The Matches (photo: Estefany Gonzalez)
Live, loud and local: those words describe each time The Matches performed in the Bay Area. Those words were later shortened to, and stood for L3 — a series of East Bay shows the group organized at Imusicast, an Oakland venue that closed down more than 10 years ago. Over the years, the band graced the cover of Alternative Press, played Warped Tour, and recorded three records — two of which Tim Armstrong and John Feldmann helped produce. Despite the band’s rise to fame, the members continue to be as involved and personable with their fans as they were when they started.
We caught up with singer Shawn Harris and lead guitarist Jonathan Devoto to chat about the band’s concert at The UC Theatre on Saturday, November 19. The show celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the band’s sophomore album, Decomposer, and includes bassist Justin San Souci and drummer Matt Whalen from the original lineup. But before we jump into details about the reunion show, let’s take a trip down memory lane to when the band got its start.
“It wasn’t that we were the best band,” says Harris from his home in Joshua Tree. He’s spent the past year and a half living in an Airstream trailer and recording a solo album under the name St. Ranger. He now finds himself renovating his new home and building a studio in his basement. “Even in our own little scene, we weren’t the best band. We weren’t the most rehearsed or the most professional band, but there was something that came with starting a series of shows in Oakland where there were a lot of kids that were not yet 16 or had just turned 16.”
Harris said those shows were not only a place for the band to play, but also a place where young kids in the East Bay could go to see live music. “Our parents did the door for us the first couple of years. Parents would drop off their kids and they’d say, ‘Oh man, the headlining band’s parents are at the door,’ and feel comfortable leaving their kids,” Harris says. “It seems so not punk rock right now, but that was the most punk rock thing.”
Devoto and Harris laughed, perhaps remembering old times fondly. Devoto lives in El Cerrito, and has worked on many projects since The Matches’ hiatus back in 2009. He’s helped produce music for artists such as Brent Walsh and Finish Ticket. He’s also played weddings, wineries, and other private events. In hindsight, Devoto appreciates the community aspect these shows brought to those who participated. “They really got to be a part of it,” Devoto says of The Matches’ early audiences. “They didn’t just get to go to a show, but they got to be empowered by being a part of the scene and them knowing they were a part of who we were and who we grew into.”
Even when bigger national bands such as The Plain White T’s, Sugarcult, and Reel Big Fish played an L3 show, the group always included a local band. “We made sure the first band was always a really young band, like a really fresh band. It was almost always a high school band,” Harris says. He hoped this would encourage younger kids to keep practicing and give them something to aspire to. “There was a way that you could play with us,” he continued.
This same type of approachability is what helped the band continue to grow and connect with fans outside of the Bay Area. “It turned out that special connection we made with people at shows or online and just being generally reachable, talking to people after shows and doing concerts in parking lots, that’s what appealed to the rest of the country,” Harris says. “We always try to accommodate for that.”
The band has played few shows since its hiatus in 2009, but the group’s New York 10-year-anniversary Decomposer concert — a big deal for such a beloved band — didn’t diminish the friendliness those fans remembered. After the show, more than 150 people waited outside of the venue for 45 minutes to hang out with the band. Harris said he wasn’t expecting such a large group after the concert, but he wanted to hang out with them all. “I pulled aside one of our fans and I was like ‘Whitney, where can we go with this many people right now?’” Harris says. This turned into a three-song encore in Union Square. “Me and Jon had flown with only our electric guitars so we couldn’t break out our acoustic guitars to play for everybody, so we did an acapella sing-along.”
It’s moments like these that resonate with fans and create the need for reunion concerts. The band originally only intended to do one reunion show in 2014 for the anniversary of the band’s first album E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals, but that show turned into a tour, and now a second tour.
The location holds a special place in The Matches’ hearts. “Back when Imusicast closed down and we started playing at the Great American Music Hall and Slim’s more often, it might sound crazy, but it didn’t feel quite like it did back when we were in the East Bay,” Devoto says. “I think the energy is just really different in the East Bay; I don’t know why.”
Harris continued, “San Francisco was somebody else’s city. It always felt like you were visiting somebody else’s hometown even though we grew up just across the Bay. There’s a familiarity to Telegraph and Berkeley and the area around the campus. That’s where our parents would let us hang out back when we were kids up to no good,” he says. “It feels like home even though the whole Bay Area is technically home; that’s our hood.”
Though the band doesn’t have any set plans after this show, Harris says the members happy to play shows together again and are having fun with it. While they don’t want to overstay their welcome, he’s noticed people seem to be really happy to have them back in their lives, even if it’s just for a night. For now, the group is content keeping things open. They don’t want to burn themselves out by booking month long tours and committing to another album. “There’s only one more album that we could potentially do a reunion tour for. Do we do that, or do we write another album ?” Harris asks. “That’s a question I’m asking right along with you. We’re sort of licking our fingers and putting them in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing.”
“I really enjoy not knowing,” Devoto says. “It’s really fun and exciting and scary at the same time. But it’s just like most things in life, it could do either way.”