Fans of Alkaline Trio and F-Minus would be forgiven for thinking their respective idols would be unlikely to occupy too similar territory. However, as Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio and Joe Steinbrick of F-Minus unite to form Heavens, they create a middle ground that encompasses goth, rock, electronic and alternative music. Comparisons to Brian Eno or even Joy Division have been made, and it's clear that Skiba and Steinbrick's efforts have been attracting attention. SPB's Graham sat down with the guys to find out what it was all about.
Scene Point Blank: When reading through your bio, or any of the recent press, it becomes obvious that Heaven's started rather organically: the whole thing being written in your apartment during the downtime between tours and work. Given that the two of you have had such a close relationship for so long, why was there a wait till now to do the collaboration?
Matt Skiba: We were living together in the same house when we wrote the record but, as you said, we were both touring a lot. I was gone more than I was home. We actually didn't spend a whole lot of time together, hence the time it took to make the record. Joe spent more time in the studio creating the music, and when I was home I would go in, but I ended up mostly writing from the road. When I was in LA, which was usually only for a couple of days, I'd go and put down some vocals. We built it over time, but it was because if our schedules that the record came out when it did.
Scene Point Blank: I moved into an apartment this year with some people I've known for my whole life, and came to realize that living with someone can change the way you communicate with that person entirely. It's really easy to start bickering over who's doing the dishes, who didn't clean up the bathroom, or what not. Given that you two were roommates does that type of thing ever spill over artistically?
Matt Skiba: No, I don't think it ever really happened at a personal level either. I don't think I ever ate off a dish. (laughs) I ordered food every time I was hungry. We've never had any really animosity. Living together if anything helpedâ?¦
Joe Steinbrick: It made it easier to collaborate.
Matt Skiba: I mean some days we'd wake up and just start writing songs. There were no dirty dishes, arguments, anything like that. We don't live together anymore, so it'll be a little different the next time around, but I was walking Joe's dog when I found the place I'm living now. It's literally like a block away.
Scene Point Blank: There is a minimalist, dark pop, sort of feel to Patent Pending which has lead to a whole list of comparisons by critics. When you were writing the music was there any specific thought into what you wanted this to sound like? Did that have anything to do with the lower vocal range Matt uses?
Joe Steinbrick: Well I mean I definitely wanted to have the same vibe to it. A lot of it was written with Matt's vocals in mind and what would be a proper sound for them. It was just the ideas I was having at the time, which was really a short period, and that happened to be what came out. I didn't do any other writing in between, because truthfully I didn't spend very long on it. It sounds like that because it's the way we recorded it. The whole thing was done by ourselves.
Scene Point Blank: I get the impression that this is more of Joe's project with Matt coming on to polish it off. Does it ever become intimidating that you're getting to finish off someone else's idea?
Joe Steinbrick: We worked on a lot of the first song I did together, actually. I wouldn't call it my project. I'd call it half and half.
Matt Skiba: It feels pretty balanced. The songs really build the foundation for me to write over. Joe and I are partners in this thing, and it feels like our baby. It wasn't difficult at all to do, but it was a different way to work. I'm used to writing music that I create myself, so this is quite a bit more interesting, and challenging, and fun.
Scene Point Blank: For those who haven't seen the "Patent Pending" video, would you mind explaining it? Was the German/Saturday Night Live Deter look planned?
Joe Steinbrick: Well, I had a couple of ideas that I wanted to bring to the table. I was watching a lot of these old Scott Walker things cause YouTube had just come out. As soon as that was around I started looking for other appearances of my favorite 60's artists and I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have a video that looked like that." I found this old Ramen Scott jazz footage from the early fifty's that had this kind of German expressionism vibe. I gave those ideas to the director and he just kind of came up with the treatment for it.
Matt Skiba: And we already kind of looked like Sprockets. In fact, I took my wife to see Coldplay a few months back and we walked by these guys in the back of a pick up truck and they were like "HEY GIVE ME A SMOKE!" and I said "Yeah. No," and they went "WHATEVER SPROCKETS, HA-HA-HA." (laughs) So walking down the street we get that type of shit anywaysâ?¦
Scene Point Blank: Both of you come from punk rock backgrounds more than anything else. Given the past bands you've played with, is there a different atmosphere when you're playing live with Heavens?
Joe Steinbrick: Not really, it's all rock and roll to me.
Matt Skiba: Yeah, it really doesn't feel that different. I mean, I'm not playing a guitar, but when you're playing music that you love you get into it and stop paying so much attention to your surroundings. Crowd wise there is no crowd surfing or stage diving, which is actually nice. I like going to see bands and I don't like people landing on my head. I'm also thirty years old, and I still love watching those types of bands but I usually do so from the balcony.
Scene Point Blank: Is Heaven's a one shot thing, or will we be seeing more releases?
Matt Skiba: We're taking it as it comes. We're both going to get really busy with our other bands when this tour's done. I think we've both had a really good time making this record and playing live so hopefully we'll do it again some day.
Joe Steinbrick: I fully agree.
Scene Point Blank: We'll close up with this question, when listening to this record in comparison to the Trio stuff, and Joe's work on the Flowers of Doom, I'd be willing to say it seems more mature. Do you ever feel you're outgrowing the things you did in the past?
Joe Steinbrick: A couple years ago, I'm twenty five, but when I was about twenty three is when I really decided to become the person I am today. Growing out of, or into, the stuff I put out there isn't really the case. It's just growing in generalâ?¦ it just kind of happens.
Matt Skiba: You learn new things, and hear new bands, and there is new bands forming all the time. There isn't a bandâ?¦well there is a few bands I used to love that I couldn't listen to now. For the most part though the stuff that was really influential, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, the Clash, I still love those bands. Even stuff that came later, Naked Raygun, things I grew up with in Chicago, I could never outgrow that. But there has definitely been some silly stuffâ?¦ you know crossover thrash that I don't really get into anymore.
Joe Steinbrick: I come across bad records all the time and just thinkâ?¦ "why do I own this?"