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Members include Dan Andriano(born c. 1979), bass guitar, vocals; Rob Doran (left group, 1997), bass guitar, vocals; Mike Felumlee, drums, vocals; Glenn Porter (left group, 2000), drums; Matt Skiba (born c. 1977), guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Vagrant Records, 2118 Wilshire Boulevard #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403, website: http://www.vagrant.com; Asian Man Records, P.O. Box 35585, Monte Sereno, CA 95030-5585, website: http://www.asianmanrecords.com. Website--Alkaline Trio Official Website: http://www.alkalinetrio.com.
Originating in Chicago's vibrant punk scene during late 1996, Alkaline Trio developed a fervent fan base throughout the Midwest while releasing several full-length and extended-play albums of hard-driving music with emotionally direct lyrics. Building their following through extensive touring, the band's members were finally able to give up their day jobs as bike messengers and record store clerks after the release of Godd**mit!, the group's first full-length album, in 1998. While a deal with Vagrant kept them with an independent label, Alkaline Trio nonetheless confronted the dilemma that countless punk bands had faced before it: in the face of greater acclaim, could it remain devoted to its own artistic vision and retain its integrity with a fan base skeptical of mainstream success? While the 2001 release of From Here to Infirmary confirmed the band's commitment to maintaining its artistic ideals, some fans questioned the group's decision to tour as the opening act with crossover success Blink 182.
The members of Alkaline Trio played with a number of Chicago-area bands while they were in their teens and early twenties. As founder Matt Skiba recalled in a 1998 interview with radio show All Ages available on the group's website, "We all knew each other from doing shows with other bands and we became friends years ago and it turned out that we all wanted to do the same thing." Skiba, a singer and guitarist, had once played drums for Jerkwater and the Blunts, while Glenn Porter had been a member of 88 Finger Louie. Together with bassist Rob Doran, a longtime friend of Skiba's, the three came together in late 1996 to form Alkaline Trio. The original lineup did not last long, however, and by the end of 1997, Doran had left the group. He was replaced by Dan Andriano, who had also played with a number of Chicago punk bands, including Slapstick and Tuesday. The membership of Alkaline Trio changed again in 2000 when Glenn Porter departed; Mike Felumlee, once the drummer for the Smoking Popes, took his place.
Despite the almost constant changes in personnel, Alkaline Trio released several full-length and extended-play albums during its first four years together. With the original three members, the band released the EP For Your Lungs Only in 1997 on Asian Man Records. Unfortunately, the band's commitment to touring in support of the release caused its first personnel change when Doran decided to devote his time to finishing college instead of going on the road. Quickly recruiting Andriano as his replacement on bass, Alkaline Trio started to build its audience through word-of-mouth and constant touring. However, its members still struggled to make ends meet. Both Skiba and Porter worked in Chicago as bike messengers, while Andriano worked in a record store. It was only after the release of the band's first full-length album in 1998, Godd**nit!, that its members could concentrate solely on music. For Skiba, the opportunity came not a moment too soon; as he commented in an interview with Jeremy Estes of Line and Ink online in September of 2000, "I had to take more and more time off from the company I was working for because of the band. Eventually, they were like, 'You can't keep disappearing,' so I was like, 'Fine, I quit.'"
With the band's members free to tour and record full-time, they soon gained a following as one of the leading punk bands in the Midwest, a reputation that grew with the release of Godd**nit!. The album featured song lyrics that touched on a number of harrowing topics, such as suicide on "Trouble Breathing," emotional breakdowns on "My Little Needle," and police brutality on "Cop." Considering the subject matter on Godd**nit!, Alkaline Trio's music was often referred to as "emo-core," or "emotional hardcore," a label the band acknowledged, yet resisted. "I guess the kind of music we play someone might consider emo-influenced punk," Skiba explained in the All Ages interview. "It's probably a pretty close description, but emo has become kind of a catch phrase. I think people hear the word emo and automatically assume certain things. We play rock n' roll that comes natural to us."
The group's next full-length release, 1999's Maybe I'll Catch Fire, further developed the band's repertoire of emotionally scathing songs, most of them penned by Skiba. In "Radio," the song's alcoholic protagonist wished a suicidal demise for his lover, while "Maybe I'll Catch Fire" surveyed a mindset of alienation and depression. Like many songs on the first album, both tracks made references to suicide and self-mutilation, although the band insisted that airing such feelings was therapeutic for themselves and their audience. "We definitely like to write songs about darker things, but we like to think of it as a celebration of the evil ideas that run through everybody's head," Skiba explained to Allison Stewart in the Chicago Tribune. In another profile with the Punk Interviews website, Skiba further defined his commitment to emo-core and its importance to the audience: "It's punk music, but with the same purpose like blues. You sing about it, so you don't have to think about it anymore." Fans agreed that the band produced music with powerful emotional content; a review of Maybe I'll Catch Fire on the HARS online magazine website warned, "If you are brokenhearted then please listen to this album with caution because you may feel an urge to stab yourself with the nearest sharp object."
With two full-length albums and a compilation of singles releases, The Alkaline Trio, issued on Asian Man Records in 2000, the band seemed poised to join the crossover success of emo-influenced punk bands such as Blink 182, Green Day, and Offspring. The band even toured as the opening act for Blink 182 on its 2001 tour, a decision that worried some of its fans who equated mainstream success with selling out. When the group announced it had signed a new deal with independent label Vagrant Records, its members had to go on the defensive regarding their decision to leave Asian Man Records. Respected for its integrity of pricing its products almost at-cost, Asian Man was a small, do-it-yourself-run label operating out of its founder's garage. While the setup was fitting for groups in the garage-band league, by 2001 Alkaline Trio had grown too popular to remain with the label. According to all involved, the departure for Vagrant was an amicable one, and the band looked forward to a wider distribution network for its releases. Skiba told Line and Ink, "Our main complaint about our last couple of records is that people can't find them.... I'm sure that there'll be a pretty good push behind our stuff [by Vagrant] to make it available to as many people as we can without sacrificing any of our artistic freedom or any of the other anti-perks that major labels have."
Although the Alkaline Trio's first Vagrant release, 2001's From Here to Infirmary, contained some brighter melodies, it retained the dark lyrics that had become the band's trademark. Typical subject matter included the anxiety of a trip to a psychiatrist in "Take Lots with Alcohol" and the alienation of "Crawl," which included the decidedly anti-romantic lines, "Got a taste of you, threw up all night/I got more sick with every sour, second-rate kiss." For all the nihilism, however, From Here to Infirmary was the group's most successful outing yet. Mainstream publications now took notice, with Rolling Stone hailing the album's "effortless hooks and Skiba's hysterical lyrics." A Los Angeles Times concert review welcomed the band's latest offering as a necessary jolt to pop-punk music. With "a depth of feeling and musical ideas that could propel a stagnant genre forward," the review also compared the band to the Clash and Skiba's stage and song writing presence to the Replacements' Paul Westerberg. While these were heady tributes to a band whose remaining founding member had yet to turn 25 years old, the Alkaline Trio's devoted fan base would doubtless agree.
In 2001, Alkaline Trio completed its duties as an opening act for Blink 182 and continued on the road for a series of concerts with other Vagrant Records bands, including Saves the Day, Dashboard Confessional, and No Motiv. The group also considered its future as an increasingly MTV-friendly act and the impact of widespread success on its music. "But the way I look at it," Skiba told Line and Ink, "we're doing it independently and more importantly by our standards. We want as many people to get our music as possible, and I would be lying if I said that we didn't want to be a huge band."
by Timothy Borden
Alkaline Trio's Career
Formed group in Chicago, IL, 1996; released first full-length album, Godd**nit!, 1998; released Maybe I'll Catch Fire, 2000; released third album, From Here to Infirmary, 2001.
- Selected discography
- For Your Lungs Only (EP), Asian Man, 1998.
- Godd**nit! Asian Man, 1998.
- I Lied My Face Off (EP), Asian Man, 1999.
- Maybe I'll Catch Fire Asian Man, 1999.
- The Alkaline Trio Asian Man, 2000.
- (Contributor) Living Tomorrow Today: A Benefit for Ty Cambra Asian Man, 2001.
- From Here to Infirmary Vagrant, 2001.
- Billboard, May 26, 2001, p. 53.
- Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2001.
- Rolling Stone, June 7, 2001.
- Alkaline Trio Official Website, http://www.alkalinetrio.com (June 25, 2001).
- Asian Man Records, http://www.asianmanrecords.com (June 26, 2001).
- HARS, http://www.happyasrawsewage.com/detailreview.asp?Id=164 (June 26, 2001).
- Line and Ink, http://www.lineandink.indiegroup.com/AK3.html (June 25, 2001).
- Punk International, http://www.punkinternational.com/alkalinetrio1.html (June 26, 2001).
- Punk Interviews, http://www.acornweb.com/punk/interviews/alkalinetrio3.html (June 26, 2001).
- Vagrant Records, http://www.vagrant.com (June 25, 2001).
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