Alkaline Trio has been a steady presence on the pop-punk scene since forming some 15 years ago. While the band slipped a bit on 2010's uneven This Addiction, it returns to form with the just-released My Shame is True, an album that features solid pop hooks and passionate vocals while never sacrificing its punk edge. Inspired by a bad break-up, it's a cathartic album and while singer-guitarist Matt Skiba wouldn't go into details about the relationship that inspired the songs, he did talk about the recording process during this interview via phone from a Gainesville tour stop.
I love the video for "I Wanna be a Warhol." How did you convince Milla Jovovich to be in it?
It didn't take much convincing. She's a buddy of mine. We play music together. She's a recording artist as well. We met through a mutual friend. She's an iconic model and actress and she has a voice like Bjork. It's really angelic. We're just really good friends. I wrote the treatment for the video with her in mind. It had to be someone iconic. I called her up and said, "I need you to be in this video." She said, "Okay. I'll do it for free but you have to pay my hair and make-up people." It was very cool of her.
And you even got her to take her shirt off.
I know. We had a supermodel and she took her clothes off for us. It's great. She's a really good sport. She's used to that. The video is very voyeuristic and sexual and it's good to have a really sexy persona playing that part.
Has the band been around long enough to have benefited from when MTV still played videos?
It was mildly a factor. MTV has shown us a little bit of love over the years. When a record comes out, they'll play our video that day. That's huge. MTV University plays more videos. We hope that MTV will play them but with YouTube, it's a little bit obsolete. People can go and watch for free.
The group started to become regionally popular shortly after forming in 1996. What was the key?
I think it came from playing the right music at the right time. We didn't plan it. We hoped it would do what it did, but if far exceeded what hopes we had. I know that we have a good time playing music and we write honest songs and that's never in short demand. We have perseverance.
The music you play can be pigeonholed as punk rock but the songs have sharper hooks than you find in most punk rock. What helped shaped your songwriting skills?
I think becoming more confident in the juxtaposition of heavy lyrics and dark subject matter and hooky pop chords. Bands like Pegboy or the Misfits or any of the bands we grew up on, that's our inspiration. Social Distortion, too. It's three -chord rock 'n' roll. You want to sing along as loud as you can. Becoming more confident in that has made us better.
The new album is inspired by a break-up. Talk about that a bit.
I'd rather not. I stand by the record and that's good enough. You don't want to put me a in bad mood today.
But I was just wondering what's it been like talking about that stuff in interviews? Surely, you must get asked about it.
Generally, I don't. I'm not mad at you for asking. I was going through a rough time with my lady and I was trying to write about all this other shit. I know with years of experience and starting to be more confident with my writing that I wanted to write what I was feeling. I was coming up with trite rhymes and making words rhyme. They were good songs but I ended up scrapping everything and going back to the drawing board. I put it together really quick. It's a more honest record.
Talk about the recording process.
We recorded with Bill Stevenson who formed Black Flag and plays drums for Flag and plays drums for the Descendents. He's one of my favorite songwriters. He wrote all my favorite Descendents songs. He wrote all my favorite All songs. We've always been a huge fan and as we've gotten bigger we had the honor of touring with the Descendents and All. All is one of the first big bands we toured with. His studio prowess is as good as his talent. He's not afraid to tell you when something is stinky. He just says, "No. That sucks." People aren't used to that. We heard he was a taskmaster. He was not fucking around in there and neither are we. It's nice to have somebody like that. He loves our band and we love his. We have this mutual admiration. We recorded at his studio in Fort Collins out in Colorado. It was amazing. We lived at the studio. It was a great experience. One of the Teenage Bottlerocket guys was on tour and left his Harley at the studio so I would ride it and go carving through the Rockies.
You recorded it fairly quickly?
We recorded it efficiently. We didn't rush it.
One reviewer noted that after 15 years, the album shows the band is still vital and vibrant. Do you think in those terms as you're recording and preparing to tour?
We didn't worry about it so much until this record. We just started working on the songs with Bill and he said, "You really have something here." He told us we had put out cool records but this is a great record. It's perfect timing. A couple of us had been through some really gnarly shit, break-ups aside. It's about coming back stronger and healthier. I'm drinking less and not doing any more heavy drugs. I have my Ducati out here on tour. It's bitching. The shows are bigger and stronger than they've ever been. People are excited about this record and we're playing a lot of the old shit, too. For us to feel this way is an incentive to keep going.
You even look healthier.
I've been taking better care of myself. Rather than just drinking beer, I will maybe have a glass of wine. And I'll maybe go for a run once in a while. I'm pushing 40. I was in Orange County and I ran into Mike Ness at this health food restruant. I'm friendly with him. I don't know him that well. When I was 11, I saw Social Distortion. I knew I wanted to be that guy. He was talking to some fan and I saw the anchor tattoo and I thought who's this fucking kid trying to be Mike Ness. I investigate a little further and it is fucking Mike Ness. I go up to him and I said, "What are you, Dracula? You look like you're 25." It's inspiring. He's however old — I don't know, fiftysomething — and he looks younger than me. I want to look like that when I'm his age. That guy looks bitching. I need to stick with this health shit. I'm no angel but there's only so much self-loathing you can do before it starts to get gross and the girlies stop calling.