By Ashley Zimmerman
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Alkaline Trio has embodied the spirit of independent punk since its aggro 1998 debut, Goddamnit! Led by charismatic, fury-filled vocalist Matt Skiba, the group is one of the cornerstones of an incestuous Chicago hardcore and punk scene that includes the Smoking Popes and the Lawrence Arms. The trio's seventh studio album, This Addiction, takes the project further by releasing it on a new imprint, Heart & Skull, via Epitaph. The album has sold briskly since its February release, and straightforward songwriting, like the blistering title track and catchy Misfits salute "Dine, Dine My Darling," has kept longtime fans engaged.
Drummer Derek Grant joined singer-guitarist Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano in 2001 after spending the mid-'90s in the Suicide Machines and has been in demand for fill-ins with groups like the Vandals ever since. When not working on Trio material, Grant has experimented with Prince-inspired funk and is amassing roots-rock material under the name D. Grant.
In anticipation of Tuesday's show at Revolution with Cursive, New Times spoke to Grant about the new label, inserting some brass on the new album, and, natch, Dungeons & Dragons.
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New Times: It's got to be a blessing and a curse to have This Addiction called a "return to form."
Grant: I think it's accurate in some ways. The way we went about recording and writing was reminiscent of the way the band did things in its earliest years. There's some validity to that phrase. There were certain factors involved: recording in Chicago, recording in the studio the band used to work at with the engineer that the band used to work with.
Writing the songs on tour and just trying to make a stripped-down album, just trying to keep things pretty simple – all of that lends itself to a "back to basics" kind of approach.
How did "Lead Poisoning" end up with a trumpet solo?
Matt wrote the song and had that idea in mind the whole time. That song's influenced by an old Southern California punk band called Suburban Lawns. It sounded really good, but it needed something in that part. He was like, let's get somebody in here to play trumpet for the melody he was hearing in his head. We've never been the kind of band to shy away from doing stuff if it's good for the song.
How did it feel to have This Addiction debut at number 11 on the Billboard 200?
It's pretty amazing. We just hope that people will enjoy it... especially with people downloading stuff. The album leaked a month before it came out. You never know how that stuff's going to affect the sales figures or whatever. If you become obsessed with that and your goal is to sell a lot of records, you're just going to be disappointed.
Who are your favorite Epitaph label mates now?
We're all fans of a lot of the bands that have been on Epitaph over the years. I did hear that the last Every Time I Die record came out on Epitaph, and I like those guys a lot.
How has the tour with Cursive gone?
Those guys are great. Our bands have been around for a long time, but we'd never really crossed paths. It's cool to be able to tour with them and hang out. They like to play Dungeons & Dragons, and they come to me and ask questions about how to play. They're kind of new to it, I guess. I used to play Dungeons & Dragons when I was younger. There'll be some more interesting anecdotes by the end of the tour.
What are your plans for future releases on Heart & Skull?
Right now, it's sort of in its infancy. It's safe to say that we'll see solo releases under Heart & Skull at some point. We're not opposed to releasing music from friends of ours. By the same token, we're not interested in being "label executives" or getting into the business side of things. We don't really have time to do that.
Will there be any more funk-inspired recordings?
I still work on some follow-up songs. That was a while ago. I wanted to work on my songwriting, and that was a good exercise in trying to write in a particular genre, outside of the world I grew up in. It was a lot of fun, but I've been trying to write more personal songs. I made a MySpace page [myspace.com/dgrantsolo] just for that stuff. They're a bit more acoustic. I don't know if they'd be considered folk or countryish, in that vein.
In any case, it's totally different influences than the stuff you play in Alkaline Trio.
Alkaline Trio isn't always the best outlet for some of those influences. That's why we all do solo things. The band is the priority and something we all pour ourselves into. When inspiration is there, we record these other songs too.