Alkaline Trio Draw on Matt Skiba’s Time in blink-182 to Find “Unity of Purpose”

The singer-guitarist returned from “a very fucking dark place” with new album 'Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs'

Photo: Jonathan Weiner

BY Gen HandleyPublished Jan 23, 2024

Alkaline Trio nearly never made it to their 10th album.

"I went through a very fucking dark place back during COVID and got pretty unhealthy," recalls guitarist and co-vocalist Matt Skiba. "I'm just so grateful we are able to play in front of people again — it feels like almost a rebirth, you know? We're doing something that I had convinced myself we would never do again. I thought it was curtains for all of us. And I had prepared myself for that in a way that I look back at it and I'm like, 'That's fucked.'"

Recorded at Dave Grohl's Studio 606 in Los Angeles and produced by Cameron Webb, Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs (out January 26 on Rise Records) is an homage to Skiba's mother and what she would say when shifts at the hospital would get intense and busy while working as an ER nurse in Chicago.

"She's, in her words, 'gobsmacked,' that the term, 'blood, hair, and eyeballs' is now being used amongst our fans and our community and people talking about this record," he says laughing.

The upcoming album is the last one with long-time drummer Derek Grant, who surprisingly left the band last June. Skiba says that, at the time, they didn't know it would be their final record with Grant, but that "adjustments would need to be made."

Skiba reflects, "It wasn't a huge surprise. I just said, you got to be healthy and look out for yourself. I feel very grateful for Derek stepping up and saying I'm stepping out for us and for the band."

When a third of a family leaves, a hole remains. Filling in Grant's very big space was Atom Willard — a seasoned, accomplished drummer who has very credibly manned the kit of notable bands you most likely know, including Against Me!, Angels and Airwaves, and Rocket from the Crypt. He's even been in Alkaline Trio, with whom he played very briefly more than 20 years ago when they were signed to Vagrant Records.

"He's such a good human and such an amazing drummer," says Skiba who also plays with Willard in the side-project Lektron. "He's like 50 going on 21 — he's so energetic. He's breathing life into old songs, into new songs, and he's fucking fire."

These new songs were the first Alkaline Trio album written with all three members fully involved in the process. Originally, Skiba says, they started the album with some demos that "were good, but could have been on any Alkaline Trio record."

"It took a little convincing, and some bits and bobs survived from the demos, but for the most part, we started from scratch," he explains. "I said, let's do it like we used to — with some acoustic guitars or [electric guitars] plugged in and turned down, no rush and no deadlines."

He adds, "I thought, if we do this from the ground up, it's hopefully going to have the vibe of Alkaline Trio that people first fell in love with, but we can take it to a level where we're a little more experienced.

The result is a deeply satisfying record for not only the band, but also for Trio fans longing for music that's redolent of their glorious past while continuing to push the envelope they helped craft nearly 30 years ago. Vivid and venomous as always, Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs captures the playful imagery and energy Skiba speaks of while ascending it to a level of quality through ground-up songwriting.

He found deep appreciation for collaborative songwriting again when he recorded two albums with blink-182 after Tom DeLonge left the San Diego band: 2016's California and 2019's NINE.

"I loved it," he says of co-writing alongside bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker. "It's far from the easiest thing to do, but I feel like when everyone's contributing and when everyone's dedicated to this greater good, there's a magic that you get from working on something collectively that makes you the band — that's stronger than the individual parts."

However, in spite of conspicuous thematic and lyrical differences between  the facetious macabre punk of Alkaline Trio and the sun-soaked pop-rock of blink-182, Skiba says it wasn't difficult shifting gears between the two bands.

"They are totally different channels," he says. "The hardest part about being in blink was learning all of those fucking songs in like a month because Tom is such a better guitarist than me. But once we started playing shows, I started to get the vibe of what we were doing, and Mark and I started touring with acoustic guitars — we'd always say that's when we were learning how to be in a band together. So, by the time the writing process came around, it felt just natural and easy."

He stops to think about it a little more.

"When we wrote the California record," he continues, "we wrote it from the ground up and I feel like it's the best way to make a record, in that same room 'with unity of purpose' as Mark would always say."

He affirms, "That's what I tried to do with this Alkaline Trio record — with Blood, Hair, and Eyeballs. With that unity of purpose, and I think we accomplished that and you hear that in these songs."

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