Alkaline Trio‘s Matt Skiba is still making sense of something he saw one day on the way to the recording studio: A man on the side of the road battling his mental health, violently screaming at the world. “He was throwing his arms and legs about,” the singer and guitarist tells Rolling Stone. “It was a display of rage in front of this bush, but it looked like he was dancing.”
He noticed other passersby gawking at the man with amusement, but Skiba felt compassion — and curiosity. “I was just thinking, ‘What is going on inside that person’s mind?’” Skiba says. “‘Who are they yelling at? Why are they yelling?’” At the time, Skiba had been reading about World War II, and his brain found an oblique connection to what he was seeing: “It just got me thinking about what goes through world leaders’ minds when they’re declaring war on other nations,” he says.
These thoughts supplied the spark for “Break,” Alkaline Trio’s latest single, which arrives a day ahead of their 10th full-length album, Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs. “When we break down, when we fall apart,” Skiba sings against a syncopated backdrop of punk-rock guitar, “You’ll be there, smiling ear to ear and splashing around in my blood.” It’s a grotesque symbol for dysfunction, and it finds new life in a new music video directed by Claire Marie Vogel. In the clip, the band performs the song in a puppet theater with marionettes dancing around them.
“I think that the connection [to the concept] is the breakdown between the strings and the puppeteer,” Skiba says of the video. “It’s the point between the controller and the controlled.” (He adds that he didn’t explain the lyrics to Vogel and was impressed by her interpretation of them.)
The metaphor runs even deeper than the imagery, though, since the Trio wrote the music first, including the guitar riffs’ pauses and breaks. It’s those moments, Skiba says, that prompted the title “Break.” “The idea of the breaks in the song determined what the song was about,” he says, “and that’s something that hasn’t happened very often for our band.”
The way Alkaline Trio conceived Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs — a title inspired by Skiba’s mom’s profession as an ER nurse — allowed for big-picture moments like the breaks in “Break.” This time, the band members challenged themselves to write the album as a unit. Since Skiba, bassist-vocalist Dan Andriano, and drummer Derek Grant all live in separate cities, they’d gotten into the routine of trading song ideas over the internet on their most recent albums. This time, they embraced the mentality of another great trio, the Three Musketeers, creating the album “all for one and one for all.”
Even though the Trio had 20 – 30 song ideas for their first LP in six years, they decided to start from scratch and write it as a unit. It was a lesson Skiba had learned during his stint in Blink-182, from 2015 to 2022, when he replaced Tom DeLonge until his return.
“With both of studio records we did when I was in Blink, all three of us were in the studio with a producer every day,” Skiba says. “It was such a collaboration. All three of us had an equal say and equal influence over the songs, lyrics, everything that came out. Doing that in the same room was really inspiring, so the whole idea of starting from scratch [with Alkaline Trio] and writing a record in the same room together came from those studio experiences with Blink.”
The sessions found them writing tight, catchy songs like “Break,” as well as profoundly conceptual punk rockers like “Bad Time” (inspired by speaking with a friend after being in close proximity to a mass shooting) and the title track (about “getting back to living life.”) As with 2018’s Is This Thing Cursed?, the Trio worked with producer Cameron Webb, but the musicians came out of the recording environment in different shape than how they went in.
After recording all the songs, Grant, who’d sat behind Alkaline Trio’s drum kit since 2001, informed his bandmates he wanted to leave the group since he no longer felt up to the demands of world tours. “I knew that it was a daunting thing for Derek,” Skiba says. “He already had some issues with touring, so it wasn’t completely out of left field. … It definitely was an amicable, very mature decision to come to.” Since leaving the band, Grant has been texting with Skiba, and the singer reports that the drummer is happy.
“I think he really just needed a break from the band — from touring, from people, from all of it,” Skiba says. “So we’re giving him his space. When he left the band, as sad as it’s been, it was also a big relief for all of us because I know how hard it’s been for him.”
For the tour, Alkaline Trio welcomed back drummer Atom Willard, who played with the band in 2000 and 2001, as well as with Skiba in side projects over the years. “He’s one of my best friends,” the singer says. “He was the first and only person we thought of, and luckily, he was down to do it.” Willard officially joined the band last June, playing about a dozen dates with them in 2023, and he could be seen with the band at their first performance this year, playing “Bad Time” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Now Skiba feels like Alkaline Trio have a renewed sense of purpose, especially since he doesn’t have to divide his attention with his commitments to Blink-182. “When you get down to just focusing on one thing, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is just a lot easier,’” he says. “It was never hard being in two bands, but it just makes more sense now.”
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