“If you would’ve told 13-year-old me that I’d play music for a living, something I was already doing at that point for fun with my buddies, just in our crappy little high school band, I would’ve never believed it,” Skiba tells us over the phone. “It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Skiba’s "dream come true” became even truer recently, when the Trio announced a co-headlining tour with punk legends Bad Religion. The tour was delayed by the pandemic, but it's officially back on, stopping in Dallas on Oct. 20 at Amplified (formerly known as Gas Monkey Bar & Grill).
“Any big music fan has those records that were game-changers,” Skiba says. “And for me, the first time I heard [Bad Religion’s] Suffer … I’m still pinching myself.”
Bad Religion, who are 40-year veterans of the industry, have also been good friends and mentors to the members of Alkaline Trio over the years, after the two bands crossed paths at Warped Tour once upon a time.
“A big, huge added bonus and one of the many things I’m thankful for is my friendship with those guys, especially Jay (Bently) and Brian (Baker),” Skiba says. “Those guys showed us love when we were little cubs touring for the first time and meeting our heroes, so I’m honored to call them friends. I’m sure we’ll be stowing away on each other’s buses many a night on this upcoming tour.”
This penchant for acceptance and nurturing is one that Skiba says is consistent across the board in the punk scene, and one that he’s used as a model for his own behavior throughout his career.
“The cool thing about punk rock icons is, punk rockers — real punk rockers — are generally pretty down-to-earth people,” he says. “The ‘rock star’ thing was never really a very welcomed attitude in the punk rock community, and if I had it my way, it still wouldn’t be.
“Your fans and your audience are the people that allow you to do what you do," Skiba adds. "People come to shows and have their own problems and their own things that they go through. If you’re having a bad day, you know, tell that kid that you’re talking to that you’re having a bad day. Don’t take it out on him or act aloof.”
Skiba’s genuine gratitude and love for his fans is palpable. Bad Religion's affinity for the band is unsurprising; Skiba's uplifting perspective on the music industry and life make it impossible to not immediately wish to be his friend. Naturally, at the moment his mind is preoccupied with the ongoing pandemic and the important role music plays in mental health.
“It’s a scary new world," Skiba says. "There’s always been good and bad in everything, but it’s been so polarizing. This thing’s torn families apart. Or people have let it anyway."
He doesn't stay down for long, as his optimism inevitably creeps in.
“Not only does it feel amazing to be able to do this again, but it’s the only thing that feels normal,” Skiba says. “Everyone that’s there is there to have a good time. I'm very grateful that we’re part of something that it feels like it did [feel normal], 'cause nothing else really does.”
Is This Thing Cursed? was Alkaline Trio’s first record in five years at the time of its release in 2018. According to Skiba, this hiatus was far from intentional. He just got a little busy, you know, when Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker started knocking on his door. But good things come to those who wait, and this record was certainly worth it.
“By the time we got back in the studio, we were pretty eager to be doing it, and I think, at least from our perspective, we put everything that we had into it," Skiba says. "Taking a long break from something, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Although it wasn’t intentional, it was inspiring, and it was a lot of fun to get back together and still have the fire under our skirts that we’ve always had.”
"Taking a long break from something, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Although it wasn’t intentional, it was inspiring, and it was a lot of fun to get back together and still have the fire under our skirts that we’ve always had.” –Matt Skiba
The band’s ninth album delivers all the grotesquely wonderful Alkaline Trio vibes that fans missed. Of the 13 tracks on Is This Thing Cursed?, Skiba points to one that has a particularly significant meaning. “Blackbird” is the second song on the record, but was the first song the band wrote together.
“One of the really cool things about having three songwriters in our band is, if you have any sort of road block, you can send it off," Skiba says. "So Dan sent me this really great music. I remember the first time I heard it I started humming a melody over it, and I think I wrote the lyrics pretty fast. It’s about a lady friend of mine.”
Skiba has always preferred to keep his personal life out of the media, but you can’t blame us for trying to get him to spill the tea. The musician offers no clues as to the identity of this lady friend, saying simply “the specifics of it are for her.” The only woman that he’s been connected with in the press is Monica Parker, to whom he was married from 2005 until 2009. Perhaps she is his “blackbird,” but we may never know for sure.
“A neat little caveat: I was watching the film Public Enemies about John Dillinger," Skiba says of the song. "His love interest in the film … there’s a song, like an old song from the ‘30s or ‘40s called ‘Blackbird.’ It’s this kind of jazzy, ballad-y song, and it’s his name for her. Apparently that was a true story, that they were dancing to that song, and he [Dillinger] started calling her his blackbird.
"There were just a lot of parallels with someone who I felt was a great love of my life and probably always will be. But I wrote it for her. The end.”
Skiba manages to keep a clear head while balancing his commitments to two major musical endeavors, in addition to his private life, by writing one song a day and by practicing transcendental meditation twice a day.
“Who told you I kept my sanity?” he says with a laugh. “There’s plenty of [coping] options out there, but the healthier ones tend to work better. I grew up just with a lot of anger in my heart, and it’s poisonous. I started meditating like 15 years ago, and it helped me let go of that anger. It helped me let go of any sort of anxiety.
"There are plenty of times when I start to lose my grip, and I’ll meditate, and then sometimes I can’t even remember what was bothering me. Meditation has been a lifesaver and a sanity-saver for sure.”