Originating in Chicago’s vibrant punk scene during late 1996, Alkaline Trio developed a fervent fan base throughout the Midwest while releasing several full-length and extended-play albums of hard-driving music with emotionally direct lyrics. Building their following through extensive touring, the band’s members were finally able to give up their day jobs as bike messengers and record store clerks after the release of Godd**mit!, the group’s first full-length album, in 1998. While a deal with Vagrant kept them with an independent label, Alkaline Trio nonetheless confronted the dilemma that countless punk bands had faced before it: in the face of greater acclaim, could it remain devoted to its own artistic vision and retain its integrity with a fan base skeptical of mainstream success? While the 2001 release of From Here to Infirmary confirmed the band’s commitment to maintaining its artistic ideals, some fans questioned the group’s decision to tour as the opening act with crossover success Blink 182.
The members of Alkaline Trio played with a number of Chicago-area bands while they were in their teens and early twenties. As founder Matt Skiba recalled in a 1998 interview with radio show All Ages available on the group’s website, “We all knew each other from doing shows with other bands and we became friends years ago and it turned out that we all wanted to do the same thing.” Skiba, a singer and guitarist, had once played drums for Jerkwater and the Blunts, while Glenn Porter had been a member of 88 Finger Louie. Together with bassist Rob Doran, a longtime friend of Skiba’s, the three came together in late 1996 to form Alkaline Trio. The original lineup did not last long, however, and by the end of 1997, Doran had left the group. He was replaced by Dan Andriano, who had also played with a number of Chicago punk bands, including Slapstick and Tuesday. The membership of Alkaline Trio changed again in 2000 when Glenn Porter departed; Mike Felumlee, once the drummer for the Smoking Popes, took his place.
Despite the almost constant changes in personnel, Alkaline Trio released several full-length and extended-play albums during its first four years together. With the original three members, the band released the EP For Your Lungs Only in 1997 on Asian Man Records. Unfortunately, the band’s commitment to touring in support of the release caused its first personnel change when Doran decided to devote his time to finishing college instead of going on the road. Quickly recruiting Andriano as his replacement on bass, Alkaline Trio started to build its audience through word-of-mouth and constant touring. However, its members still struggled to make ends meet. Both Skiba and Porter worked in Chicago as bike messengers, while Andriano worked in a record store. It was only after the release of the band’s first full-length album in 1998, Godd**nit!, that its members could concentrate solely on music. For Skiba, the opportunity came not a moment too soon; as he commented in an interview with Jeremy Estes of Line and Ink online in September of 2000, “I had to take more and more time off from the company I was working for because of the band. Eventually, they were like, ‘You can’t keep disappearing,’ so I was like, ‘Fine, I quit.’”
With the band’s members free to tour and record full-time, they soon gained a following as one of the leading punk bands in the Midwest, a reputation that grew with the release of Godd**nit!. The album featured song lyrics that touched on a number of harrowing topics, such as suicide on “Trouble Breathing,” emotional breakdowns on “My Little Needle,” and police brutality on “Cop.” Considering the subject matter on Godd**nit!, Alkaline Trio’s music was often referred to as “emo-core,” or “emotional hardcore,” a label the band acknowledged, yet resisted. “I guess the kind of music we play someone might consider emo-influenced punk,” Skiba explained in the All Ages interview. “It’s probably a pretty close description, but emo has become kind of a catch phrase. I think people hear the word emo and automatically assume certain things. We play rock n’ roll that comes natural to us.”
The group’s next full-length release, 1999’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, further developed the band’s repertoire of emotionally scathing songs, most of them penned by Skiba. In “Radio,” the song’s alcoholic protagonist wished a suicidal demise for his lover, while “Maybe I’ll Catch Fire” surveyed a mindset of alienation and depression. Like many songs on the first album, both
Members include Dan Andriano (born c. 1979), bass guitar, vocals; Rob Doran (left group, 1997), bass guitar, vocals; Mike Felumlee, drums, vocals; Glenn Porter (left group, 2000), drums; Matt Skiba (born c. 1977), guitar, vocals.
Formed group in Chicago, IL, 1996; released first full-length album, Godd**nit!, 1998; released Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, 2000; released third album, From Here to Infirmary, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Vagrant Records, 2118 Wilshire Boulevard #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403, website: http://www.vagrant.com; Asian Man Records, P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA 95030-5585, website: http://www.asianmanrecords.com. Website —Alkaline Trio Official Website: http://www.alkalinetrio.com.
tracks made references to suicide and self-mutilation, although the band insisted that airing such feelings was therapeutic for themselves and their audience. “We definitely like to write songs about darker things, but we like to think of it as a celebration of the evil ideas that run through everybody’s head,” Skiba explained to Allison Stewart in the Chicago Tribune. In another profile with the Punk Interviews website, Skiba further defined his commitment to emo-core and its importance to the audience: “It’s punk music, but with the same purpose like blues. You sing about it, so you don’t have to think about it anymore.” Fans agreed that the band produced music with powerful emotional content; a review of Maybe I’ll Catch Fire on the HARS online magazine website warned, “If you are brokenhearted then please listen to this album with caution because you may feel an urge to stab yourself with the nearest sharp object.”
With two full-length albums and a compilation of singles releases, The Alkaline Trio, issued on Asian Man Records in 2000, the band seemed poised to join the crossover success of emo-influenced punk bands such as Blink 182, Green Day, and Offspring. The band even toured as the opening act for Blink 182 on its 2001 tour, a decision that worried some of its fans who equated mainstream success with selling out. When the group announced it had signed a new deal with independent label Vagrant Records, its members had to go on the defensive regarding their decision to leave Asian Man Records. Respected for its integrity of pricing its products almost at-cost, Asian Man was a small, do-it-yourself-run label operating out of its founder’s garage. While the setup was fitting for groups in the garage-band league, by 2001 Alkaline Trio had grown too popular to remain with the label. According to all involved, the departure for Vagrant was an amicable one, and the band looked forward to a wider distribution network for its releases. Skiba told Line and Ink, “Our main complaint about our last couple of records is that people can’t find them…. I’m sure that there’ll be a pretty good push behind our stuff [by Vagrant] to make it available to as many people as we can without sacrificing any of our artistic freedom or any of the other anti-perks that major labels have.”
Although the Alkaline Trio’s first Vagrant release, 2001’s From Here to Infirmary, contained some brighter melodies, it retained the dark lyrics that had become the band’s trademark. Typical subject matter included the anxiety of a trip to a psychiatrist in “Take Lots with Alcohol” and the alienation of “Crawl,” which included the decidedly anti-romantic lines, “Got a taste of you, threw up all night/I got more sick with every sour, second-rate kiss.” For all the nihilism, however, From Here to Infirmary was the group’s most successful outing yet. Mainstream publications now took notice, with Rolling Stone hailing the album’s “effortless hooks and Skiba’s hysterical lyrics.” A Los Angeles Times concert review welcomed the band’s latest offering as a necessary jolt to pop-punk music. With “a depth of feeling and musical ideas that could propel a stagnant genre forward,” the review also compared the band to the Clash and Skiba’s stage and song writing presence to the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. While these were heady tributes to a band whose remaining founding member had yet to turn 25 years old, the Alkaline Trio’s devoted fan base would doubtless agree.
In 2001, Alkaline Trio completed its duties as an opening act for Blink 182 and continued on the road for a series of concerts with other Vagrant Records bands, including Saves the Day, Dashboard Confessional, and No Motiv. The group also considered its future as an increasingly MTV-friendly act and the impact of widespread success on its music. “But the way I look at it,” Skiba told Line and Ink, “we’re doing it independently and more importantly by our standards. We want as many people to get our music as possible, and I would be lying if I said that we didn’t want to be a huge band.”
For Your Lungs Only (EP), Asian Man, 1998.
Godd**nit!, Asian Man, 1998.
I Lied My Face Off (EP), Asian Man, 1999.
Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, Asian Man, 1999.
