Ancient Sekrets

29 June 2012 | 11:15 am | Daniel Cribb

‘I don’t wanna just go out there wearing a t-shirt, I wanna go out there dressed like a total freak,’ and that’s what we did.”

Brewing in the mind of Alkaline Trio vocalist/guitarist Matt Skiba was a compilation of catchy, interesting and unique songs long in the works. And while he could have injected them into the next Alkaline Trio album, he found their style and groove rendered them perfect for a solo project – something that he always had an urge to pursue, as evident with his 2010 Demos LP and acoustic split with Kevin Second in '02. The songs percolating inside his head finally surfaced this year under the pseudonym of Matt Skiba & The Sekrets and their debut album Babylon.

Before entering the studio, he enlisted the likes of AFI's Hunter Burgan on bass and drummer Jarrod Alexander of My Chemical Romance. “It was a little chaotic,” Skiba recalls long days in the studio with his producer. “I had a lot more songs than what appears on the record. We just went through and started slashing them as the record took shape. The record isn't really a concept record, but it definitely has this rhythm to it. Going into it I didn't know what that rhythm was going to be, and I was the only one in the studio with the producer, so it was rather daunting start to finish,” he admits.

“I was really influenced by the Southern Gothic movement and I had just finished this book Blood Meridian for like the third time, one of my favourite books of all time. I'm a huge fan of Adam Ant, I'm a huge fan of the Cult… back in the day, Ian Astbury of the Cult wore a lot of feather and paint and stuff. It was just something I wanted to do. I was like 'I don't wanna just go out there wearing a t-shirt, I wanna go out there dressed like a total freak,' and that's what we did.”

So with a ten track album and performance concept locked and loaded, it was time to hit the road. The only problem: there was no band to back Skiba at this point, as Burgan and Alexander were initially just studio members. Thus Skiba made some calls, sent some emails and The Sekrets finally materialized for a live setting. “It was all people that I was fans of from their previous bands. Nathan Grice, he was playing lead guitar in Heaven with me. Jarrod played on the record; he joined My Chemical Romance right before he recorded the [Sekrets'] drums. Hunter I've been friends with for years and I've always like AFI's later stuff and I really dig his playing – he's a really talented guy and a good friend. And Leslie Hardy [keys], I'm just a huge Murder City Devils fan. I'd never really hung out with her or met her at all before. So I just asked her, she said yes and that was that.”

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But fast-forward a week after the band's first jam, to just after their live debut at the Metro in Chicago, and Skiba's Twitter reads: “Sorry to all who came to the Metro tonight and felt let down. It won't happen again....thank you all. xo M.” What went wrong? “The first show was a fuckin' disaster, as you know. But then things progressively got better. I mean, we talked about going home. I got completely fucked up and bummed everybody out, and luckily the band that I play with was very supportive. They kind of knew what I was going through and they cut me some serious slack, because that first show was just fucking god awful. I'm glad that we stuck it out because by the time we were on to the east coast we were really starting to catch our groove.

“The only thing I can do about that is just keep firing away and hopefully let that embarrassing evening fade into the annals of punk rock history. I don't know who that guy was – I basically just totally hijacked myself with drugs and booze and bottomed out in front of a lot of people. But I'm doing great, man. I'm feeling good. I cleaned my system out and I feel like me again. So it was a dangerous and weird night and I definitely don't feel good about it, but I'm starting to get to the point where I'm like, 'Okay, that sucked. Moving on.' We've just got to keep our head in the game and throw down at every show.”

Skiba's Twitter apology to fans justifying that illness – of which he was still clearly under attack from during our conversation – and nerves got the best of him and didn't go down too well with some punters. While some fans lashed back – he did initially claim to be “pretty sober” that night – his Tweet did hold merit. “I wanted to do my own thing, and I hired people out and we all became a band together a week before we started the tour, which was kind of daunting and pretty nerve-racking. I wish I could go back and re-do Chicago the way that we did Brooklyn and Boston, those shows were really good… It still is [daunting] when we go up on stage, but we're starting to get to the point where we're a 'band' and starting to learn how to own it.”

Comparing Matt Skiba & The Sekrets to Alkaline Trio, it's easy to see their main differences. Playing together for years, Alkaline Trio learnt how to “own it” years ago, but also the dynamics of how things operate within each unit is obviously altered. “With Alkaline Trio, it's a team. With the Sekrets it was just me, until I employed Jarrod – I shouldn't say employed, it's such a sterile word. I should say 'Since I asked everyone to play with me'. Jarrod and Hunter are the only ones who played on the album, but, umm, wait, what was the question? I just trailed off,” he laughs. “With the Sekrets, until Jarrod and Hunter came in it was just me in there in the studio with the producer. With the Trio we take simple ideas and we turn them into Alkaline Trio song, all three of us.”

Clearly tired of being asked about Alkaline Trio when trying to promote his new band, Skiba is almost hesitant to give a quick update on the Trio, but does confirm that they are booked into The Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins this October to record their ninth studio album with Bill Stevenson of the Descendents. But does this mean that Matt Skiba & The Sekrets is only a one record, one tour kind of project? “We shall see… We shall see,” he answers, holding a cheeky tone. “I'm taking it as it comes.”