From the opening seconds of the title track of Alkaline Trio’s seventh studio album This Addiction, it appears the Chicago-bred threesome may have found the place its entire career has been leading. While the album’s opener blazes at a tempo reminiscent of the band’s 1998 debut Goddamnit and features a signature Matt Skiba lyric of fatal co-dependency, the whole affair feels strangely… comfortable? By the time second track “Dine, Dine My Darling”–if you don’t get the joke, it’s probably not worth explaining—kicks in with Dan Andriano providing his traditionally lighter foil to Skiba’s obsidian musings, it’s clear: Alkaline Trio has settled into an unforeseeable maturity—at least by Alkaline Trio standards—and it suits them just fine.
Whether pervading the darkly perverse Blue Velvet-inspired strains of Skiba’s “Dorothy” or Andriano’s sardonic “Fine,” this newfound air of ease owes no small debut to the circumstances of This Addiction’s release. The album’s Feb. 23, 2010 release will be the first physical manifestation of Alkaline Trio’s own heart & Skull label, formed in partnership with its longtime fans and friends at Epitaph Records. Named for the imagery of the Alkaline Trio logo seen on so much of the band’s album art, merchandise, and tattooed on the bodies of its Blood Pact fan club members across the world, Heart & Skull represents the band members’ new level of control of their own destiny (all three are partners in the label). Having released its previous albums through virtually every other label permutation the business has had to offer—early EPs and albums on tiny indies Johann’s Face and Asian Man, hundreds of thousands of records sold on Vagrant, and 2008’s Agony & Irony, the band’s highest charting record to date, released by Epic—Alkaline Trio finally and truly feels at home.
“Taking control of our own label situation was something we always wanted to do but never thought was possible,” says Skiba. “But now thanks to Brett Gurewitz and the fine folks at Epitaph, it is. All three of us in Alkaline Trio have always had the utmost respect for the music and the work ethic of the Epitaph, Anti- and Hellcat family and now we’re honored to be working together under one big happy roof. Heart & Skull/Epitaph is truly a dream come true for us.”
Andriano adds, “For our band at this time it really makes sense to release our own records, but we wanted to make sure we could partner up with good people who we would want to share in something very special to us. When Brett called and said he wanted to be involved, that was it. Epitaph is a label I’ve admired and supported for more than half of my life! I couldn’t be more excited for how this is turning out!”
As big as an impact as the building of the Heart & Skull/Epitaph dream home may have had, This Addiction would still be Alkaline Trio at its most confident and accomplished. Fans who caught the band on its 2009 tour witnessed the live debut of highlights including the title track, “Dead On The Floor” and the aforementioned “Dorothy” and “Dine, Dine My Darling,” all of which built on already rabid anticipation for the record. What’s been delivered has exceeded fans—and the band’s—expectations. From the vintage Alk3-style workouts of “Off The Map” and “Piss and Vinegar” to the gloomily expansive “Draculina,” the entire record is stellar, the kind of classic punk confection whose 35 or so minutes whiz by all too fast, virtually demanding repeated listens.
Then there’s This Addiction centerpiece “The American Scream.” Highlighting every previous Alkaline Trio strength and evincing some the band members may not have previously known they had, “The American Scream” may well be the closest thing to a definitive Alkaline Trio anthem. As the son of two Vietnam veterans, the song’s inspiration held particular significance for Skiba: “’The American Scream’ was inspired by a story I read in the news of an American soldier returning from a tour of duty overseas and committing suicide at his mother’s gravesite. The suicide was believed to be a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the soldier’s inability to return to ‘normal’ life after experiencing the atrocities of war. It’s not a protest song or intentionally political but it was something that stuck with me.”
Alkaline Trio formed in 1996 in McHenry County, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. Skiba is the sole surviving member of the short-lived original lineup, which featured bassist Rob Doran and drummer Glenn Porter. Doran left following the 1997 release of the band’s debut EP Sundials and was replaced by Andriano who made his recorded debut on 1998’s For Your Lungs Only EP. The Trio’s popularity built in and beyond the midwest, finding it signing to the small indie Asian Man and releasing its first two albums, Goddamnit in 1998 and Maybe I’ll Catch Fire in 2000, as well as a self-titled compilation of the early EPs and other odds and ends, also released in 2000.
Alkaline Trio’s following continued to grow in size and scope, especially with the 2001 release of From Here To Infirmary on larger indie Vagrant. Featuring the addition of former Smoking Popes drummer Mike Felumlee to the Alk3 line-up, it would be the band’s first record to crack the Billboard Top 200 and the six-figure sales mark on the strength of worldwide touring and response to classic tracks like “Stupid Kid” and “Private Eye.” Good Mourning followed in 2003, debuting at #20 on the Top 200 and #1 on the Independent Albums Chart, as “We’ve Had Enough” became the band’s first single to chart in the U.S. And second single “All On Black” would be performed on Alkaline Trio’s first ever network TV appearances, on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and The Late Show With David Letterman respectively. Crimson would be Alkaline Trio’s fifth studio album and last for Vagrant. Buoyed by “Time To Waste,” “Mercy Me” and “Burn,” the record was the Trio’s second to debut in the Top 30 and was followed by the Vagrant release of the 2007 odds and ends compilation Remains.
Alkaline Trio’s first and last major label release would be 2008’s Agony & Irony. The album hit #13 on the Billboard chart, making it the highest charting of the band’s 14-year career, while single “Help Me” would become its highest charting single, reaching #14 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. By 2009 however, reshufflings and layoffs at Epic led to Alkaline Trio negotiating its release from the label.
All of which brings us to where Alkaline Trio is today: Anticipating the release of an album which with the couldn’t be more satisfied through a 100% ideal label situation. Though Skiba sings on the new album’s “Draculina”: “I wish to dwell, I long to be in the blood and guts with the birds of prey and the stinging of bees…” Perhaps for once he’s happy exactly where he is—by Alkaline Trio standards, of course.