A feature on The Matches from Smash Magazine.

The Matches just finished up their stint on the first ever Epitaph Tour and wanted you to know they had a great time! Next up for the band is the Chain Me Away co-headlining tour with The Plain White T's. These shows will run from March 20th to May 4th. Check out the tour page for more info, href='http://www.chainmeaway.com/' target='_blank'>chainmeaway.com! Here is a feature article on The Matches from Smash Magazine.

Matches light fire in underage rock scene

Hannah Rose is having a once-in-a-lifetime night. Standing in front of her is Shawn Harris, lead singer of the Oakland-based band the Matches and one of Hannah's favorites, who had just ripped through a punchy and sweaty show.

"Can I ask you one more thing?" the 13-year-old Hannah asks.

"Sure," he answers.

"Can I have one of your bracelets?" she wonders, pointing to an orange-and-white number Harris is wearing on his left wrist. The naturally affable Harris smiles and hands it over before giving her a hug. Standing outside of the Oakland club, Hannah and a handful of her friends are squealing with excitement.

"You go, Hannah Rose!" one of her friends exclaims.

"I got the bracelet, a sweaty hug and he wrote a song for me," she gushes.

If the Matches continue down the path they've paved over the past couple of years, scenes like this will be more commonplace than any of them could have ever expected. The quartet of Harris, drummer Matt Whalen, bassist Justin San Souci and guitarist Jon Devoto have taken the local underage punk-rock scene by storm.

In just a couple of years they have played sold-out shows all across the Bay Area; recorded a collection of hook-filled gems, "E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals"; toured across the United States, Canada, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan; and garnered major record industry buzz from such music heavyweights as Rick Rubin and producer Eric Valentine (Good Charlotte, Smash Mouth, Third Eye Blind).

This week, Epitaph, the influential indie music label, announced it had signed the Matches to a contract and will re-release "E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals" in April.

Not too shabby for a pair of 21-year-olds, a 20-year-old and the 17-year-old Devoto. The Harris, San Souci and Whalen trio first got together while students at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. After school the four would retire to Whalen's parents' Oakland hills home to play Weezer, Sublime, Green Day and Rancid songs.

Laughing, Harris explains the band has been together "somewhere between six and two years. We tell everybody different numbers, depending on who they ask." Guitarist Matt Esposito, who left the band to attend the Naval Academy, was the band's original guitar player. Devoto, who grew up in El Cerrito, came into the fold about two years ago.

While still in high school, the quartet recorded original songs under the name the Locals and handed out tapes to friends around school.

"We had a small group of friends that we thought was a huge following and our parents liked us a lot," the singer says. "Around the time we graduated high school, we had done parties and a couple shows that were bar mitzvah kinds of things."

Things were about to change in a hurry. Through Whalen's father, who volunteers for the Peace Trails charity, the band was invited to tour Bosnia-Herzegovina.

They were looking for a young American rock band to co-headline a tour there, Harris recalls. "We sort of fudged the facts and made it sound like we were a little bigger than we were. ... Somehow we ended up on this tour, and the second show that we ever played was in Sarajevo in front of 1,300 people."

After they returned stateside, the performance bug bit them hard. They picked up a manager and a handful of local shows. At the same time, Harris and San Souci were attending an arts college, while Whalen and Devoto were still in high school. As the band's popularity rose, college became less appealing, but the band had solid parental support, so much so that their parents continue to offer their homes for rehearsals and work at practically every local show.

More than music, the Matches have built an all-ages community around a series of local concerts they book, work and perform called L3: Loud, Live, Local. Bands from as far away as Chicago and as close as San Mateo have made L3 regular stops. The latest L3 show is Saturday night at Oakland iMusicast club/Internet concert site in Oakland.

Of course, none of this happens without hard work. Rather than waiting for attention to find them, the Matches went out and actively marketed themselves. High schools and skate parks from Oakland to Walnut Creek to the North Bay were visited at one time or another by the band. Harris, San Souci and Devoto played acoustic guitars and sang while Whalen passed out fliers. The band took it seriously.

"We had boards up with high school names and we'd put down what happened at the high school and what we should do next time," San Souci says. "It was pretty intense.

Although rumors of a major-label signing circulated around the band, Matches members insist they wanted all along to release their first couple of albums on an independent label while staying on the road and building a grass-roots following.

"We want this to be a career, so it's not something we are going to risk by throwing a single on the radio," Harris says. "We want to develop a live following like we know we can. If we get out, it's inevitable that we'll find people that like this music and will come to our shows."

By David John Farinella
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