With the 2001 release of From Here To Infirmary, Chicago’s Alkaline Trio stepped away from obscurity and into the international underground limelight, introducing their catchy, edgy, melodic punk to record labels around the country. With their thoughtful lyrics and ability to work in different tempos and moods, Alkaline Trio offered a sophisticated alternative to bands like Blink-182. But success proved unnerving for the band: They semi-publicly feuded with their record label, Vagrant, and lost their drummer. Derek Grant filled the vacancy, but problems continued as the group began recording Good Mourning. Vocal issues plagued singer-guitarist Matt Skiba, who eventually underwent surgery to alleviate acid reflux. Songs written by bassist-singer Dan Andriano, who sings lead on many Trio songs, sounded incongruously poppy compared to Skiba’s darker output. The recording process took longer than expected, but the Trio felt rushed; still, Good Mourning sold well, though some fans considered it too pop-oriented. Alkaline Trio bounced back this year with the excellent Crimson, which features big sing-along choruses, hooks galore, and strings-and-keys flourishes that subtly expand the band’s sound. Before leaving on tour, Andriano spoke with The A.V. Club about long-distance relationships, learning from the band’s mistakes, and taking pictures with headstones.
The A.V. Club: The Trio started here, but Matt moved to California a few years back, and Derek lives in Indianapolis. How do you guys compensate for the distance?
Dan Andriano: It’s actually not that bad. It’s more important to us to be happy all the time when we’re not working. Matt moved to California like five years ago, and it took a little bit of getting used to, but it was never really that difficult, especially these days with the Internet. It’s so easy for us to send each other files and stay in touch with our songwriting. He comes to town to rehearse, and we write songs on the road, and we write songs here. It’s good, because this way, we’re all where we want to be when we’re not talking about the band, which is important.
AVC: With Infirmary, the Trio started to embrace a sort of gothic iconography that can get cheesy really quickly, like photographers who want you to take photos with headstones or something.
DA: Yeah, God knows how many times we’ve done that, or been asked to do that. I know what you’re saying—it gets old. It turns into a cliché very soon.
AVC: It seems like it would also create a distorted image of the band. What sorts of misconceptions have you encountered?
DA: People who think we’re like raging alcoholics, or drug addicts and stuff like that. It’s pretty easy to get that on a very superficial level from some of our lyrics—especially in older songs—but people grow up, and it starts to hurt, waking up every morning and feeling like shit from doing bad things to your body. [Laughs.] We recently started, for lack of a better term, a fan club. We call it “The Blood Pact.” Blood Pact members can watch us sound-check and hang out, and we just want to get to know some of the people and give them a chance to get to know us. There’s always a few kids that want to take us to a bar and start getting wasted, or want to take us to their van so we can smoke joints with them. It’s sometimes hard, the look of disappointment on these kids’ faces, like, “No, I don’t really feel like that right now.” It’s like you just told them Santa Claus isn’t real or something. [Laughs.]
AVC: You were unhappy with how Good Mourning turned out. What went wrong?
DA: It’s probably our least favorite record we’ve made. There’s some great songs on it, I think, but as an album, none of us are too into it. We just weren’t communicating as well as people should when they’re in a band together, and I really feel like a lot of that was my songs being vastly different from Matt’s songs, and vastly different from what the Alkaline Trio had been in the past. I was just kind of like, “These are my songs, and those are your songs. Let’s record, because that’s what we’ve got.” At the time, it honestly seemed like the right way to go about things, like “Why should we sacrifice? I wouldn’t ask Matt to make his songs sound like mine, and I wouldn’t expect him to.” We kind of just looked at it like that, and in retrospect, that’s kind of a ridiculous way to go about things.
AVC: What did you change for Crimson?
DA: In retrospect, listening to Good Mourning, I realize that it sounds strange. It doesn’t sound like an album, it sounds like 12 songs in order. There’s no real dynamic flow, or any kind of cohesive element to it whatsoever. I wanted to make [Crimson] cohesive; I wanted to make something not conceptual, but something that had a flow from beginning to end, something that made sense.