The VICE Interview: Matt Skiba
The Alkaline Trio and Blink-182 member on taking acid and how he lives completely without fear.
This is the VICE Interview. Each week we ask a different famous and/or interesting person the same set of questions in a bid to peek deep into their psyche.
When a teenage Matt Skiba ditched his job as a bike messenger, he began to focus on crafting the blunt, gory metaphors that would soundtrack many emo teens' miserable adolescences. By the release in 2001 of From Here to Infirmary, his band, Alkaline Trio, were being widely hailed for making death, despair and heartbreak a catchy proposition. Now, 15 years on, they're often up there in lists of the best punk-rock bands of the 21st century.
In 2015, Skiba joined Blink-182 as Tom DeLonge's replacement and wrote their new album California with them. While Blink were over in London recently, we spoke to Skiba about acid, transcendental meditation and living a life completely without fear.
VICE: What memory from school stands out to you stronger than anything else?
Matt Skiba: I had this really bad habit of punching people in class. I used to take a lot of acid. There was this one time as a sophomore in high school, I was in art class tripping my balls off and I saw this kid take the American flag and throw it on the ground, and I charged over the desk and just started beating the shit out of him. Both my parents were Vietnam veterans – they were medical people. My mum was a nurse and there was a TV show in the States about her. She doesn't talk about the war; they're leftist, very beautiful, peaceful, artistic. I'm so blessed I still have my folks. They're still together – been together for 50 years and they're my favourite people in the world – so when I saw that flag hit the ground I took it so personally. The principal didn't think it was that funny, nor did my parents, but I don't think they realised I was on acid at the time.
What was your first email address?
My first email address is the same one I have now. But I'll refrain from sharing my email address because I never check it. I'm 40 years old, so I remember when somebody was explaining email I was in my early twenties. I would go on tour and everybody would share a code for the pay phones because we didn't have cell phones. And I went to art school before there were computers in the classroom. We did everything cut-and-paste.
What would your parents have preferred you to do for a career?
Well, I dropped out of arts school because I didn't wanna stare at a computer all day – I get headaches. I said, "I'm gonna follow this punk rock dream that I have and piss my dad off!" Lucky he's a wonderful guy and he's really proud now, but, of course, when your kid says, "I'm going to drop out of school and go on a tour with my rock band!" they're like, "What? That's never going to work!"
What was your worst phase?
I was always a punk rock skate kid from a very young age. I never had a mullet, though. I think my worst would be when I was doing a lot of drinking. A lot of drinking, a lot of drugs and I was going through some difficult things in my personal life and not handling them very well at all, so I'm really glad to be sitting here today. I have some friends that didn't make it, so I'm very blessed that I made it through those stormy waters, and I think I'm a stronger person for it. I had to do that, and I'm glad nothing really terrible happened.
How many people do you think have been in love with you?
I can only say the people that I've been in love with and when it's been reciprocal, and that's three people. It takes two to tango. I might have some dude in the tree over there in binoculars that's in love with me but I don't know about it.
How many books have you read in the last year?
I'm a bookworm, so I read about a book a month. The last great book I read, actually, Mark [Hoppus] gave to me. There's this writer called Erik Larson that we both love, and he wrote Devil in the White City. It's all non-fiction, and Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are making the film version of it. It's about the first serial killer in America. Read it, do yourself a favour.
I have an iPad that I'll get books on when I'm travelling, but every room in my house is filled with books. I collected records for a long time, and I had to sell a bunch of them to make room for more books on the shelf, and I have a collection of antique books and ones that are signed by authors to me. I'm a romantic, and although I feel like a kid and still behave like one a lot of the time, I just like things that stand the test of time, and I think books do that.
When in your life have you been truly overcome by fear?
Never, really. Fear is sort of like jealousy. It's an unnecessary emotion. There's the old saying that there's nothing to fear but fear itself, and it's true. Fear is a product of ego, which is absolutely unnecessary, and I think that truly becoming a man or a woman, or whatever – becoming a better human is shedding as much of that ego as you can.
I remember when I was married, my ex-wife would read all these crappy magazines, and one of them had this quiz about fear. Are you afraid or sharks? Are you afraid of heights? Are you afraid of normal things that people are afraid of? And I said no to every single thing, and at the end of this survey it said, "If you have said no to every single thing, you're a liar," and I can honestly tell you that I'm not lying. I'm not scared of anything and I've not really been, especially since I started doing transcendental meditation. I started doing it for the same reason as David Lynch. He said it helped him so much with his art. I was already kind of a fearless kid, always went my own way and made my own choices, but now more than ever, what's there to be afraid of? There's nothing. I'm prepared, but I'm not afraid.
Do you believe in any conspiracy theories?
I do. I think the really smart conspiracies are the ones that explain "this is why this is plausible", not "this is what happened". If it makes sense and if it's possible, I'd investigate it. A lot of the books that I have are about WWII and the Wonder Weapons – or the "Wunderwaffes", as the Germans call them. I have a photo of one – I could show you on my phone. Is it extra terrestrial? I don't know, but it's there! There are flying machines that land in the ocean, I've seen it! As far as, like, the moon landing... did we go there? I believe so. Is it everything that we're told? I don't think so.
What would be your last meal?
My last meal would be from Crossroads, which is a restaurant in Los Angeles that Travis Barker is a partner in, and it is the best food in the world. I've been vegetarian for so long and this is sort of like a Mediterranean vegan fusion thing. The chef, Tyrone, is a fucking genius. He cooks for Oprah, he's probably cooked for the Queen, and he's like one of the most in-demand chefs, especially now that veganism is so huge.
Do you ever cry at films or TV shows?
All the time. I've caught myself crying at the dumbest shit, but I'm a pretty emotional person – in a healthy way, I think. I don't sit around crying about negative things, but beauty is something that will bring tears to my eyes. You know, like seeing human kindness and real beauty is something that I like seeing... I'm getting choked up now thinking about it.
If you had to give up sex or kissing, which would it be?
Oh, Jesus. I wouldn't have anything to live for! I really enjoy both. I don't know – I can't answer that question. I think it's such a natural human thing. I couldn't live without either. But if I had to, I guess if you grow old with someone, there's going to come a time when your body shuts down. Sexually, you're going to stop working. So I guess I'd say sex, but god, I never thought I would say that in my whole life!
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