The Matches

The Matches
You’ve probably heard of Oakland, California’s The Matches, but you’ve probably written them off too. Touring with the likes of Plus 44 and Motion City Soundtrack would lead one to assume them to be among the ranks of generic pop rock bands, but a few minutes spent with their third LP, A Band in Hope, you’ll learn there’s a lot more to these many-hat-wearing musicians. 2006’s Decomposer, was also a display of raw unadulterated talent. Trying their hand at whimsical delicate theatre-ready ballads, between fiery and fierce race-y tunes, with the catchiest of hooks, all with front-man Shawn Harris’ chameleon-like vocals leading the pack, A Band in Hope is the sound of a band ready to be heard by more than the Warped Tour going masses. Exclaim! got the chance to chat with the enigmatic front-man a few days after the new album hit the streets.

So you’re on the Alternative Press tour with All Time Low? How is that going?
On this tour I don’t think the audience could be much more split between our fans and All Time Low’s fans. The people that are there for our band are great, but the people that are there for All Time Low, well if they couldn’t relate to our past stuff, they definitely can’t relate to the new stuff even more.

I find the Matches get lumped in with a lot of bands that aren’t really trying new things and experimenting as much as you guys are. Do you find that as well?
We don’t mesh well with any bands. So it’s kind of arbitrary to find bands to tour with and up until this point it’s just been we have to take a hug where we’re offered one. I think we work with these bands about as poorly as we work with any other bands. It’s hard to say what bands we should be touring with. Were constantly trying to figure it out but we’re at the stage where we are always on tour and it’s something that we always have to wrestle with; what makes sense and what doesn’t. Most of the time it doesn’t make sense. Once in a while, we get lucky.

So did you end up bringing a lot of songs over for the new album from when you were recording Decomposer? Because I notice some of the same producers that you worked with popping up on the new album, here and there.
Well two of the songs were from that era. We thought the Decomposer session was going to be a two-part session, so we thought there would be a lot more of stuff from that era on this album. But when we finished Decomposer we never stopped recording when that was being mixed. We continued on recording between tours over the course of the year and so the album that I thought A Band in Hope was going to be completely changed. A lot of the earlier stuff kind of got bumped off and we only kept the stuff from that era that worked with where we were going with the new songs and created a cohesive track list. The record settled into a comfort with itself and I really got obsessed with what it was saying and not how it was saying it really. Decomposer was a bit of a bridge between a melodic punk-y alternative record that we thought E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals was. It retained a lot of those tempos and ideas of how to write a song, but with this one I think we really flipped that all upside down.

So you said you were more obsessed on what you were trying to say. What are you trying to say? I’m sure there are many ideas but maybe if you want to focus on a specific one?
You say, be specific, but I will be incredibly general… It was not satisfactory to me to have a themed album because what we’re writing about are the messes of our lives and they were getting more and more seemingly complex… with our relationships that were blossoming and falling a part quicker and our hopes for the future as to where our band was going and the things we were devoting so much time into… and college verses art, all of these themes are not very easy to boil down into a pop song. So we set out to make a more dynamic record as far as the themes being addressed. From this tongue in cheek, cheeky songs like "Yankee in a Chip Shop”… it’s kind of ridiculous we would write a song about an American being kicked out of a french fry place in London. Why? And from that song to a song like "From 24C” or "Darkness Rising,” which is kind of the opposite, its nearly mocking ourselves. It’s trying to get to the essence to an emotion more than we have in the past. We put aside trying to be clever and just tried to tell the story. "From 24C” is just exactly how it went down, without trying to have a chorus or even be memorable even, and in terms of a hook or a pop aesthetic. It’s just this moping chapter that says, "Yeah, life is fucking messy,” and this song structurally will also be messy and no part will really return twice and the key will change six times and these things go hand in hand with how you display them.

