We initially did it just for ourselves. We didn't think anyone else was going to hear it so that's what we still have to do. Of course, now that we have our fans in mind, we don't want to make something that just doesn't make any sense. The band has its sound. But we're all into a bunch of different kinds of music and could very easily go out to left field. I don't think that people would appreciate that though. We do it for ourselves but it's gotten to the point that we do it with the fans in mind for sure.

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Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba performs at the Metro during the band's "Past Live" residency. (Photo: Katie Karpowicz)
Chicagoist: Why do you think it is that songs like "My Friend Peter" or anything off Goddamnit are just so lasting?

MATT SKIBA: I don't know. I'm just glad that they are. I guess that's what's kind of magical about it. There's no explanation. It just sticks for some reason.

C: I feel like sometimes people still expect the Good Mourning-era Alkaline Trio with the black suits and dark imagery. Do you ever feel like, image-wise, people expect things from the band that you're just not into anymore?

MATT SKIBA: Well, it's hard to do. We were doing that for awhile but other bands started doing it. Green Day started wearing a lot of black and red. My Chemical Romance started doing it. Of course, since we're not, I guess, as popular or whatever and we're not as much of a household name as those bands, it would appear that we're ripping them off. Billie Joe [Armstrong, Green Day] and Gerard [Way, My Chemical Romance] have always been supportive of our band in the press and have admitted that their look has been influenced by us—which is rad—but I just think that everything has a shelf life. It's flattering but it was something we were doing for awhile and then other people started doing it so we kind of let them have it.

C: Let's talk about Chicago for a minute. The Foo Fighters just played at the Cubby Bear the other night.

MATT SKIBA: I was there.

Chicagoist: Oh really? I heard it was an amazing show. I read Dave Grohl said the reason they did it there was because that's where he saw his first show. I've heard you talk about seeing shows at the Aragon and the Metro growing up but it got me wondering what your first show was.

MATT SKIBA: My first show in Chicago was Public Image Ltd and Flesh For Lulu. My first show here at the Metro was Social Distortion in 1988 or '89 and the Screaming Trees opened. I've been coming to shows here for a long time so it's definitely very romantic and special to play the Metro and to play all of these [Chicago] venues. I've seen the Ramones at the Aragon and the Beastie Boys. Metro has always been really great to us. Joe Shanahan is a really dear friend of ours and everyone that works here makes us feel at home. We love playing here the most.

C: Thinking about great weekends like this when we had the Foo Fighters, your band and Against Me in town, do you feel like Chicago had a stronger music scene when the Trio was just getting started or now?

MATT SKIBA: I think it's the same. I think the venues had changed with the exception of some of the bigger rooms. There's definitely different bands. I think change has happened but I think Chicago always has and always will be a stronghold of good music.

C: The band's been really active with their individual side projects lately. Do you have any more Sekrets material coming out?

MATT SKIBA: Yeah, I just finished another record right before we started preparing for these shows. I'm not sure when it's coming out but it's done. We just mastered it. I'm sure eventually we'll be doing some shows for that again. I think maybe in December the record will come out.

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Alkaline Trio perform at the Metro during the band's "Past Live" residency. (Photo: Katie Karpowicz)
Chicagoist: Do you get a break after the New York string of "Past Live" shows?

MATT SKIBA: Well, we have time off but we have some more shows coming up and we're going overseas again. I have the Sekrets album coming out so I'll probably be doing some shows for that. We're always busy. I have an art show coming up in Los Angeles and some acting stuff going on too.

C: What kind of acting stuff?

MATT SKIBA: I can't really say right now. It's under wraps but it's exciting.

C: More exciting than being an extra in The Dark Knight?

MATT SKIBA: I don't think it gets any bigger than that. It's the biggest movie ever made so it's different. It is an actual role though.

C: And what about 15 years from now? Are you going to be back playing eight nights in a row with 16 albums?

MATT SKIBA: [laughs] I don't know. I'm still just handling today.