ALKALINE TRIO are back with a vengeance, embracing the darkness and the light in their latest album, ‘Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs’. Check out our latest Upset cover story as we explore their unflinching look at the world’s horrors and their celebration of life’s fleeting beauty.
Words: Steven Loftin.
Photos: Jonathan Weiner.
Twenty-five years in, and Alkaline Trio are hitting new strides. Their latest, the gruesomely titled ‘Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs’ is a fresh era with the punks refusing to shy away from the darker side of life. Still devilishly mixing murderous metaphor with heart-on-sleeve yearning, the trio’s first in almost six years – since 2018’s ‘Is This Thing Cursed?’ – is a return to form that equally celebrates their past while embracing what lies ahead, even if it is all a bit bleak.
“As fucked up as it can be, Armageddon, to me, is a pretty beautiful thing,” Matt Skiba opens. “There’s a lot of horror in the world and also a lot of beauty and a lot of love and compassion. [But] I feel like there are just things going on that we couldn’t ignore.”
The state of the world, not to mention America in general, was rife for the Alkaline treatment. While not the initial idea, it all clicked together with a chance stumble across REM’s ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)’. “I was like, wow, that’s pretty accurate to what we were trying to do with this record; it may not be the end of the world, but we’re closer to it than ever before.”
While not a means of solving all the problems out there, instead, ‘Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs’ (named for vocalist and guitarist Matt Skiba’s mum’s stint as an ER nurse) is here to soundtrack our potential demise – celebrating rather than mourning. Of album cut ‘Shake With Me’, vocalist and bassist Dan Andriano mentions, “We wrote that together, and for me, that song was a love song for the end of days that it seems like we’re living in now. A love song for the people who want to have fun, who don’t want to succumb to all this hatred and bullshit and political discourse and get sucked into everything.”
Contrary to popular belief, this has always been the Alkaline Trio mindset. “We write that way because that’s what our worldview is; it comes naturally.” Matt reckons, “Taking something horrible and finding the silver lining in it, something to celebrate in that horror, something to sing about has always been our viewpoint. People may think, ‘Oh, they’re death-obsessed’ – we’re life-obsessed. I think that the fact that it comes to an end is what makes it beautiful. Writing that way is just a reflection of who we are as people. I’m not afraid of death. My dad used to say death is not the worst thing that can happen to you, and I 100% agree. It’s the most final, but I mean, a bad decision and spending your life in prison – I’d rather be dead than spend my life in prison – fuck that!”
Approaching their tenth release, Dan acknowledges that for such a landmark, “we didn’t want to just go and remake one of our old records or try to recapture something that we used to have – we just wanted to write together and see what happens, and set no rules and understanding that that could open up a whole new era.”
It would seem the gates are wide open now. With Matt’s tenure in Blink-182 coming to an end after Tom DeLonge rejoined in 2022, Alkaline Trio have a clear road ahead, allowing them to freely embrace being a group for 25+ years. While there was never a doubt about the future of Alkaline Trio, it was hard to envision a wholly focused one while Matt was splitting his time. “Dan and I always said that if Alkaline Trio ever stopped being fun, that’s the thing that would end the band,” says Matt. “And that’s the only thing that would end the band – and that’s never happened. I had a great time playing with Blink, writing and recording, and touring the world with them. They’re great guys, and I’m thankful for it. But I feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I feel like I’m back home. And so celebrating that with our tenth record, and one that we’re all incredibly proud of, it’s really special and exciting.”
It’s a feeling that they both share. “I’m just so proud of it all,” Dan gushes. “I don’t necessarily know how to put my finger on it,” he says, pausing. “But I know that there was a shift in focus from Matt. Not that he was never not into the band, but this was different. Matt was very much involved in the entire recording but more from a production standpoint – he was very invested and focused on all aspects, which is just huge…which we always are, but this felt a little different. With every aspect, having Matt fully invested and focused on this one was killer. It just made everything so fun.”
“People may think, ‘Oh, they’re death-obsessed’ – we’re life-obsessed”Matt Skiba
Recorded in Dave Grohl’s famed Studio 606, ‘Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs’ has the raucous, dank basement punk momentum of old but reaches into a bolshier rock canon to create an Alkaline Trio record worthy of 25+ years and 10 records of history. It was Matt’s lead for Trio to start digging into their past.