Is that something you will do more of? Just disregarding any form and structure with your songs?
It was incredibly satisfying, so yes. I’ve never felt a greater weight lifted off my chest than when I heard that song and I was like, "Holy shit I never thought I’d be able to admit that to myself or to anyone else really.” It's pretty therapeutic and I can't foresee these types of issues going away from my life. So certainly I can foresee writing more songs in that manner. Not to say that’s where the Matches style is going because while we do that, the opposite is true because there is a certain joy of having just the right melody and hook. It’s fun to write a song a pop song and say, "this is pop but not in terms of top 40, but not in terms of pop rock, and not in terms of pop punk, or alternative or anything like that.” It’s just the instruments and what sounds best to what we’re trying to say. And not being afraid to write a song with just a piano and a glockenspiel.

Do you see these dramatic differences in your musical taste and what the band is listening to?
We all really like the aggression of hard heavy music but at times we can’t stop listening to Simon and Garfunkel. It’s neat when you can arrive upon bands everyone in the band agrees on. We’re always drifting between Simon and Garfunkel and a band like Tool, but we don’t hit either of those extremes. But we have not excluded doing so.

Lots of the songs on A Band in Hope aren’t dark, but they do sound hopeful. You’re asking a lot of questions that never get answered. Where did all of these come from?
I don’t believe in answers and I don’t think there is such a thing. I try and have increasing tried not to be preachy or have any answers in our songs. I find sometimes by asking questions or asking a great number of questions you figure out many things, but those are not the answers because the answer implies that is the last question, that that is the fact, the be all and end all, or solution of some sort and life is a process and we will never reach the end of that process until we reach the end of our lives and nothing will be more or less sorted out really. We will just be at a different place. So movement is important and it’s important with our band that we keep moving. There are themes of faith and how people need faith and how to kind of create that for yourself without out right lying to yourself. Or maybe you should lie to yourself I don’t know? These things turn up in phrases and in places that I don’t even expect them to when I’m writing a song. Like in the most banal song in which were being straight forward like in "Yankee in a Chip Shop” we say, "Everyone say hey, say it like you mean it. It doesn’t mean a thing…” Well that boils something down for me that was really surprising when it came out initially. It exposes the ease at which we’re able to put emphasis into things that don’t matter, whether it is current popular music like the Umbrella song, or relationships that are completely not reality, like star crushes or just dating a girl from Australia, because you can’t make things work out with a girl in your home town. For some reason that line says all of that to me. I don’t know if it says that to anybody else or if they’re just like, "Hey there’s a line in a pop song.” These themes come up in pretty much every line in the record to me but its all about interpretation. Whatever is going on in your life you’ll hear in every lyric.

Yeah, you mentioned faith; I guess you’re not religious?
Hmm… I don’t want to not be because religious means that you are open to odd supernatural things happening, and religions don’t really view themselves as odd or supernatural they view themselves as the way things are, and that you’re faithful in something true, and I don’t believe in the truth, but I do believe in belief and I like to believe in things and sometimes I end up inventing things for myself to believe in.

Why do you say you don’t believe in truth?
It’s all relative. You take the truth of someone in Afghanistan and compare it with the truth of someone in Texas, and it’s completely different. Take the truth of a tree, if a tree can have a truth, and compare it with the truth of me, y’know? No matter how I live I am not programmed to preserve the world and trees do that. So that’s why I don’t believe in it. I believe you can have your own truth and the only really thing you can do with your life is search for that. That’s sort of a cop out answer…

Haha It’s all good. So do you ever get frustrated that most of the people you’re playing to the music floats over their heads, or they don’t quite get it?
I’ve never been frustrated with somebody not getting our band. I don’t think it makes sense that everyone should. There’s a certain status quo about what music is currently popular, just the same as this idea of what is attractive currently… like blondes, big breasted girls … but a few thousand years ago if you were chubby it was a sign that you were well-fed and therefore had a rich family, and that was attractive. Y’know what I mean? And so with music it doesn’t make sense that everyone should like the same music so it’s kind of really manipulative that some music is able to get really popular. Because it means some label or some group of people have figured out how to manipulate peoples taste and boil them down into these little genres basically. Not that I would be opposed to being popular with a great number of people, that would be quite rewarding, but we are not interested in making music in the first place to be marketed. I would much rather rely on dumb luck that somehow people will for some reason hear about us and connect with us because they simply like it.