For over 27 years, Chicago punks Alkaline Trio have been triumphantly occupying darker spaces, producing a message and sound that reflects on the macabre with both wit and astute musicianship. It’s something that has, and still, resonates beyond the recordings they’ve done, connecting old and new fans of the band who immerse themselves in the world and community Alkaline Trio have built. This week, they will release their 10th studio album, aptly titled Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs, which offers their signature sinister sensibility, with a fresh, albeit eerie, feeling of groundedness.
On the album, the first release since the band signed to Rise Records, the layers of Alkaline Trio are beautifully peeled back and stripped down, the guts of the band left sonically exposed. Built upon this radically raw foundation, they dive headfirst into lyricism. Across the tracklist, they traverse further into the horrific abyss than ever before — though not in the fantastical sense. Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs peers outward, and recognizes that the reality of our world today is the greatest atrocity, and the apocalypse, to say the least, is now. Without losing the beloved band’s core ethos — rather, it’s been further concentrated — Matt Skiba sings to the tune that the pandemic was only the tip of the iceberg. It’s grim, and it’s great. True to form.
Read more: Fan poll: 5 best Alkaline Trio albums of all time
In creating said enigmatic end of world LP, officially Alkaline Trio’s last with longtime drummer Derek Grant, they took to Northridge, California to record at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606. Just days away from the album drop, we got the chance to speak with vocalist and guitarist Matt Skiba about the process of putting it all together.
How do you feel your relationship with music has changed from the first album as Alkaline Trio to Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs? Literally, and figuratively. Maybe even spiritually…
I feel that over the years, we’ve been able to cultivate something with our music and our fans that transcends the simple act of recording and releasing music we’ve written. As time goes on, that bond only lengthens and strengthens in ways that are almost out of our control or comprehension. I think there is a very spiritual thing that happens with music and its listeners over time that wasn’t necessarily always there. I feel like the longer we’re able to do this, the more important it becomes to try and make something of value to both us and our audience. That responsibility has become, I think, a very spiritual thing indeed for many of us.
This project is dark, very real, and apocalyptic. It’s a heavy thing to take note of the cultural landscape today, the real-life horrors, and the way we’re receiving them, and put that into music. It reminds me of the Rick Rubin phrase, “The real work of being an artist is being in the world.” And then the challenge is turning it into your craft. How, and why, do you feel drawn to do that with the painful things you’re seeing and experiencing in the world?
It’s the age-old thing of art imitating life. Hopefully, writers are always recording as they experience life — whatever it brings. That’s been the goal with this album so that even everyday happenstance speaks to the bigger picture. And lately, the bigger picture has a tendency to be fairly horrific. If we are doing our jobs as recordists, then that horror is very likely to have a place at the table.
More so than before, the way you’re delivering something feels incredibly stripped down, in a striking way. What was the intention in doing this, especially with the deep topics you explored? How did this sonic approach reiterate what you wanted to do lyrically?
We started the record with the idea of it being rather stripped down, both musically and production-wise. Both Rick Rubin and Steve Albini were big influences on the sonic approach to this record. We didn’t write lyrics until the music was written this time around, and one definitely informed the other, and vice versa.
What’s the writing process for Alkaline Trio? Did it differ on this album?
We started this album from scratch. We have always sent each other demos of songs that are almost complete since we moved to separate cities years ago. We thought that starting this record from scratch in the way we approached records in our early years could make for an interesting and hopefully refreshing sound this time around. Fingers crossed we actually accomplished that.
Let’s talk about recording in Dave Grohl’s Studio 606. What about that location changed the way, if at all, you approached the process?
It’s just an amazing place to make a record. The Neve board that Dave acquired and let us record on dictated the sound and approach to this record in a big way. That board and that room already have such a history that we truly felt in the company of greatness while recording. That board itself has a sound all its own and is a huge reason the record sounds the way it does. The live room there has such a beautiful, natural reverb that we were able to track all the rhythm tracks almost completely without digital effects.
Super stoked you’re touring with Drug Church. How was that decision made to take them on the road?
Our booking agent turned us onto Drug Church. I believe they submitted for the tour, and we just fell in love with the band’s music.
Today, what is the purpose of Alkaline Trio to you?
To show people a good time. It’s that simple.
How, if so, would you say Chicago shows up in your music today?
Chicago shows up in our music every time we do anything. It’s in us. How it shows up in music as a whole I can’t say. All I can say is that you can take the boy out of Chicago, but you can’t take Chicago out of the boy.
What is your favorite track?
“Versions of You.” I love that song.
When you’re working on an album, do you listen to other artist’s music? What were you listening to, watching, or reading during the making of this album?
Not on this album. We were so focused on writing the best album we could that other artists didn’t play too much of a part intentionally. We were listening to the first Danzig record that Rick Rubin produced and In Utero by Nirvana that Steve Albini produced, but that was more for production than musical style. I’m sure those records did have an effect. I’m always listening to a lot of Shellac and N.W.A.
What do you hope the audience will feel listening to Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs?