Alkaline Trio's Dan Andriano Discusses 15 Years as a Band, Song Meanings, and Violent Femmes

To celebrate 15 years as a band, Alkaline Trio released a semi-acoustic greatest hits album called Damnesia earlier this month, which features a couple new songs from the band and a Violent Femmes cover.

Alkaline Trio is scheduled to play at The Nile Theater on Sunday, July 24 with fellow Chicagoans, The Smoking Popes.

We caught up with Dan Andriano to discuss the history of Alkaline Trio, the band's feelings about the band's classic album Goddamnit and some of his favorite musicians.
You can check out the interview and his explanation of "The American Scream" and "Every Thug Needs a Lady" after the jump.

Up on the Sun: How's the tour going so far?

Dan Andriano: It's getting really good these last few days.I still feel like we're just getting started.

Do you have any plans to check out Comicon while you're in San Diego?

I would, but I don't think I have any way to get in there. I know it's a big deal. I'm not sure how close I am to that, but I was just thinking about that actually a few minutes ago. I should maybe look into the possibility of going.

I'm sure you'll see some interesting characters in San Diego tonight at any rate.

That's why I would like to go. I'm not super into comic books first of all, but I like cartoons and Star Wars. There's a lot of that going on down there, right? I think it would be fun to check it out.

You guys are always good about playing in Phoenix -- thank you for that -- what do you like to do here in your downtime?

Personally, I like to run in super hot weather [laughs]. I like to see how hot I can get before I feel like I'm going to pass out in the Phoenix heat. We're usually over by the Marquee Theatre, there's not a ton of stuff over there to do, so I run along that river there. I think we're playing at The Nile? It should be cool, that will be different.

After you play here, you have two dates scheduled at The Metro in Chicago, the same location you recorded your live DVD. What does The Metro mean to the band?

That's definitely home to the band. It's where the band started having really good-sized shows. Everyone there is always so nice to us. We show up and everything's ready and waiting. They know what to expect from us, we know what to expect from them, it's a really nice relationship we've built with them over the years.

Do you still live in Chicago?

I live in St. Augustine, Florida actually.

Is it difficult to collaborate with band members living in different places?

Sometimes it feels like no big deal, sometimes it feels like a pain in the ass. For the most part, it's good, it's more important for us to be happy and content where we're living when we're not on tour, then it is to all be in the same city. We spend enough time on the road that once we're done, everyone wants to go and be where they're happy. Where I'm happy is at home with my family in St. Augustine right now. I know Matt likes living in LA, and Derek's in Chicago holding the fort down in the home town.

15 years ago, did you expect to be where you are today? What do you think you'd be doing if Alkaline Trio never happened?

I really have no idea. I think about that a lot. I was on a road to who-knows-where-the-hell-my life was gonna go. I really enjoy cooking. I'd like to think I could have went in a culinary direction, but yeah, I don't really know what would be happening. The band and my wife saved me from a directionless lifestyle.

You could have ended up as a chef and a marathon runner for all we know.

Yes. That would have been interesting. Cooking healthy foods. Making distance records for high temperatures.

How would you describe the band's evolution in sound from Goddamnit to Damnesia?

We always do what we're feeling at the time. The band got in some pretty weird directions in terms of instrumentation. The Crimson album was pretty interesting, we tried to get pretty decadent sonically with that record.

With Agony and Irony and This Addiction, I think we went with more of a rock direction. Damnesia's an interesting example because obviously that album sounds completely different. It's all acoustic based with some loops and all kinds of weird stuff going on. We were just trying to remember all the good years w'eve had with that record and re-record some stuff and try and make things interesting.

Why did you include a Violent Femmes cover?

Matt and I used to live together back in the '90s, and we used to play that song around the apartment. We're all big Violent Femmes fans. First of all, that band was pretty important to us growing up. I remember the first time I heard Violent Femmes, it was awesome. I was pretty young and I was pretty amazed. I was like...this is not like anything I've ever heard, these guys sound crazy and they sing about weird shit and it sounds all nice and poppy and folky.

