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Hall Of Fame: Alkaline Trio - Good Mourning

Andy Ritchie
Andy Ritchie 30 July 2014 at 11.48

With ’03’s ‘Good Mourning’, Alkaline Trio had stepped out of the Chicago underground and become one of punk rock’s greatest mainstream prospects. For the first time online, read the hectic story of its creation, told by the band themselves.

This feature originally appeared in Issue 160 of Rock Sound (May 2012)


RELEASED: May 12, 2003
LABEL: Vagrant
PRODUCER: Joe Mcgrath
PERSONNEL: Matt Skiba (vocals, guitar), Dan Andriano (vocals, bass), Derek Grant (drums)
ARTWORK: Keath Moon & Alkaline Trio

Every good record has a story, and ‘Good Mourning’’s is particularly colourful. Their second album for Vagrant, it saw Alkaline Trio not only welcoming a new drummer into the fold (for the third album running), but it also saw frontman Matt Skiba penning lyrics at his lowest ebb…

Derek Grant (drums): “Dan and I had known each other for a long time from running into each other on the road. Word started getting around that Alkaline Trio might be looking for a new drummer and I get a phone call from their manager and it kind of went from there. They invited me to come to Chicago – this was in 2001 – to rehearse. I guess it was sort of like an audition, but we never looked back.”

Dan Andriano (vocals, bass): “Once Derek came to Chicago, that was it. He’s still probably the best drummer I’ve ever heard. He could play the old stuff like Glenn [Porter] played it, he could play the stuff that Mike [Felumlee] played the way he played it, then added his own touches in such a cool way. It was perfect.”

Derek Grant: “I had such an admiration and respect for the band, that I didn’t want to change the formula. We started writing songs and I was writing my drum parts and occasionally changing a couple of things around, but I was really apprehensive about interjecting too much, because I was afraid to paint this band that I was this fan of.”

Matt Skiba (vocals, guitar): “The time between ‘From Here To Infirmary’ and ‘Good Mourning’ is a little fuzzy. I remember recording ‘Good Mourning’ quite well, I wrote most of that record in my bedroom at the time up in Oakland. I was having a great time up there, but when I flew down [to LA] to actually record the album, I didn’t know anyone, I had just gone through some really difficult personal issues I was having that eventually lead to health problems that made the recording quite difficult. I don’t take any of it back, but it certainly wasn’t easy for me.”

Dan Andriano: “We were no strangers to exploring the darker side of humanity and what people are capable of, and at that point I think Matt was just really going for it. He was trying to test himself to see how dark he could take it. He was drawing from experience to get there, but I think he was even just trying to push himself into that darker place.”

Matt Skiba: “[‘Good Mourning’] wasn’t written from a very happy place at all. It was a culmination of things. It wasn’t just one thing. People say that everything happens in threes; with this, it was happening in sixes. My roommate at the time tried to commit suicide, which was really rough on me. We’re still very close and he’s in a much better place now, but you know… just when you thought you were done getting kicked, someone lays another blow into you.”

Armed with a batch of their darkest songs yet, the Trio headed to Cellos Studios in LA to record under the watchful eyes of the late, the great Jerry Finn. But as Skiba battled with acid reflux throughout the recording, one thing became apparent very quickly: here they were with their best record to date, and their frontman was without a voice.

Wayne Pighini (Vagrant Records Product Manager Of General Marketing): “Before they went into the studio, I flew out to Chicago and hung out with them for a couple of days. We took them to dinner, met their manager and got to know them a little bit. We knew they were going to be a huge priority for the company. We believed in the band, and that the opportunity in front of them was great and that the label would be as focused as ever.”

Dan Andriano: “When we got out there and started working with Jerry, he didn’t want to put any pressure on us. At the same time, he knew that we were trying to make a big record on a small budget. From a producer’s standpoint, that’s not an easy thing to do. This is back when bands were spending eight months making a fucking rock ‘n’ roll record, spending crazy amounts of money.” 

Derek Grant: “[Jerry] was working on another album at the time, so he was dividing his time between the two recording sessions. Joe McGrath, who was just slated to be the engineer for the record, ended up becoming more of a day-to-day producer in the studio. We made a lot of decisions on songs with him, and then Jerry would come in when he could and oversee things.” 

