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Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba on Playing Solo and How Exercising Helps Fuel His Creativity

Charles Epting

The recent Sunset Strip Music Festival in West Hollywood, Calif. featured a dizzying array of talent from newer acts like Dead Sara to veterans such as Zakk Wylde and Marilyn Manson. But as the midday sun baked those on the main stages, inside the historic (and dark and cool) The Roxy theater, Alkaline Trio vocalist/guitarist Matt Skiba performed one of the most talked-about sets of the fest – an intimate and loose acoustic show that those set the buzz for the rest of the day.

Just before he performed for the packed club, Noiscreep had the good fortune to sit down with Skiba to catch up on a few things.

Matt, today is a special sort of performance. Do you enjoy acoustic club gigs like this?

I do. It’s something I’ll just do here and there recently did one in Chicago, but since I live on the West Coast, touring with an acoustic guitar is easy and fun. Fans dig it – I would think, “Wow, just a guy with an acoustic guitar, what’s the big deal?” But people seem to love it. And that makes me love it.

What can fans expect at shows like this?

I like to talk about songs, what they are about, I like to interact with the crowd – with Alkaline Trio there’s that too, but it’s a bigger and a lot tighter kind of a show. That’s three guys getting into trouble. As opposed to just one guy getting into trouble, like today [laughs].

Charles Epting

How would you compare and contrast today with an Alkaline Trio show?

It’s a lot looser. I just wrote down a bunch of songs, but I can also play requests. If people yell something, I can actually hear it and if it strikes me, I’ll play it. Plus, you can hear everyone singing, it’s just more intimate. No in-ear monitors like with Alkaline Trio. So it’s like no glass pane separating me from the crowd. Nothing against Alkaline shows –those are amazing to play, too. But these are different.

You recently released Babylon, your second solo album (as Matt Skiba and the Sekrets), so you’ve definitely been able to showcase different aspects of your songwriting as of late.

Well first, it was a daunting thing to do for me– going into a studio by myself. Hunter Bergen from AFI came in and played bass and Jarrod Alexander from My Chemical Romance came in to play drums on it. But I was writing without a drummer or a bass player, which was completely weird but I’m really proud of the record and the shows were awesome. I’m very proud of how that record went and if even just one person liked it, I’m happy.

Watch Matt Skiba and the Sekrets’ ‘Voices’ Video

Matt, what were the first shows you saw growing up that most influenced you?

The very first show I ever saw was The Judds and that influenced me to not play country music [laughs]. That was also the first time I smelled marijuana. We were out in the Ozarks in Missouri.

But Public Image Ltd was the first punk show I ever saw. Then I saw Devo. A cousin of mine was a graphic designer and he took me as a kid to see Flesh for Lulu and Social Distortion in 1988 in Chicago. In fact, that was the show they did it for me. When I saw Mike Ness come out I said, I want to be that guy, because every girl in the room want to sleep with that guy [laughs]. Seriously though, seeing that made me realize it was not just the girls, it was also the energy in the room, the danger, the excitement – it was everything.

Was there a record that played a big part in your musical evolution?

Freedom of Choice by Devo. I loved Devo, from MTV of course, but the songs on that record, “Girl U Want,” “Gates of Steel,” it’s just amazing. They are one of my favorite bands and one of my first musical loves, Devo.

And what’s the rest of the year like for you and Alkaline Trio?

Well, we’re getting busy. We’re headed to South America for the first time, and we’re also playing with Iggy [Pop] at Riot Fest in Chicago. That’s a big deal to me… a really big deal to me, because I love Iggy. I even hike to his album The Idiot almost every day. So we have lots of touring and then we are working on a new Trio record.

What’s the creative process like for you as you approach the new record?

For me, it’s about eating a bunch of fruit and exercising, which opens up the creativity, makes it easier to give ideas a chance and bubble to the surface. I’m no angel, but it helps me, as does hiking, heading to the ocean to catch some waves – for me sweating it out is definitely good for the creative process. I read that Ben from Death Cab for Cutie rents a storefront, like an office that he goes to from 9-5 and works, takes a lunch break and works some more! I think that is so smart – just force yourself to do it. Now, I’m not a 9-5 guy, but I think that’s a great example of having a work regiment when it comes to songwriting.

Matt Skiba and the Sekrets’ new album, Babylon, is available now on iTunes and on CD at the Hollywood Waste store.

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