The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.
The fan: As the guitarist-vocalist of Alkaline Trio for nearly 20 years, Matt Skiba has had his fair share of adventures. During the band’s existence he’s leaped from indie labels to majors, started side projects, and most recently taken up a spot in Blink-182 after Tom Delonge’s departure. Through it all Skiba has maintained outside passions, all of which are high-risk, high-reward endeavors. In advance of the June 2 release of Kuts, Skiba’s second solo album with his backing band The Sekrets, The A.V. Club talked to him about bicycle motocross, better known as BMX. It’s an interest that took root in Skiba at an early age, a pursuit that grew in tandem with his emerging love of skateboarding and punk rock.
The A.V. Club: What drew you to BMX?
Matt Skiba: Well it’s something that I grew up doing. I used to race at the YMCA in Crystal Lake, Illinois, they used to have a dirt track there, and there was also a track near Rockford, Illinois, that I would go to. I never went too far with it, it was like I played soccer and I raced BMX and, like, went to karate or whatever when I was a little kid. Then I got pretty into like the freestyle stuff when I was pretty young, like [professional BMX rider] Eddie Fiola and some of the old, like Haro [Bikes] freestyle riders and ramp riders, but I didn’t do a whole lot of that. The extent of my personal BMX adventures were all [on] dirt tracks. But just the aesthetic of it, you know, that early-to-mid-’80s BMX is something that’s just part of me.
I was a bicycle messenger when Alkaline Trio was formed as a way to make ends meet before the band became a career, and I’ve just always been a cyclist—I BMX’d and then I got really into—through messengering—I got really into road bikes and fixed gears, which I still have. I’m looking at my kitchen right now and I still have a couple of road bikes and a fixie hanging from the ceiling, and then I have my Haro that I just finished building, I have the ’86 Haro Master that I built just recently, like maybe a year and a half ago I started building it. It was the bike I wanted as a kid and couldn’t afford, and I’m like, “I’m going to build that Haro and never ride it.” But yeah, I just started building another one, and I just feel like all the things that I do in my life just make me feel like a grown-up kid. That’s pretty much what I am. I think I’m a man about the things I need to be a man about, but I get paid to play, pretty much. I do what I love for a living, and I also get to build BMX bikes in my spare time.
I was thinking about hitting races and stuff, but it’s just, I think it’s more of the era of when I was a kid and it just brings back memories, and just looking on BMX Museum and eBay every morning, I’m like looking around just to see what frames and see who is selling Z rims or whatever. You know, just like cruising, surfing the internet as I’m waking up, pretty much every day, for like old like vintage, minty BMX stuff. But, yeah, so I’ve thought about racing again but I’m too old. I’m going to break every fucking bone in my body. I gotta just chill and live in the past.
AVC: Are injuries an ongoing concern for the people in your bands? Do your bandmates or managers ever get concerned about you doing all this physical stuff?
MS: There is sort of an unspoken “no skateboarding” clause on tour that I break pretty often. I usually have a skateboard with me, and we were over in Europe touring last year and we were playing in Leipzig at this really awesome—a squat is a strong name, but I don’t know what else to call it, but it’s a really—they cook really beautiful food, like everything is in-house and it’s run by punk rock kids but it’s super professional and they built this beautiful skate park that’s in the woods there, so I couldn’t resist just rolling around. I mean, I’m not out there trying to prove anything, but yeah I just sent one of my BMX bikes on the trailer out with our gear so that I have a bike. We’re about to leave for like a month and a half doing Alkaline Trio shows and I don’t like being stuck at the venue.
One tour I brought my motorcycle with me, and that proved to be kind of a pain in the ass, and my bike took kind of a beating, which was a bummer. It was really great to have. We’d be playing in Utah and whatever and I’d set up rides with friends, fellow bikers, especially in various towns where there’s mountains. It’s a really cool way to kill a day. Do what you have to do for the band and then just take off on the motorcycle and go adventure. So I bring my BMX bike, I usually try not to skate. Skating, for me, is kind of a surefire way to get fucked up, just because I’ve done it so many times—right before tours, right before recording sessions—and it just makes my guys nervous, and I love them and I love what we do and I don’t want to fuck up the game, so I usually leave the skateboards at home.
I just did the Blink-182 thing, and that was like two months of work learning those songs and rehearsing with the guys, and I didn’t set foot on a board when we were doing that. But Travis [Barker, Blink-182 drummer] gave me an SE Racing Big Ripper, the bike that I threw in the trailer two days ago and I’m taking out on tour with me, and I ate shit on that thing. Like, just a few weeks into Blink rehearsals. At first I didn’t tell anyone because I thought I sprained my wrist and I—I was shook. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play. So I try to stay off the bike and stay off the skateboards as much as possible. But right when the Blink stuff was done, the first thing I did was go to [The] Berrics and skate. Or, like, cruise around on the BMX bike. It’s something that I just can’t give up. I try to be cautious and, like I said, I don’t have anything to prove. It’s just something I love to do.
