Last week, we brought you one perspective on the end of the Matches in our interview with guitarist Jon Devoto. This week, we get another view from frontman Shawn Harris (above right).

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 caught up with frontman SHAWN HARRIS in Boston, while he was working on illustrations for an upcoming issue of McSweeny’s, to chat about his feelings on the Matches’ hiatus and everything he’s looking forward to with his new project, MANIAC, with JAKE GRIGG of Australian band, SOMETHING WITH NUMBERS.


At this point, you’ve had some time to reflect on the Matches farewell shows. How are you feeling about everything?

There’s a great deal of respect for the Matches and our fans from playing those last two shows. Emotionally, I would’ve been a wreck and probably would’ve hung myself in a Motel 6 bathroom if I had to do an entire tour of that just because it was so intense with people, like, honesty telling us and writing letters and making us videos that they brought to us telling us how much our band meant to them–in these little ways that completely affected their lives whether they met a best friend at one of our shows or were inspired to start playing music by us or we got them through a tough time because they listened to our CD over and over. I think a lot of people felt it was their last opportunity to talk to us, or talk to us in the mindset of us being part of the Matches. To top that off, I think the sold-out show in San Francisco was the best show the Matches have ever played. It was definitely the best crowd that we’ve ever played in front of. There was definitely this sense of, “All right, let’s enjoy this.” It was intense. The crowd was just pouring into the stage. I felt like we were on the beach during a tsunami or something.

You’d known for a couple months before you made the announcement, so the information was so much newer to your friends than it was to you.

Right, and the information that the Matches would be at least taking some kind of break has been kind of pending in my mind for the past couple years. As far as when we were recording A Band In Hope, we were talking seriously like, “Hey, should we change our name? Should we get new musicians? Does everybody in the band still want to be in the band?” This was before [original bassist] Justin [San Souci] told us he didn’t want to tour and record with us anymore. But that was already in the air. So everybody was sort of questioning doing another record at that point.

I was needing to start seriously paying rent and that kind of thing. The Matches never really put any bucks in our pockets. When we’d go on tour, we’d live off $20 a day, and that worked and we wouldn’t have to pay any bills anywhere. But when we came home, there would be awkward crashing on friends’ couches for extended periods of time, or staying at parents. And when gas prices really went up, it became financially really difficult to travel all the time like we used to. We used to go play shows and 40 people showed up and we broke even, it would be like, “Cool. We broke even.” But it was becoming harder and harder to break even. We were starting to accrue some debt. So it was like, “Okay, let’s stay home and record, and only go out when the tour is lucrative.” And then there were less and less tours that were lucrative, so we were home longer and longer, which meant we were homeless longer and longer or crashing at our parents’ longer and longer.

I will always do music, but having our deal on Epitaph, before A Band In Hope came out, it was kind of stated [by the label], “Hey, we don’t think this is going to do that well, but we still want to put it out because we like the record.” And it’s like, “Ugh.” There were really conflicting views within the band as to what the direction should be. For me, the direction has always been, “Well, I wanna do what is fun when it comes to music and hopefully other people find what I find fun and enjoyable also fun and enjoyable.” There were definitely heated debates over first off, how commercial a song should be, and second off, over what makes a song commercial in the first place. We definitely have very differing views on that. It’s the weirdest conversation to be like, “Well, should be doing this?” And as soon as we decide, “Yeah, let’s take it in that commercial direction,” then we have this whole new task of [figuring out], “Okay, what the fuck is that?” Because my personal view is that does not exist. If somebody is doing something that they are really passionate about, then other people will see that. I think people look for truth in art and music and if you tell the truth in what you’re doing, then people will relate that truth to their own truth and be drawn to it.

Actually, right now I’m doing this experiment-it’s a blog with my new bandmate, Jake. We wanted to make a blog back and forth between America and Australia, and that was the initial goal. I thought it would be interesting, because it’s not often that bands are made up with two members on separate continents. [Laughs.] So we decided that we were going to do some covers. We have a bunch of demos, and we wanted to put those up pretty bad, but we were advised by everybody–including ourselves–that we shouldn’t do that yet. So we were like, “Let’s do covers.” We think a lot of people do covers to be like, “These are our influences.” And we didn’t really care to tell of our influences with the music or prove any genre or shit like that. So we were like, “Let’s just do the biggest songs in the world right now.” And we were listening to them–neither of us were super familiar with the Top 40 format, so we were like, “Fuck, do I have to re-evalute my whole position on this whole thing about telling the truth and having people being drawn to it, because something seems really sort of soulless in a lot of this stuff.” But, then I thought maybe I’m just so much different from people who buy records. So we started looking at songs [that were No. 1 on the chart that particular week], and it’s like, “Oh, that’s not that different from what we’re doing there. It’s like a super-simplified version of how I’d say this.” Learning this Miley Cyrus riff, it’s basically the same 1-3-5 chord base one of me and Jake’s songs, so what makes me and Jake’s song appealing to me and hers unappealing? [Laughs.]

There was this thread going through the Matches like, “Hey, guys, let’s do what popular people do.” And somehow, the Matches were so much about not doing that, you know? And even in the sub-culture of the Warped Tour scene that the Matches existed in, we were not even doing it the way that they did it. And they weren’t even the main pop culture. [Laughs.] It wasn’t fun to think about the Matches in that sense, and when we attempted it, it didn’t feel genuine to me–it didn’t feel right. And I think when it got to this point [where we were at] the end of our Epitaph deal, and our manager had sent out our new demos to a bunch of major labels, we were getting feedback from these labels that was like, “Hey, really cool songs. But can you do this? And can you do that?” They’d say, “This has a really cool Modest Mouse-vibe, but can you make it more indie?” Or, “This is really catchy, but can you do it more like Boys Like Girls?” We were hearing, “Well, you kind of have to choose and you have to hone in on what sells in that category.”

I think that in order to find a home for the Matches, we would’ve let a lot of people down, musically. It wasn’t a simple matter of, “Oh, are we going to scream or not?” like a lot of bands that make the transition to radio. There seemed to be some kind of core ideology that was sort of at risked of being compromised from within and without… We thought about changing the name and starting a new band, but during the same period of time, I’d been playing with Jake and that was just so fun, what me and Jake were up to, not having any business ties, it was just the two of us–songwriters making up songs together. It really reminded me of the early days of being in a band.

But we saw it coming for a long time, and we talked about whether or not we even needed to announce a hiatus. It was like, “Maybe we can just fade away for a while, and if we want to play again, we can play again.” And then people started asking about us and what the fuck’s going on, and we started getting some tour offers again, and we were working on some new stuff, and then we were going to have to record the new record, and I don’t know. So we were like, “Okay, let’s play a few last shows.” It seemed like the right thing to do. I was sort of dreading the whole thing, truth be told. I was sort of one of the proponents for fading away. [Laughs.] But having played the shows, really the fans that flew from all around the world, everyone was so respectful and just genuinely wanted to see one more show. That really touched me. To be honest, when it came down to that weekend, I really wanted to play those shows, too. It was a good change for me and Jon [Devoto] and [drummer] Matt [Whalen] and Justin and [bassist] Dylan [Rowe] to all reconnect after not being together for some time and share. The final show was I think the Matches best show. We sold out the Fillmore which is where I used to make nachos as a kid–it was one of my first jobs. It was a really weird, full-circle vindication of a dream. It was a really nice goodbye.

How connected do you feel to the songs released on album 4? And can you tell us how the album got named, because quite frankly, we think it’s pretty funny.

The album name is basically making fun of our manager’s verbose e-mails. He’ll send us four pages just to ask us about another question. [The title] was just the subject header [of his e-mail], and it had all these semicolons and like a four-way conjunction, so we just sent back the shortest e-mail saying, “That’s the title.” [Laughs.] He tried to get us to change it a number of times, but we were like, “Nope. That’s it.”

The songs, well, all of them to me are very much demos. We played them all together live, and the idea for album 4 when we tracked the actual album was to record as much of the album live as we could, because we’d only done that a couple times in the past. Increasingly, producers like to separate every band members and get every part perfect, and we wanted to make–not scrappier, necessarily, but just kind of more of a loose and telling album of who the four of us are and try not to get carried away with a ton of overdubs and Queen-style vocals and that kind of stuff. On Decomposer and A Band In Hope, we played around with a lot of studio tricks–especially Decomposer, which was us learning about a bunch of studio tricks. And then on A Band In Hope, we got carried away a number of times. So we wanted to make an album that was just really a picture of the four of us.

So the demos, actually, are not stripped-down enough for my liking. In fact, if we were to make those an album, I would’ve taken off a bunch of stuff. [Laughs.] But a big part of the demo process is trying stuff out, and the producer wanted to try some parts, and of course we couldn’t resist trying some parts. So it sounds a bit too much to me, but then again, I don’t know that any Matches fans would note that because I think the change they would’ve heard if we had actually recorded a real album 4 would’ve been more minimal.

So, how did Maniac take off?

When I met Jake, I knew, he knew, everybody in his band knew and everybody in my band knew that we were going to have a project together. There were a few moments that really defined that. I met Something With Numbers on a tour that they brought the Matches on in Australia. By the end of the tour, my bandmates were advising that I don’t hang out with Jake, and if I do, they were definitely going to make sure they weren’t around, because they were afraid of getting deported back to the States. [Laughs.]

“Shawn. We don’t have bail money.”

[Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. Jake definitely has this really magnetic personality. He’s super positive and I’m kind of drawn to people that get visibly excited. For the creative process, that’s so invaluable to be able to work with somebody that’s discerning, has really good ideas, and at the same time will give you feedback that isn’t jaded. If they like it, they get visibly psyched. We wrote a song in Jake’s van on the way to the grocery store, just fucking around. And it was like, “Jesus, I’m always doing this in my own head.” Wherever I’m going, I’m jotting down ideas on my arm in Sharpie or whatever. But I’ve never done this with somebody. I’ve never had somebody come to me and be like, “Check it out!” in the middle of a movie. Like, “Come to the lobby, I’ve got to show you something!” I fucking love that. It’s so good to not have to cordon off or partition off the part of life that is meant to be, “Okay, here’s studio time. This is when you write. Here’s band practice time. This is when you rehearse. Here is do whatever you do on your own time otherwise.” There was no time that was protected from launching into creative ideas. That’s all I want to do in life. That’s what I want to do until I die–be in an environment where I can do that.

He’s your creative soulmate.

Yeah, absolutely. We started engineering and recording our own stuff, and it was actually turning out pretty good. I’m a terrible mixer, but I’m a pretty good engineer–I can get good tones. And Jake’s actually a really good mixer, so our stuff really came together. We played it for a couple people, and they were like, “Oh, wow. Is this your record? Is it done? Can I hear the whole thing?” And it’s like, no we just demoed the other day after I stayed behind after a Matches tour. And the radio over in Australia was like, “Well, give us the songs, we’ll play them right now.” So we were like, “Oh, fuck. We’ve got to put a band together.”

So when can we expect to hear Maniac music?

I’m going back [to Australia] to do our last batch of demos. That will put us at 24 recorded demos. Then we’re going to in the studio and do an album of 10 or 12 songs for our debut record. We’ll probably put the first song from the album out in March. We may decide to put up a demo or two before then at some point. Maybe when we go in the studio in November. We’re going to continue our blog for fun. So I’m going to say May/June release of the first Maniac first full-length.

With our live shows, I really want to convey this feeling of “anything goes.” I’m just exuberant about playing these songs and writing them. I want people in the audience to feel that. With a rock band like the Matches, I always felt that fans always, always appreciated the shows–I always felt like we were ripping people off, to be honest. [Laughs.] All I did was show up, I knew how to play the songs on guitar, and I would just kind of play them and be like, “Peace.” But I wanted it to be so much more than this, and everyone else was like, “This is cool, this is cool, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show.” But I was like, “Yeah, but do you know how many rock ‘n’ roll shows there’s been in history? Good luck, dude. Let’s put on a fucking show. Like, I want to go over the top. I want to fucking build boats and sail around on the crowd and build an island in the middle of the room every day and fucking like sing songs from the island and fucking like be hoisted up by fucking body packs and cords and having fucking fireworks and awesome intros and shit. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I always wanted to do, so that’s what we’re doing with Maniac. [Laughs.] I can’t fucking wait. It’s going to be awesome. ALT