On July 9, NorCal hyphenate-rockers (and former AP cover stars and 2008 AP Tour alum) THE MATCHES announced a hiatus after nearly 10 years of playing together. In August, they digitally released album 4 unreleased; graphics? title? or not needed? and played two sold-out farewell shows (Aug. 22 and Aug. 23, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and The Fillmore in San Francisco, respectively). AP checks in with guitarist JON DEVOTO the week after the farewell shows as he’s driving a trailer full of Matches equipment from the band’s Oakland headquarters (drummer Matt Whalen’s parents’ house) to his grandmother’s house, which is where he’s setting up a practice space for his new band, BIRD BY BIRD.


PHOTO: Stephanie D. Olano

It had to be a little crazy to do the full-band debut of Bird By Bird the same weekend as the Matches finale shows.
It was a little weird. [Laughs.] It was a huge mix of emotions and everything, because there’s the debut show, which is the mindset I’ve been in for the past couple of months. It was a really cool thing having the debut show [Aug. 21] because we had a whole bunch of Matches fans that were in town from overseas and everything. It was a sold-out show, which was awesome. But then playing the Matches farewell shows, it was kind of like running into an ex-girlfriend at a party and hooking up and then all these emotions kind of come back, and it’s like, "Oh, my God. I forgot about how much I care about you!" We’ve all kind of moved on with our lives–it’s been a few months that we’ve known about [the hiatus], and we’ve started new projects and everything. But playing the shows was just a huge rush of emotions and everything.

I was really afraid of talking to fans after the shows because I was expecting some angry people, [adopts angry tone] "What the hell are you doing? Why’d you quit? What the fuck? Fuck you, I’m going to stab you!" But they were all really awesome, and I talked to people in the crowd after the Fillmore show, and everyone was happy that we’re happy, and really cool about everything. They were emotional, and it made me emotional. Everyone was holding back tears–myself included. [Laughs.] It was totally weird–really, really weird. But most Matches fans are incredibly supportive of my new band, although there are a couple people–because I kind of had the newer project first–who blame me for the breakup. [Laughs.] I’ve gotten a couple–not a lot–but I’ve gotten two intense e-mails from people who are like, "I’m going to punch you in the face." Which I love. I mean, it’s great press. [Laughs.] But that’s obviously not how things happened, but people kind of make up their mind about how things went and make their own story up, and it if it makes them feel good, then good for them. [Laughs.] But overall, most people are really supportive of us having new projects.

It seemed like you all got to a point where you had other interests, and you had to decide if it’s worth it to go through the rat race again, finding a new label, etc.

It was a really tough choice. A couple of Matches’ fans perspectives were, "Well, more bands for me to love [now]." So, I like that.

Did you feel like you got closure from the weekend?

Yeah… I’m still kind of weirded out by everything. [Laughs.] I’m not emotionally recovered from the weekend. It’s been almost 10 years. And then when we made the choice in, like, May or something, we all kind of started doing other things and I guess we kind of, well, me at least, I kind of forgot how much the Matches meant to me until we played the shows, which kind of brought everything back. Our fans are so awesome–we have the best fans in the world. They’re intense, man. It was loud at those last shows. It was a good way to go out. We wanted to go out while we were on a high still, rather than give it another couple of years and stuff starts to kind of disappear, and we just kind of get depressed and end up without any fans anymore. So I think this was a good time to take a break.

And you left the door open for the future.

Right. We could come back to it in a few years.

You’ve been publicly working on Bird By Bird for a bit, but is it something you’ve had in your life for a while?

I’ve been writing a lot of stuff for the past year-and-a-half, two years or so. A little bit of that went into Matches stuff, and the rest of it kind of stayed on GarageBand for a while, in the form of half-finished music and not completed tracks, versus, choruses, riffs–things like that. Then we started to talk about what we were going to do, Matches-wise. Like, are we going to record an album, tour or take a break? Miles [Hurwitz], who not only managed the Matches but co-wrote pretty much every song–asked if I wanted to write with him and pushed me to finish up a lot of songs that I hadn’t finished. We ended up booking an acoustic show before finishing up any songs, but it pushed us to finish up a group of songs. Then we played the show and I started playing a bunch of acoustic shows in the area. Then the Matches hiatus thing became real, and it was like, "Okay, this isn’t my side project anymore, it’s a real project." And then we booked the debut band show before having a band. [Laughs.] So that pushed us to find some fucking members.

So are Max Bernstein and Jeremy Bonsall [of the Actual] permanent members?

They could turn into permanent members, but at the moment I’m still playing with other people just to keep my options open.

Matches drummer Matt Whalen also played with you for the debut. What’s his status as a full-time member?
I would love Matt to be in the band. But he’s kind of trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, if he wants to be in a band. We wouldn’t be completely a new band, but it’s kind of a new band–there’d be a lot of van tours at first. There are a lot of sacrifices. So he’s trying to figure out if he wants to be in a band, and in the meantime, I’m trying out other people to see if I can find anyone else. I’m actually talking to Michael Whalen, who is Matt’s younger brother and plays the drums. How cool would that be? [Laughs.]

Do you have a timeline in your head for when you want a lineup solidified?

I’d like to immediately, but I’m not rushing into anything because I don’t want to make a choice I regret lately. I’ve been basically writing all of the instruments and demoing them, and I’ve spent the past couple months finishing up all the songs for the show. We were still writing lyrics as of last Wednesday and the debut show was Friday, so I haven’t had time to focus on auditions at all. But I have a couple people lined up who I’m going to try out soon and see how it goes.

Then you plan to record?
Yeah, I plan to record real soon–even if it isn’t with members who are permanent guys. If I had to, I could record all the instruments, but I don’t want to because I’m not a very good drummer and I kind of would rather hang out in the room with the mixer and all that stuff, drinking coffee and telling them, "Oh, that sounds great!" But I plan to start recording pretty soon, and hope to be on tour early next year. It’s a little ambitious, but I guess if we book a tour, everything will come after that, like finding members and recording an album and all that stuff. [Laughs.] I’m just really anxious to get back out on tour again, I’ve been off tour for way too long–it’s driving me crazy.

Do you think that you’ll be looking at labels and doing showcases and the whole thing?

Yep. I think we’ll be doing all that whole thing–just like a real band. [Laughs.]

Not to imply that you’re not a real band. [Laughs.]

Well, we’re not a real band. Yet. Very soon. Luckily Miles was in touch with a lot of record label people for the Matches’ Album 4 about us potentially having a new album, so he’s still in touch with all those people. There’s a chance that things could move pretty quickly with this, which is kind of what we hope for–but if not, we’ll take our time and do it right. I guess. I don’t know what that means. [Laughs.]

Was there something specifically you wanted to do musically that you weren’t getting to do with the Matches?
I wanted to be a little more straightforward. A little bit less quirky, indefinable. I want to keep the element of cleverness to a certain point, because that was one of the best points about us, our cleverness and all that. But there was also a point where every song was completely different and I think we lost a lot of opportunities with that. So it’s a bit more like raw, straightforward rock, but obviously influenced by the Matches because I’ve been in the Matches for such a long time. I think we’ve managed to create a balance of the quirkiness mixed with catchiness and a little more definable. I don’t want to say it fits into a "scene"–that’s not correct. But I think it won’t be every song is completely different.

But it’s kind of like I’m kind of telling people it’s a mixture of Kings Of Leon meets the Bravery meets Tom Petty meets Spoon–I don’t know. Maybe it’s completely different, but that’s what I think it sounds like. [Laughs.] And high energy live shows, as I’m sure you can imagine. alt

NEXT WEEK: We chat with Matches frontman SHAWN HARRIS about his new project, MANIAC.