Before the Beyhive, Barbs, or Firebreathers, there were fan clubs. Whether official or otherwise, almost everyone who was anyone in music has had an organized troupe of admirers making zines, hosting meet-ups, and buying merchandise. All of these groups make artists more accessible, and have allowed for people to share whatever interest they have with like minded individuals.
But there are also a select few fan clubs that transcend that. Rather than just a group of devoted fans, they became more akin to a community, a close-knit set of people who look out for each other, and offer each other a sense of belonging and friendship. More than just a hobby, they can actually enrich their members’ lives, and create memories they’ll cherish for life. For staunch fans of Alkaline Trio during the early-to-mid aughts, the Blood Pact certainly fell into the latter category.
“Blood Pact was a huge part of my life,” describes Jill Kirkland, a member of the Alkaline Trio Fans Facebook group who still meets up with her Blood Pact buddies to this day. “Even though we were there for Alkaline Trio, what I remember most prominently are the fans. I made a lot of great friends who I still talk to. We still will meet up and go to Trio shows together.”
Started in 2004, the Blood Pact was Alkaline Trio’s way of connecting with their fans on a more personal level. Signups were handled by Heather Gabel, who is responsible for a large portion of the threesome’s merchandise and artwork, aided by a small team of volunteer moderators. For $20 you could buy yourself a lifetime membership, complete with a card to prove it, as well as exclusive ways to engage with the band, from bootleg CD’s to behind the scenes videos to meet-ups with the band announced through the forums on the Blood Pact website.
“I loved the whole experience of being a member of the Blood Pact,” says Rob Gray, who resides in London, and met an ex-girlfriend through a conversation born out of spotting a Blood Pact t-shirt. “It is the only fan club that I have ever been a member of, because Alkaline Trio mean so much to me,” he expands.
Savannah Gronowski would concur, saying: I think it was around at the right time in my life. It was the first community that I felt a part of. Some of my favorite people are in my life because of Alkaline Trio.” She does also state that she has since found another community, her local gym, which is “also cult-like.” In her own words: “(I) guess I’m just drawn to fun cults.”
The Blood Pact forums covered a range of topics that reached beyond Alkaline Trio itself. Along with the band announcements, recording diaries, and Q&A section where fans could pose queries to the band, there were also sections for film discussions (humorously captioned as being “a place for snobs”) and to gripe about the website layout. Former Blood Pact members recall drummer Derek Grant—who built and ran the website portion of things—being the most engaged on the site, along with his now ex-wife. Both were always approachable and tuned in to the general ongoings across each section.
Inclusivity was a big selling point too. “I always felt welcome and included in conversations, and the fandom,” says Brandon Wells, a fan of the band who makes custom sets of Dungeon and Dragons dice as both a hobby and small business. “Alkaline Trio has always seemed to me like music for the outcast kids; the unpopular; the sad kids. We need to be there for each other,” he adds.
But for many, the biggest perk was not the tangible goods made exclusively available to members, nor was it the chance to communicate with the band in an informal, often casual way. It was the familial feeling, and the friendship which has extended far past the now-defunct forum’s internet space.
“It was huge,” says Erin Romero, a hair stylist and member of the Blood Pact who, like Jill before, stays active with many other friends and former forum members in an Alkaline Trio fan Facebook group. Some of the friendships she made through the Blood Pact continue today. “I still talk to these people 15, 16 years later,” she says. “We would meet up outside of shows and go bowling or hang out somewhere. It was like a family. It still is to me. Even if the fan club doesn’t exist anymore, we still call ourselves the Blood Pact.”
For Mike Cherrone, a record collector who runs his own commercial cleaning company, the Blood Pact has had a particularly profound impact on his life: “We celebrated births and marriages. [We’ve] mourned the loss of our own to disease and suicide. Personally there were Blood Pact friends who showed up to my son’s funeral, donated to costs, or sent art and gifts when I had the worst thing ever happen. They’ve been a shoulder to cry on, and [are] the first people I share my successes with.”
This sense of almost familial bond is clear throughout the Blood Pact members, but there is also an appreciation of those who dedicated their time to the group from the members themselves. Joe Vella, who was an early card-carrying part of the “BP,” recalls a story from the soundcheck at a gig at Chicago’s House of Blues venue.
“There were only three of us Blood Pact members thee, and they asked if we wanted to hear any songs. I said ‘For Your Lungs Only.’ After a few failed attempts at guitar Matt says ‘Fuck, does have the song on an iPod?’ and it just so happened that one of the other (Blood Pact) members did. He listened to it, and they played it.” Whilst the song didn’t make the setlist that night, Vella does say that it made its way onto it for the rest of the tour. It’s a humorous anecdote, of which there are many, and a clear example of the mutual appreciation there was between the fans and the trio themselves.
Sadly though, and despite the numerous tales, some humorous, some sobering, documented through the interviews conducted as part of this piece, the Blood Pact does now seize to exist. Former Blood Pact members say that the fan club had its unofficial “death” around the band’s Agony & Irony release. Others cite the permanent closure taking place at the end of 2009, bleeding into the first days of 2010. The reasons why the shutdown happened are vague, and stories change from person to person. The band themselves say that it’s because a person once told them they would join the fan club if they could afford it, which caused some harsh reflection, and an ultimate shutdown of “The Pact” after six years of existence.
There is, however, a private Facebook group in existence, for members who wish to reminisce and continue making memories they hold so dear to themselves. “Being able to talk to these people has helped ease the pain of losing the forum,” says Jill Kirkland.
“Blood Pact is forever,” Erin Romero states. “I bought a ‘lifetime’ membership. We will always have our group of friends even without the actual website.”