“I suggested we start from scratch and write the record in the way that we used to when we all lived in Chicago,” he remembers. “When we all rehearsed and lived in the same building, and everything was very collective. We wanted to make something new for us, we wanted to make something hopefully fresh for our fans, and I thought if we did it the way we used to, maybe we could achieve something that harkens back to our humble beginnings but also gives the people something new to listen to that’s still Alkaline Trio but hopefully has a new perspective.”
‘Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs’ certainly fizzes with a renewed vigour, ripping to life with ‘Hot For Preacher”s frenzied guitar riff, and continuing to shoot skyward from there. The titular lead single kicks to life as Matt pleads about “nightmares up and down my walls” while the Dan-driven ‘Versions Of You’ stabs at fake friends with a howling fury.
But beyond the triumphant feeling radiating around their return, this new era of Alkaline Trio finds them saying farewell to longtime drummer Derek Grant. “Derek’s contribution is insane, but I understand him wanting to step away,” Dan reasons. “It’s been a while. A lot goes on in a band when you’ve been a band for as long as us. I get it, but I do feel like there’s a bit of an exclamation point put on the Derek era of Alkaline Trio with this record because it feels pretty special. The drums sound amazing. And I’m not sure if he knew it the whole time, but it didn’t come as a total surprise, but he knocked it out of the park before he split.”
Taking up the mantle behind the drums is Atom Willard. He’s no stranger to band life with stints in Against Me!, Rocket From The Crypt, and Social Distortion. “Seeing somebody that is legitimately fired up – you can’t fake that,” Matt mentions of Atom’s refreshing attitude. “People can swing their arms and make an aggressive face or whatever, but people can tell when somebody’s truly invested and present and in love with what they’re doing, and Atom is very much that.”
Alkaline Trio’s alchemy – both past and present – is undeniable. 25+ years at it, yet they still manage to deftly wrap the light and dark into an enthralling twisted world of their creation. Even as the landscape changes for the trio, they’re an undeniable mainstay of punk, with lyricism a key facet, conveying everyday feelings with absurd and abnormal observations and often macabre allegory. ‘Teenage Heart’ is a shining example. Rounding off ‘Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs’, the crowning moment brings together their anthemic qualities with a heartbreaking dose of dark and twisted nihilism, all spotlighted in the track’s bruising bridge: “All I want for Christmas is an AR-15, and my stocking stuffed with Fentanyl”. It compiles the suffocating teenage feeling of loss and wandering alone, a crushingly beautiful track that’s “sugarcoating the poison pill”, as Dan puts it. Matt further explains, “It’s about a friend of ours and something that they’re going through and not handling very well. So it’s sort of allegory or metaphor for something that a loved one is going through.”
“If Alkaline Trio ever stopped being fun, that’s the thing that would end the band”Matt Skiba
It’s another nod to that special, alchemical factor that unites Alkaline Trio. They work as a unit, and as Matt explains, the only thing that matters to them is playing as a band. “We have to do what we think is right first, and it’s not guaranteed. It’s not like we knew we were gonna go in and make this kick-ass record. There’s always a bit of a gamble, no matter how long you’ve been doing this. In fact, the longer you’ve been doing it, I feel like the higher the stakes are to some degree. At the end of the day, we’re a band in a room making music and recording it – it’s pretty simple. But as far as trying to elevate our goals or our sound, that’s not something that is promised, far from it, so when that happens, it’s just very inspiring.”
Recalling a story from his Blink days, Matt recognises that what he and Dan have is a unique bond. “I worked with a band when I was playing with Blink, we did some co-writing, and we wrote with this very well-known band – and I love collaborating, I love working with other people – but one of the first things that this artist said to us was, ‘I hate metaphor, I think metaphor is fucking lazy. If you’re going to write a song, write the song about the song, don’t use fucking metaphor’. And I politely excused myself and went home,” he chuckles now. “I’m like, well, then I don’t have any business being here. If we’re going to put rules on how we write, then I’m not interested.”
This is why Alkaline Trio are entering 2024 with as much energy and drive as any snot-nosed startup punk band – they’re lifers with the same grisly dream who have grown together and watched the world spin into this frenzy while never afraid to dig into the guts of it all to see what the heart has to offer. Life obsessed, indeed. ■
Alkaline Trio’s album ‘Blood, Hair, And Eyeballs’ is out now. Follow Upset’s Spotify playlist here.