Plus, the first time I ever heard them, I was at a swim meet, I used to be on a swim team, I was like in 7th grade. The cute girls on the swim team were listening to Violent Femmes at the swim meet, so I was down with that too. These cute chicks are into this band and they're weird, and this band is weird and I like this.

Fast forward at least 12 or 13 years and Matt and I are sitting around playing that song in the apartment, just playing songs on guitar and getting weird. I think we actually played that song once at an acoustic show at The Double Door years ago. It was one of the first shows I ever played with Matt right after I joined the band. We did a weird little acoustic set when our drummer was out of town. When we were thinking about what we were going to put on Damnesia, that popped up as a cover song option. We were like, well let's do the song we used to play way back when.

the american scream by user5191738

Would you mind sharing the meaning behind "The American Scream?"

Unfortunately, that's really more of a question for Matt. We recorded it for the original album as a rock song we felt pretty strongly about. It's a sad song, it's a sad time in the world right now in terms of war and politics. I don't want to oversimplify it because I think it's a pretty important song. It brings me back to the simple message that in war nobody wins. There's two sides, there's multiple sides and no matter where you are, people are dying. No matter who you think you're fighting for, someone's probably lying to you, unfortunately.

It's not an anti-troops song. We have a lot of friends in the military that love our band that we've spoken with and corresponded with. We support their believes and appreciate what they do and it just makes it all that much more terrible when you hear about all the bad things that keep going on in the world. That's what I take that song as, but I didn't write it, so its hard for me to really get into.

How will you be performing songs on this tour?

We're trying to do a little bit of everything. I don't want to totally spoil it, but I'm sure a lot of people might know what's been going on. We're doing a rock set, then kinda break it down to some acoustic stuff, and then kinda pepper in more instruments throughout the course of a short acoustic set, then we build it back up to more rock stuff again. We've had special guests join us on a couple songs and it's fun.

Has it been pretty nostalgic to tour with The Smoking Popes?

It's been amazing. The Smoking Popes were the first punk rock band I ever saw. It was the first show I went to that wasn't like a concert. Like...I had been to music concerts before, but I'd never been to a punk rock show. I saw The Smoking Popes in a VFW hall in Elgin, Illinois, where I used to hang out when I was a kid, I think I was like 13 years old. It was amazing, it was so much fun, I just thought they were so cool. They weren't like any of the other bands that played that night. There was something about them. I bought a 7 inch and when I took it home and my dad was like, "What the hell are you buying a record for?" It was weird, I loved it.

Over the years I became a huge fan, and they became a very big influence on me. Being on tour with them now is awesome. It's been so much fun. They're a pretty big band, and a lot of people that are into music love and appreciate what The Popes have done, but a lot of younger people don't really know about them, but they should, and hopefully they will soon. Their whole catalog of music is amazing. As songwriters, they're some of the most talented people I've ever known. I think Josh is one of the best singers I've ever heard. Josh and Eli are two of the best guitarists I've ever seen in my life and they're in the same band. Its pretty incredible.

You guys did the Goddamnit anniversary tour a couple years ago. Was it more fun or exhausting to play the same songs every night?

That was super fun, that record is important to us. To this day, that's the record we think about, I think everyone in the band thinks about that record first. That record was kind of crazy in the way it was made so quickly and how much fun it was, so we always try to remember that. Whenever we go into the studio, we don't forget about how fun it was to make Goddamnit and how easy it seemed. We were playing the whole record, but we would change it up a little bit in terms the songs that we would play after that. That record's only 30 something minutes long. I think if we just played that, people would have been pissed.

Would you consider doing something like that again?

We talked about it. We weren't sure what we should do with this tour with this being the band's 15th anniversary. One of the ideas was to know every one of our albums front to back and for example, tonight, San Diego, no one would know what we were going to play, maybe we would play all Maybe I'll Catch Fire and then tomorrow we're back in LA, and maybe we'd do all of Crimson. You'd never know which record you were gonna get. That was an option, but we decided that seemed like a lot to take on. We went back to focus on playing a little bit from our entire history and then getting into some of the unplugged style things that are on Damnesia.

