"I think getting hit by cars prepared me for getting smashed by waves," says Matt Skiba very matter-of-factly while posted on the wall overlooking First Point in Malibu. "After being hit by the fourth car, everything became less intimidating."
The last place I would expect to meet Matt Skiba, lead vocalist and guitarist for the doom-rock outfit Alkaline Trio, is sitting in the lineup on a gorgeous day in Southern California. If you told me we'd meet in the shadows of a seedy punk rock bar in the Windy City's twilight hours, I'd be much more convinced. But fate would have us sharing shoulder-high rights while discussing music, surfing, and religion – things he believes "not to get all zenned out" – are all the same thing.
The Zen philosophy wasn't so surprising to me. Nor were the stories of being hit by cars. (Matt once worked as a bike messenger in Chicago while pursuing his musical career.) What surprised me was how happy he is.
For a guy who received a membership to the Church of Satan for Christmas and composed the tortured anthems of a goth-punk generation, affability and optimism wouldn't be my first associations. Surprisingly, Skiba is an outright happy person, and he attributes his disposition in large part to becoming a surfer.
"I think that I am definitely a happier person now that I am a surfer," says Skiba. "I think any surfer can attest to the fact that you always feel better when you get out of the water than when you get in. It's cleansing."
Growing up skating the streets of Chicago, Matt took to the water four years ago when he moved to Los Angeles. Surfing has since become an integral part of his life and lightened the dark art for which he has long been a mascot.
"Surfing brings you into the earth and closer to the universe," says Skiba. "And having that experience during the creative process affected our latest record. Agony & Irony touches some of the darkest subject matter we've ever written about, but it's written from the perspective of a very bright and positive place."
Skiba claims the cathartic elements of surfing and music aren't so different. To paraphrase, the thoughtless smile cracked in a barrel mirrors the synesthetic effect of hearing the right note at the right time. In both cases, you lose yourself.
"That is the ultimate peace," says Skiba. "Forgetting about everything around and getting in that zone that I get from being in the water and from playing music…that's when I'm happiest."
Hey, it's way better than being hit by cars.