“I’m just a kinder, gentler, quieter person” — Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba on quitting drugs and having Sekrets

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photo: Jonathan Weiner
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Best known, of course, as the vocalist/guitarist in Alkaline Trio, Matt Skiba has always written outside of that band, whether for his own solo work or side projects such as Heavens, theHELL and, more recently, Matt Skiba & The Sekrets. Kuts is the latter outfit’s second album and sees Skiba—alongside co-conspirators Hunter Burgan (AFI) on bass and Jarrod Alexander (My Chemical Romance) on drums—offer up some of his most confessional songs to date. It also finds him in a more sober, yet no less cathartic, state of mind.

The first Sekrets album was born out of your solo demos. How different was it writing this one deliberately as a Sekrets record?
I think it definitely gave it a life of its own. The last record, I’m proud of it, but I wasn’t in any shape to be playing shows and the record became something that I had to do, rather than something I wanted to do in my fucked-up mind. This record feels more natural. I feel like I’m in a better place and it was easier to write a record that was like, “Well, this is actually the intention of having another band—to try out different stuff and invite some different ideas.”

It’s a very self-reflective record, not least in “Lonely And Kold,” where you literally sing about looking in the mirror. Is this Matt Skiba truly looking at Matt Skiba?
I think it is an introspective record to an extent, and it was somewhat of a cathartic record to write as well. But the face in the mirror is a cocaine reference, actually. We used to joke around when we’d see somebody doing cocaine in the mirror, we would call it soul searching, because you’re looking down into a mirror. Obviously you’re looking at the drugs on it, not at yourself at all, but I think from that point onward there obviously has to be some reflection involved in that.

I’m sure. I’m not a big one for coke…
No. It’s not that cool, man! I’m not saying that it’s a good thing by any means. I still go to parties and I can still have a good time, but I can’t be getting fucked up like that, and I used to do it a lot. I’m almost 40 years old, man. It was fun while it lasted, but for me, growing as a person means sometimes cutting some things out of your life that might not be the best decision.

Do you find you have greater clarity now that you don’t drink so much and do so many drugs. Are you aware of your self more?
Yeah. For me, I’m just a kinder, gentler, quieter person. When you’re drinking, you think you’re fucking awesome and when you’re high on drugs, you’re the loudest guy in the room, and it reaches a point, at least for me, where it’s like, “That’s embarrassing.” And not everyone gets like that, but for me personally, there’s way more clarity, I get way more done, I return way more phone calls and emails. I’m just more on point.

Yet you still manage to channel the angst that you’ve had since the beginning of Alkaline Trio, too. But back then you seemed very bitter and there was a lot hatred and vitriol toward the other person, whereas now you seem to be taking responsibility more. You seem to be saying sorry a lot more.
I never really thought of it like that, but things have definitely got a bit more apologetic. That’s for sure. And I don’t know if that comes with age or whatever, but I definitely still have enough to be angry about. It’s just a different way of channeling it. I think when you’re younger you scream, “Me me me!” a little louder, maybe, and when you get older that hopefully changes a little bit.

You’ve always been very open about your relationships in your songs and talking about them and your divorce in interviews and the like, because they’ve clearly always inspired you. But would you rather have the relationships or the songs? Can you reconcile the two?
I think that I’ve been in relationships more than I’ve been out of them over the course of Alkaline Trio. I was with the same girl and married for almost 10 years, then I went right into another relationship with someone for four-and-a-half years, so I’ve spent more time in a relationship and writing records. Obviously, they didn’t last and they were somewhat tumultuous and to write about those things… I mean, luckily I’ve had a very understanding ex-wife and girlfriend. I’m just writing about the truth. You can’t fault me for that. But luckily it’s never caused any huge problems. This Sekrets record is the first record I’ve written in a long time where I’m like, “I need to be fucking single for, like, five years. I need to not be in relationship for a minute.” It’s never been a choice—like, “I’m going to not drink every night. I’m going to not do drugs.” I’ve got to figure out what’s going on with me first before I start…it always turns out the same way and to keep doing it is literally insane. That’s the meaning of insanity—keep doing the same thing over and over again and you’re going to get the same result, so why do you keep doing it? But you know, whatever. I’m a huge fan of girls and I try not to be too much of a ho about it—but sometimes it’s nice to fucking be alone. I enjoy being alone more than most people.