What are your favorite bands to tour with and who would you like to tour with that you haven't played with before?

Right now, very honestly, The Smoking Popes have been amazing and they're right up there with favorite bands I've been on tour with. Cursive -- we toured with [them] last year. I've always admired that band, I never really knew them until then, so getting to know them was great. The Lawrence Arms are always welcome on our shows and are some of our best friends. As far as bands I'd love to tour with, that's so hard to say, there's so many good bands. I'd love to get out out on the road with some bigger bands like Green Day or Pearl Jam, bands that I admire watching perform. I think would be cool and different.

I absolutely love the song and the title "Every Thug Needs a Lady." What's the story behind that name?

That's actually a hip hop song by...oh this is embarrassing, I can't remember his name. Anyway, the story behind that title was one night my wife and I were sitting around listening to music and getting weird. I think there was a lot of booze involved and we were listening to that hip hop song and having a laugh. It was a good night for us. When I wrote that song about her, I just kinda stole that...oh, it was Ja Rule! Sorry, I was trying to think of the dude. It was a lyric in a Ja Rule song and it's pretty horrible, but we were laughing and dancing and getting weird. When I wrote that song that's why I threw that title on there.

How do you feel about fans getting Alkaline Trio tattoos?

It's amazing, it never gets unexciting for me. It blows me away even to this day that people do that for us, they do it for themselves, but they do it for us as well. Its crazy, its such an amazing thing to do. Its hard to explain, its hard to put it into words, its awesome.

Both Mike Park and Brendan Kelly recently became parents. Does it seem like a punk rock family is sprouting up around you?

People get older, they fall in love, they're with someone they want to be with and that's what happened. Brendan is a great father to both of his kids. Mike Park is a great father to both of his kids. It's fun to see my friends and their kids. Me and my wife and daughter were up in Chicago the last holiday season and getting my daughter together with Brendan's kids was pretty amazing. My daughter and his son aren't too far apart in age. She's a little older than him, but they're really cute together and it's just fun to see that kind of thing. It's so weird.

You have a solo project called The Emergency Room, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Yes, Dan Andriano is The Emergency Room. It's just something I wanted to do. I've had these songs, some of them I've had for years, some of them are brand new. I recorded the whole thing myself, I wanted an outlet for different kinds of stuff. Eventually, I want to turn it into a full band, but right now I just got time to do it myself. I'll be doing some shows, the record comes out August 9, it's called Hurricane Season and that's gonna be on Asian Man Records.

I'm gonna be doing some shows around the southeast in September, then I'm going overseas with some really good friends for a thing called The Revival Tour. I'm gonna try to get out west, I've never played shows out on the western half of the states. I'd love to come to Arizona for sure.

I must ask- do you think The Falcon or Slapstick will do anything in the future?

Slapstick just played in San Francisco. We did the Asian Man Records anniversary party, which was fun, it was really cool to see those guys again. The Falcon is kind of a revolving door misfit cast of characters and I'm not sure if I'll ever do anything with it again, hopefully I will. The Falcon is all about Brendan and whatever he's got going on at the time. It's whenever we're in the same place at the same time, it would cool to be part of it again.

What have you been listening to lately?

I'm really into this Swedish folk singer who goes by The Tallest Man on Earth. I think he put out an EP this year. That guy is one of the best guitar players I've ever heard, very simple, very beautiful songs.

I'm amazed at how much he sounds like Bob Dylan.

I thought that the first couple times I ever heard him, but I don't even hear that anymore, honestly. I hear the influence. When I first put it on I was like, 'oh that sounds like Bob Dylan,' but now I really feel like its more of his own thing than I thought at first.

Aside from The Emergency Room upcoming album and tour, do you have any big future plans?

I'm gonna have my hands full for awhile.

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum