The Matches Biography
Launched with “Salty Eyes,” an adventurous, chamber rock song that owes as much to The Cure’s Head On The Door or Ben Folds as it does Queen and The Beatles, the string-savvy tune is as flamboyant as it is heart-wrenching. “Putting that first was definitely a conscious decision,” says frontman/guitarist Shawn Harris. “It's an invitation for people to raise a brow and cock an ear.”
And as much as that song shocks anyone with a preconceived notion about who the Matches were – based on their explosive, delightful debut E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and their Warped Tour history – further change-ups bring Decomposer to life. Its second tune, the hard charging, techno-infused, modern rock opus “Drive,” again veers noticeably from what the foursome – also consisting of Justin SanSouci (bass/ vocals), Jon Devoto (lead guitar/vocals) and Matt Whalen (drums) – has done before.
“We had very much talked about doing a record that didn’t have a singular direction,” Harris says of the idea to give each song its own respective identity. “We had a fistful of new songs with different feels: some in-your-face pop, some slower and more emotionally raw, and some heavier stuff - influenced by those heavy bands we played with on Warped Tour. So a multi-producer approach fed our vision.”
Counting producer visionaries like Rancid’s Tim Armstrong (Transplants, Pink), Goldfinger’s John Feldmann (The Used, Story of the Year), blink-182’s Mark Hoppus (Motion City Soundtrack), 311’s Nick Hexum, and Epitaph founder Brett Gurewitz, among others, the Matches' collaborative-driven second album breaks with production traditions for the rock genre. Harris says the resulting nine-producer album – which boasts the full throttle anthem “Little Maggots” and the edgy, melodic, Bowie-esque “My Soft and Deep” among its thirteen aural pleasures – borrows the multiple-producer approach of many modern day hip-hop records.
“We’ve always been a very do-it-yourself kind of band. We thrive on risk all the way down to our self-made, secondhand store-lurker, cut-sew-and-paint clothes,” the singer/guitarist insists. “We started off with so many good options for producers, and we just decided to take control of the record ourselves and run with that. Motion City Soundtrack – who are good friends of ours – had just finished working with Mark Hoppus, who was interested in doing a couple of songs with us. And Feldmann was flatteringly insistent about recording with us. Then, while on Warped Tour, Tim from Rancid heard that Hoppus and Feldy and Brett [Gurewitz] were each doing tracks, and he offered, ‘Man, let me get in on that. Spend the weekend with me, and we’ll write and lay down some stuff.’ And with Hexum, it was kind of the same story, all arranged through connections and friends.”
“Nothing that we’ve ever done has been by the book,” Whalen interjects with a chuckle. That’s not just record company bio bullshit, either. Hyped by their own “Commotion Promotion” efforts early on – their habit of accosting potential fans exiting concerts and clubs, student unions, dorms, high schools, malls and fast food joints with brief acoustic attack sets – the group’s self-produced 2003 debut and relentless touring earned the band the attention of numerous major and indie labels.
The following year E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals was reissued through a one-off deal with Epitaph. When it came time to start work on what would become Decomposer, the band – confused (and complimented) by continuing label offers – opted to operate as free agents. Against the urging of everyone they knew in the business, and with little budget, the group hatched an ingenious albeit affordable way to finance the project.
“It’s amazing, all of the producers were willing to work for only points [royalties] on the record, waiving their usual fees” Harris marveled. “We paid the engineers, but since most of the producers have their own studios, we weren't burdened with the usual outlandish studio rates. We’d work at Hoppus’ place or the Hive where 311 records, and we used a bunch of their gear, too! I think we might have even blown a speaker on P-Nut’s bass cab.”
In terms of logistics, Whalen says, “I don’t know if we could ever pull it off again, but I will say our manager, Miles, has a huge amount of organizational prowess.” To which Harris adds, “He’s absolutely insane in the best way possible. He’s our fifth member. Most managers might steer you toward a safer idea, but not him. Somehow, he always knows what works.” Look no further for evidence of Miles Hurwitz’ vision than his own production offering for Decomposer, the wide-eyed and buoyant pop nugget “Clumsy Heart.”
Elsewhere, the session with Armstrong, which resulted in his production and co-writing credit for the danceable, crossover-minded “You (Don’t) Know Me,” was inspired by mutual London club experiences with the music of Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys. “We started out from scratch, writing with him at his house. Tim already had a really big drum-and-bass loop-oriented thing in place. Tim and I were talking ahead of time about how awesome it is in London, that after you do a show over there, the DJs come right in, and the venue morphs into a dance club. And they’re not playing club beats and Top 40, like over here. They’re playing rock music, and there are mosh pits and heavy dancing going on. So, working off of Tim’s loop, we kind of got a Transplants/Gorillaz-at-a-nuclear-beach-party vibe going. ”
Meanwhile, Feldmann offered up a mix CD of new wave and power pop for inspiration, Hexum doled out music by Van Halen and The Clash to push forth ideas, and Hoppus and the Matches mined the Postal Service and Queens of the Stoneage for sonic inspiration. Intentionally wearing their eclectic music collections on their sleeves, the Matches had no worries about burning off their devout, ever-growing fan base. “Our fans are smart and expansive,” Harris says succinctly.
With the disc fully realized, the band elected to forge ahead again with Epitaph, while Harris and his graphics partner – the creators of album art for Matchbook Romance and Zebrahead – finalized the CD packaging for Decomposer. “From our days recording in our basements, we always wanted to be on Brett’s label. And that still holds true for us now,” Harris says. “Epitaph is so nurturing. And being a young band, we're confident they'll portray us in a way that is authentic to who we are. We don’t have to worry about being put in a compromising position with them. There’s not even a little bit of me right now that wishes we were doing anything different. It’s a fucking awesome label.”
As for the future of the band and the potential of Decomposer, Whalen says, “We are not weighed down with goals. All of our goals around this record have already been met.” With emphasis, Harris proclaims, “I hope people love it, but our goals were in the creation. And, damn it, I’m so proud of it. We did it.”