Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba on moving from the Midwest to the West Coast
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Born in Chicago and raised in McHenry, Ill., Alkaline Trio’s singer and guitarist, Matt Skiba, attributes much of his band's success to the city, despite having left it eventually. Working as a bicycle messenger during harsh Chicago winters motivated him to start writing songs, and the encouraging crowds during his first shows at the Fireside Bowl convinced him he could turn music into a full-time job. Though he moved to the West Coast in 2001, Skiba returned recently to record the Trio’s newest album, This Addiction. Before the band returns this weekend for two sold-out shows at the Metro, The A.V. Club talked to Skiba about coming home and the differences between Midwest and West Coast trannies.
The A.V. Club: You've said that getting hit by cars as a bicycle messenger in Chicago prepared you mentally for surfing in California. Where in Chicago did you feel most at risk?
Matt Skiba: Lower Wacker. We were told specifically, “Do not ride on Lower Wacker,” And what did we do? We smoked a bunch of pot and rode on Lower Wacker. But if you knew what you were doing and you were on some pretty nice road bikes, then you could keep up with traffic. But it’s sketchy as hell.
AVC: Whenever you mention an airport in your songs, it's always O'Hare, and never Midway. Why does Midway always get left out?
MS: We have an O’Hare reference in one of our songs because it references the amount of people that are there, so O’Hare being the busiest airport in the nation kind of takes the cake over Midway. Also Midway’s got Potbelly, and if I’m singing about Midway then I’m gonna start getting hungry and forget what I’m singing.
AVC: Last year you tweeted with surprise about seeing a Chicago tranny light a hummer on fire with nail polish—
MS: That was San Francisco. I was actually at the scene of the crime last night, I was in San Francisco. Yeah, I watched a transvestite set a Hummer on fire with nail-polish remover. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
AVC: How are Chicago transvestites different from the ones in San Francisco?
MS: The trannies in San Francisco—nobody beats them. I have so many tranny stories I could go on for days. We were all sitting there at the Hemlock Tavern, which is in the Tenderloin district, and we’re drinking beers and we’re all watching out the window and we see this Hummer park there. And we’re all talking about, “What kind of douchebag drives a Hummer?” All of the sudden this tranny walks by, just stops and looks at it, takes her bag and douses the thing in nail polish remover, throws a match at it and doesn’t even watch the thing go off. She just keeps walking. The whole fucking thing went up and we were all screaming up and down and cheering. It was like God sent an angel down to set that Hummer on fire. It was amazing.
AVC: And you don’t have any stories like that when it comes to Chicago trannies?
MS: No. None. Not a one.
AVC: How do the dive bars of Chicago compare to those of the West Coast?
MS: The bars in general in Chicago are way better. Chicago’s got a way better drinking scene. When I lived in Ukrainian Village, I used to drink in a lot of the Polish bars and there’s a lot of Irish Catholic and Polish cops hanging out and drinking. It was a real blue-collar scene. Drinking with old cops and old firemen in the Ukrainian Village—there’s a real romance to it.
AVC: Do you ever miss the CTA?
MS: No. I wasn’t a big fan of the CTA. While I was in Chicago I rode my bike everywhere. And to quote Jack from Suburbia, “I hate buses.”