Very Emergency: Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano discusses going solo

Dan Andriano
photo: Rob Futrell

Dan Andriano is nearly 25 years deep into his music career—and he’s probably the most surprised by that. He is best known as the bassist/vocalist for Alkaline Trio, the goth-tinged punk threesome founded in Chicago that has transcended genres and won over tens of thousands of fans in the process. But Andriano is not solely defined by his work in the Trio, even though many of his songs are among the band’s finest in their catalog. This need to make music strictly for himself with no outside expectations led him to create Dan Andriano In The Emergency Room, an outlet for the singer/songwriter to explore whatever struck his fancy. Which leads us to his sophomore album under the Emergency Room moniker, the Jeff Rosenstock-produced Party Adjacent. It’s a record that channels everything from Elvis Costello to Thin Lizzy, but still retains the lyrical charm and honesty Andriano has become known for throughout his career. We caught up with him before one of Alkaline Trio’s recent “Past Live” dates in Cleveland, where he gave us more insight into Party Adjacent in between sipping an iced coffee and talking at length about basketball. (Unsurprisingly, he roots for the Bulls.)

The album title Party Adjacent is kind of a funny phrase. What’s the meaning behind it?
DAN ANDRIANO: I guess it sort of specifies where I feel like I’m at in life—slightly, slightly grown up. I still like to have fun, but I’m not just doing this for the party. This is what I’ve chosen to do in my life. For so long, it came easy [that] for a while, I lost touch with why I got into it.

At what point did you realize then that you were no longer a “band dude” and wanted to be a career musician?
Probably a few years ago, when I started to get panicky about stuff. I got really anxious and weird about doing this forever, but that’s when I realized I have this opportunity so I need to do more to take advantage of it—there’s more that I want to do. That’s when I started doing [my first solo album], Hurricane Season. It drove me crazy. I did everything myself: the artwork, the recording, almost all the playing. In the middle of making Hurricane Season, Alkaline Trio made Damnesia, and I was in the engineer’s ear the whole time asking about recording techniques, so I came home and pretty much started over. My wife was not stoked. [Laughs.]

You have some amazing players on Party Adjacent—not only Jeff Rosenstock but Mike Huguenor of Hard Girls and Kevin Higuchi of the Bruce Lee Band. How did you meet them?
Last summer, I had written and demoed the record, and I had found myself in the same space—I didn’t know what to do. I talked to [Asian Man Records owner] Mike Park and was freaking out, and he was the one who told me to chill, and that he’d set me up with a band. He put me in touch with Jeff Rosenstock, too. It was an awesome experience. The very first song, “Pretty Teeth,” I had written it as a folky song. I loved the lyrics and the sentiment, but we needed to change the groove, so Jeff sent me back this version with synth and told me he wanted vibraphone on it. “Lost” initially sounded like the Smoking Popes—we were in the studio at the time, so I told the guys, “I’m gonna go outside, so you murder this groove, bury it, I never want to hear it again. Come up with something cool.” And it was really, really cool.

How was the recording process different than that of Alkaline Trio?
We record for weeks and weeks, and some days, because you know you’ve got four weeks left, you’ll just be like, “Eh, I’m tired; let’s call it. Let’s get some food.” And it’s like, “No! Let’s work! Let’s write songs! We’re a band!” So it super-fun to get a little reset in that regard.

Your bandmate Matt Skiba just released his second solo album, Kuts. It’s interesting to me that no matter what he does, it pretty much will always sound like “Matt from Alkaline Trio,” but for you, the line connecting your solo work to your main band is a lot more faint.
I’m not that prolific. So if I have a song that remotely sounds like Alkaline Trio, I’m gonna give it to Alkaline Trio. It’s pretty apparent to me if something sounds different. “Haunt Your House” is the most Trio-sounding song on the record; that song was actually demoed for My Shame Is True, but [producer] Bill Stevenson didn’t like it, so we didn’t record it.

The lyrics on Party Adjacent are a lot more straightforward—direct references to cocaine, for example. How do you tackle unconventional songwriting topics like that?
At this point it’s just about trying to be honest and still be poetic. If it’s working with the melody and it’s working with the intent of the song, then I’m gonna keep it. But it takes me a long time to write lyrics. I usually start writing songs around two lines and will finish the music quickly, but I’ll struggle for two months to write the lyrics. I get sidetracked rather easily. I used to take time for granted—I’d smoke too much grass and forget what I was doing. I gave that up, and it’s easier for me to work. Believe it or not, if you quit that stuff, it’s easier to get work done! It only took me 20 years to realize it.

A version of this piece was published in Substream #47.