Joe McGrath (producer): “Matt was having throat issues that didn’t come to light until we started doing vocals. So that took longer than we had anticipated. It was especially difficult for Matt, who has this great voice that was suddenly giving him trouble.”

Matt Skiba: “I’m pretty sure that when people are stressed out and they’re sick with something, the more you worry about it, the worse it gets. I wasn’t thinking so much of the future, I just wanted to finish the record. We were in Hollywood, California making a rock record with Jerry Finn, which was a dream come true, and I was blowing it.”

Derek Grant: “There was a very real threat that we weren’t going to be able to continue as a band, at least in the way that it was.” 

Matt Skiba: “[The drink] was a big part of it. I was unhappy which led to self-medication, which led to my health problems. It wasn’t the drinking alone but that was definitely a huge part of it. I remember both [Joe and Jerry] calling me ‘Little Fighter’. As silly as that sounds, it was actually really encouraging and helped keep me positive. I would be in the studio on the verge of tears due to the frustration of spending all morning at the hospital, then going to take voice lessons for two hours to try and get the songs out of my throat. And then I would go in there to sing and I couldn’t do it.”

Derek Grant: “Spending the amount of time that we spent on that record – it was a very laboured process and there were a lot of obstacles to overcome. I think it ultimately brought us closer together as friends and solidified our roles as musicians in the band.”

And so, after an intense few months that would have destroyed bands of weaker spirits, ‘Good Mourning’ was complete. Since its release in May ’03, it has become the band’s best-selling and best-loved release among fans. But did it propel them to the next level that their label, their fans and the world at large had hoped for?

Wayne Pighini: “We were really confident going into the first week of release that we had set up the record fantastically, that everything was coming into place, the tours were selling out… we could feel the heat building. When the first week sales came out and we debuted as high as we debuted, everybody was super happy. We started to realise we could potentially do 40,000 in the first week. When we first started, we never in a million years thought that was possible.”

Matt Skiba: “‘Good Mourning’ definitely stands out in my mind as a turning point for me as a musician and for Alkaline Trio as a band. It was after that experience that I strove to try and do better. It was very much a catalyst in my life as far as kind of getting my shit together goes.”

Joe McGrath: “I definitely had high hopes. I was pleased that it did well, but wasn’t happy that it didn’t do as well as it should have at the same time. I thought that it should have been a bigger hit than it was.”

Wayne Pighini: “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get the traction going at radio and that was a slight disappointment. We were never able to cross over into a mainstream audience. Did the record end up doing great? Yes. Do we think it could have done a little better? Yes. Is that because they didn’t deliver a great record? No. It’s because getting records played on the radio in the US makes you want to smash your head into a brick wall.”

Dan Andriano: “It was the most exciting time. Everything around the corner was a surprise. We were still not sure if we were going back to playing in basements, or end up going on a stadium tour. We were still very eager to get out, make things bigger and make things happen.”

Derek Grant: “I’m really glad that people enjoy it as much as they do. The memories attached to working on those songs made us shy away from playing them for a few years. At some point – only two or three years ago – we started to reintroduce them into the set and it felt really good. It felt like we had finally found the right place for them, so many years on when we’re all in different places in our lives.”

By Andy Biersack, Black Veil Brides

“When I was 13 years old, I picked up my first Alkaline Trio album, ‘Good Mourning’. Previously I had been obsessed with the visual and sonic nature of rock ‘n’ roll; with ‘Good Mourning’, [I gained] a deep interest in the lyrical side of rock. Never before had I listened to a band that had such lyrics - lyrics that I connected with (though as an adult I now see just how beautiful that truly was; that songs written about heavy drug use or alcohol abuse were crafted in a way that was easy for a 13-year-old to interpret and feel as if they were written about anything and everything I was experiencing at the time.)

I sat and listened to ‘Good Mourning’ about 30 times in a row. I wanted to know everything about the album that had suddenly changed my life. I went out and bought the back catalogue – everything the ‘Trio had ever released. I wanted to know every lyric and most importantly, I wanted to continue to connect with something that felt larger than myself. This experience is what led me to become the musician that I am. Whether you love or hate Black Veil Brides, we wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for this brilliant punk rock band from Chicago.”

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