The Alkaline Trio, Asian Man, 2000.
(Contributor) Living Tomorrow Today: A Benefit for Ty Cambra, Asian Man, 2001.
From Here to Infirmary, Vagrant, 2001.
Billboard, May 26, 2001, p. 53.
Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2001.
Rolling Stone, June 7, 2001.
Alkaline Trio Official Website, http://www.alkalinetrio.com (June 25, 2001).
Asian Man Records, http://www.asianmanrecords.com (June 26, 2001).
HARS, http://www.happyasrawsewage.com/detailreview.asp?ld=164 (June 26, 2001).
Line and Ink, http://www.lineandink.indiegroup.com/AK3.html (June 25, 2001).
Punk International, http://www.punkinternational.com/alkalinenetrio1.html (June 26, 2001).
Punk Interviews, http://www.acornweb.com/punk/interviews/alkalinetrio3.html (June 26, 2001).
Vagrant Records, http://www.vagrant.com (June 25, 2001).
Through various line-ups, Alkaline Trio has been able to hold the line on their hard-core, emo, punk style, and the band has risen from local underground favorite to national success. Originally founded by Matt Skiba, Glenn Porter, and Rob Doran in 1997, Alkaline Trio's constant has been Skiba, who sings lead vocals and plays guitar. Greg Kot of Rolling Stone noted that "the Chicago trio stands apart from most of its post-Green Day brethren with its penchant for transforming sour emotion into sinister fantasy." Always dashingly dressed in button-up shirts, suit pants, and ties, while sporting eyeliner and delivering their dark lyrics, Joe Warminsky of the Washington Post described them as the "hippest undertakers on Earth."
Alkaline Trio was formed in 1997 when Skiba, who had been a drummer in other bands, took up the guitar. He joined forces with Doran, a high school friend. Along with fellow bike messenger Porter on drums, they formed a trio. After a year of practicing and playing, their lineup went through its first shakeup. Doran left the band and Dan Andriano took over bass and vocal duties. Andriano played on their first album, Goddamnit, which was released in 1998. In talking about his experience as part of a trio in contrast to previous bands he was in such as The Traitors, Skiba told Brian Baker of CityBeat, "When we started the band, that was the first time I'd played as a trio. ... I think the lines of communication are a lot more open. Financially, it works a whole lot better."
Another lineup change occurred in 2000, when Porter was asked to leave the band. He was replaced by Mike Felumlee, who had played with the regional group Smoking Popes. That year they released their second album, Maybe I'll Catch Fire. Felumlee's tenure with the band was short, and the band went through several drummers before settling on Derek Grant. The following year saw them releasing their third album, From Here to Infirmary, which debuted at number 199 on the Billboard charts. Discussing Alkaline Trio's success, Skiba told Corey Moss of MTV.com, "Making your band your career just seems like a pipe dream when it's not happening, and when it does, it seems so surreal."
In 2001 the band performed as the opening act for the pop-punk band Blink 182, and caused a stir in the underground punk scene, as many fans felt that touring with a band that appeared routinely on MTV was tantamount to selling out. Skiba and his bandmates felt that the massive criticism was groundless. Skiba explained to Matt Schild of Aversion.com, "We're having a good time. We're completely psyched at the situation we're in and all three of us are big Blink fans."
In addition to being fans of Blink 182, Alkaline Trio's influences range from well-known national acts like Social Distortion and Green Day to Chicago-area punk rock favorites such as Smoking Popes and Naked Raygun. The Trio's Skiba was also highly influenced by the sound and style of singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, whose self-produced CDs filled with thoughtful and original songs inspired many songwriters of the mid-1990s. Skiba told Gavin Edwards of Rolling Stone, "When the Alkaline Trio started, I wanted us to sound like Ani DiFranco playing Husker Du."
Jim Greer of Entertainment Weekly complimented Alkaline Trio on their style when he wrote, "At a time when most emo-core blandly follows a mall-rat-shallow blueprint, Alkaline Trio provide some much-needed counterpoint. Black humor never sounded so sweet."