At an early age I told myself I would never quit skating, I would never quit riding BMX and being a motorcycle junkie. I just can’t stop doing those things. I just have to be a little more careful. But yeah, it makes my bandmates very nervous.
AVC: In the ’80s and ’90s there was a much closer connection between punk rock and hardcore things like skateboarding and BMX. In the ’80s you had bands like The Faction and they were a skate punk band, that’s almost all they sang about. So, as you were getting into BMX and skating, was that a gateway for you into that world, or were those interests already overlapping?
MS: Oh, no. It was absolutely the gateway. I just did an interview and one of the questions was like, “What came first, skating or punk rock?” And skating is what got me into punk rock. I mean Thrasher magazine, they had the—shit, what was it called—it was like a music section. And it was like, I got turned onto Jawbreaker [there], even like the [Sex] Pistols. BMX and skating, that’s what got me into punk rock. Opening Thrasher and they had the ads for all the different T-shirts and different bands and stuff that I would check out and fall in love with. It was kind of one in the same. It’s all kind of the same energy.
You watch BMX videos and skate videos and there’d be like Descendents’ songs, and I didn’t know who the Descendents were. I was young, and I was running out and buying all the records. [Professional skateboarder, The Faction guitarist] Steve Caballero was wearing a Misfits shirt in [The Search For] Animal Chin and that changed my life. I would say that was one of the most pivotal moments in my youth: Steve wearing the Crimson Ghost T-shirt and then hearing Walk Among Us. It’s like, “Oh, I’ve found my thing.”
AVC: You’re riding an ’86 Haro now, right?
MS: I’m actually not riding it. I’m looking at it right now, it’s hanging on my ceiling. It has zero miles on it. The bike that I’ve been riding is a Big Ripper. It’ an SE Racing 29” bike that Famous [Stars & Straps] did a collaboration with and Travis [Barker] gave to me. So that’s the bike that I cruise around on and bunny-hop on. It’s a bigger bike, but I’m about to build a Skyway, a 20” Skyway, so that’s going to be my fuck-around BMX bike that I’ll actually take out on the street. The ’86 Haro is just too nice.
AVC: ’86 was when BMX was at the peak of its popularity. There was the movie Rad and it had that really strong, day-glo aesthetic. It was all about these really bright, vibrant colors and that spilled over into skating and, to a lesser degree, punk. Did that play a role in influencing your art, or the type of things you’re drawn to visually?
MS: Absolutely. The Haro master that I have on my ceiling, it’s that acid green with the blue mags and the green tires. I’m really into aesthetic and color and it’s bright and kind of obnoxious. But, at the time, it was just really bitchin’. There was nothing else like it. I’m a dork and I really dig the color palate of ’80s BMX, and I think that it heavily influences the aesthetic of things that I do currently.
AVC: You have experience with two very different kinds of cycling: BMX and messengering. Do you see BMX as more of a relaxing experience than riding a fixed gear? If you’re cutting through traffic it can kind of clear your head, but you’re always under the threat of being put on the hood of a car.
MS: Yeah, through the windshield. I take it pretty chill. If I take a long ride on my Specialized road bike, or the same thing with my motorcycle, it’s all kind of one in the same. It’s meditative but you [still] really have to pay attention because you will get fucked up. People drive like shit, especially out here in Los Angeles.
AVC: What made you come back to BMX and start collecting and building bikes?
MS: I think that it keeps you young. It’s something that I just do for me. I feel a certain amount of freedom just cruising to CVS, or over to the liquor store to get water or whatever. It just feels good. It makes me feel young getting on the bike and—again, not going crazy, I do bunny-hops and I’ll hit some curbs and stuff—but just feeling like a kid again.
AVC: Is that the same thing that keeps you interested in punk?
MS: Absolutely. I may have already said this, but I told myself I would never stop skating. I would never stop riding bikes or riding motorcycles. I raced dirt when I was a kid; motocross. So it definitely keeps me in tune with my youth. I’m almost 40 years old and I feel like I’m 17 years old, and I feel like that’s really healthy. Yeah, you are taking a risk, but it’s worth it. It keeps you young, it keeps you happy, and it keeps you dialed in to what’s important: having fun. It’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever give up. Even when I’m old and grey I’ll probably be cruising around and bunny-hopping and stuff. In the words of the Descendents, “I don’t want to grow up.”