Matt Skiba, lead singer and guitarist for Chicago punk purists Alkaline Trio, feels that there are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding Satanism, and, as a longtime member of Anton LaVey's Church of Satan, can tell you that it's not all fire, brimstone and threats of eternal damnation.
Really, the faith's simply about theatrics, how to comport yourself when you're out and about (for instance, one of the church's Ten Commandment-like mandates forbids followers from bothering others in open territory, but "if someone bothers you, ask him to stop — if he does not stop, destroy him") and maintaining a cool, sinister image. And, doggonit, it's "really fun," Skiba explained.
But try telling that to some of the band's fans.
"We've had kids come to our shows and ask us why we hate Jesus," Skiba said. "It's like, 'Well, we don't hate Jesus at all. We just think religion is silly, and it's a really popular thing, but that doesn't mean we have to agree with it. Nothing against what people believe. If it gets you through your day, that's fine. I think for us — and for a lot of people in the Church of Satan — we definitely like ruffling people's feathers and poking fun at organized religion a little bit. Kids are sometimes bummed, but that's sort of the intention."
Some of the folks over at Pepperdine University's Christian college radio station have taken issue not only with Skiba and drummer Derek Grant's Satanist leanings (bassist Dan Adriano does not practice the religion) but also the original title for the band's newest disc — which hit stores this week.
"There was a time before we finished [Crimson] that we were going to call it Church and Destroy," Skiba explained. "Pepperdine University has a college radio station that I guess had played our stuff in the past, but they said that they would definitely not be playing our [next] record if we called it Church and Destroy. We were kind of half-kidding about the title because we just thought it was funny, and they were bummed out about it, which made us want to call it Church and Destroy that much more. But it just didn't really fit the record."
While Skiba says his and Grant's beliefs haven't shaped the band's sound at all over the last seven years, or the songs on Crimson, produced by Jerry Finn (Green Day, Blink-182), Satanism has certainly played a role in the group's gothic aesthetic — one Alkaline Trio co-opted from Brit-punk legends the Damned, and one that punk's current crop of eye-makeup-wearing acts, like AFI, Good Charlotte and My Chemical Romance, bit from the Trio.
"The Church of Satan was something, aesthetically, that we were always really fascinated with and wanted to emulate," he said. "I think it's a good look. I think we're pretty sharp dressers and, to see some of the more popular bands today maybe biting our style a little bit, at least it's good bands doing it. If anything, it's flattering and, in some ways, it makes our job a little more interesting. We have to kind of, I guess, reinvent our style a little bit. We've been wearing black and red clothes and eyeliner for years and there's maybe some bands that are just starting to do that. We just have to keep looking for new duds."
This fall, Alkaline Trio will be hitting the road in support of Crimson, the band's sixth album and its follow-up to 2003's Good Mourning, with My Chemical Romance; no word yet on dates, venues or potential city stops yet. First though, Alkaline Trio will head out in mid-June for a monthlong tour with support acts Rufio and Thieves Like Us (featuring members of F-Minus) on the first half of the run, and Rise Against and Death by Stereo on the latter half.
Skiba says the band is perhaps more satisfied with Crimson than any of its previous albums. The LP combines elements from Alkaline Trio's earliest work with some never-before-heard, experimental components. One of the tracks, "Sadie," was inspired by Manson family member Sadie Mae Glutz, while the case of the West Memphis Three served as the catalyst for "Prevent This Tragedy."
In the end, though, Skiba says there's no need to fear the Trio. In fact, he likens the Church of Satan, and how he became an active constituent, to punk music in general.
"My attraction to the Church of Satan ... is the same thing that initially attracted me to punk rock," he said. "It was something that wasn't very entirely popular, and it was sort of like the adversary to mainstream culture and beliefs."