Death, blood, gore and booze: These are the prime subjects addressed by Alkaline Trio, the Chicago powerhouse which has been exploring the dark side of pop-punk since 1996. The group's sixth studio album, Agony & Irony, was released in July, just a few scant months after the tenth-anniversary reissue of its seminal debut, Goddamnit. We caught up with drummer Derek Grant, who, despite the pessimistic and cynical nature of his band's sinister songcraft, has a lot to celebrate.
Ryan Wasoba: Coming out of 2005's Crimson into this year's Agony & Irony, what were you trying to accomplish?
Derek Grant: We wanted to strip things down a bit, get back to basics. With Crimson we explored a lot of avenues using different types of instrumentation. We did a lot of string arrangements and wrote songs around piano parts and used drum loops and stuff like that, which was a lot of fun to do but I think we wanted to get back to concentrating on the songs themselves and keeping them as basic as we could. So we essentially just wanted to make a rock record.
A lot of the press around Agony & Irony refers to it as a return to form of the older, Asian Man Records-era Alkaline Trio records. How do you feel about that?
I think that's great. It's not something that was intentional. That last bit of touring we did before we took a break and started writing Agony & Irony was sort of a retrospective tour to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first album. So we were playing a lot of old songs, a lot of which the band had never played live before, and a lot of which the band had not played in many many years. Reconnecting with that material and seeing the impact that it has on people probably subconsciously worked its way into the writing for the album. And I don't think [Irony] sounds anything like the early albums, but there are some common elements. Lyrically, it's a lot more personal, whereas on Crimson there was a lot more storytelling and third-person perspective. On this, it's a lot closer to home.
So with the tenth-anniversary reissue of Goddamnit and the subsequent tour, was it weird celebrating an album that you weren't originally a part of?
No, not at all. That was my favorite Alkaline Trio record — so prior to joining the band I was a fan, and I still am a fan. Being able to play that stuff, it's a lot of fun for me. And I have the utmost respect and look up to Glenn [Porter], who played drums on those first two records.
Around the time you joined the band for 2003's Good Mourning, Alkaline Trio kind of became less vulnerable and evolved into a powerful, confident rock band. Is that something that was happening anyway or something that resulted from your presence?
It's something that was set in motion when Mike [Felumlee] joined the band. The school that he came from, he used to play drums in the Smoking Popes, who were an amazing band, great songwriters and musically very straightforward. Just really solid, tight pop songs. So I think his influence kind of changed the course of the band's sound. Plus Matt [Skiba] and Dan [Andriano], who are the primary songwriters in the band were really refining their craft, and I think they were trying to figure out how to write pop songs as opposed to these meandering, really overtly long punk songs.
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