The group's sound is the result of a cohesive blending of the three men's talents. Since Andriano joined the band, he and Skiba have shared vocal duties as well as songwriting tasks. Grant's contribution involves his highly respected drumming skills, but also his ability to combine the disparate pieces of the group's sound. Andriano described Grant's talents to Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune: "One of the best things about having Derek in the band ... is his good head for arranging and instrumentation."
In 2004 Alkaline Trio hit the road for summer and fall tours across the United States. They went on the Warped Tour along with other emo and punk rock bands like Flogging Molly, Rise Against, and Coheed and Cambria. They also performed during the 2004 presidential campaign for Rock Against Bush, urging young voters to vote for John Kerry. This wasn't the first time the band had gone out on tour for a cause. In 2000 they toured with the Plea for Peace tour, which sought to raise awareness about substance abuse, homelessness, and other social issues.
Although the band started out based in Chicago, in the succeeding years some of the members have picked different places to call home. Skiba relocated to Berkeley, California, in 2001, and as of 2005 was living in Los Angeles. Grant moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. Andriano continues to live in Chicago, working on solo projects, performing and writing, while also contributing his talents to the trio.
For the Record . . .
Members include Dan Andriano (joined group, 1998), bass, vocals; Rob Doran (left group, 1998), bass; Mike Felumlee (group member, 2000-01), drums; Derek Grant , drums; Glenn Porter (left group, 2000), drums; Matt Skiba (born in Chicago, IL; father an oral surgeon; mother a nurse and teacher), guitar, vocals.
Group formed in Chicago, IL, 1997; released first al bum, Goddamnit, 1998; Andriano joined band on bass and vocals, 1998; released Maybe I'll Catch Fire, 2000; released From Here to Infirmary, opened on tour with Blink 182, toured with Plea for Peace Tour, Grant joined band as drummer, all 2001; released Good Mourning, appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and LateShow with David Letterman, 2003; part of Warped Tour and Rock Against Bush, 2004; released Crimson, appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Vagrant Records, 2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403. Web-site—Alkaline Trio Official Website: http://www. alkalinetrio.com/.
Despite living in three locations, the band managed to create their 2005 album Crimson with a sound that was appealing and tight. Chris McNamara wrote for Chicago Inner View that the album "is more uniform, more fluid, more 'Alkaline Trio' than anything the band has produced." The creation process for the album was made possible by digital technology. Using MP3 recordings of their individual works, the members emailed ideas and tracks to each other for mutual consideration. The band's members hold each others' talents and contributions in high regard, which may be the number one reason they have been able to survive their long-distance relationship.
Goddamnit, Asian Man, 1998.
Maybe I'll Catch Fire, Asian Man, 2000.
Self-Titled (compilation), Asian Man, 2000.
From Here to Infirmary, Vagrant, 2001.
Good Mourning, Vagrant, 2003.
Crimson, Vagrant, 2005.
Billboard, May 26, 2001, p. 53.
Chicago Tribune, June 17, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, June 20, 2003, p. 73.
Rolling Stone, July 5, 2001, p. 43; May 29, 2003, p. 62; July 10, 2003, p. 80; July 24, 2003, p. 48.
Washington Post, November 11, 2003, p. C09.
"Alkaline Trio: Bastards of Digital Communication," Chicago Inner View,http://www.chicagoinnerview.com/archives/jun05_alkaline_trio.htm (June 25, 2005).
"The Alkaline Trio Keeps Going and Going," CityBeat,http://www.citybeat.com/2000-06-29/music.shtml (June 25, 2005).
"Alkaline Trio Won't Let Spinal Tap Curse Slow Them," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1445360/07232001/alkaline_trio.jhtml (June 25, 2005).
"Sticks and Stones," Aversion.com,http://www.aversion.com/bands/interviews.cfm?f_id=112 (June 25, 2005).
"We Want Action," Aversion.com,http://www.aversion.com/bands/interviews.cfm?f_id=241 (June 25, 2005).
—Eve M. B. Hermann