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Interview: Shawn Harris from The Matches

The Matches press shot

Californian punk pop legends The Matches may have called it quits in 2009 but it’s clear the quartet can’t resist a good reunion, and what better excuse than the 10th Year Anniversary of their sophomore album ‘Decomposer’? Before their Anniversary tour kicks off in Australia next week, we caught up with frontman Shawn Harris to discuss everything from The Matches reunion, his Aussie holiday to other music projects, and his 10-year plan which you’ll never guess what it is! 

Hi Shawn, What have you been up to recently?

I actually came over (to Sydney) a bit early, but I also just bought a house and I’ve got like $6 so I’m doing some mural painting to make some spending money while I’m over here.

What an awesome way to make money! If only we could all paint murals… 

Yeah, I’ve got an interesting version of survival (laughs). 

What else have you been up to in Sydney? 

Well, lets see. I got in about a week ago and was planning to do a bit of surfing but instead wrote some songs with my friend Jake (Grigg) from Something With Numbers.

The other half of your pop-rock duo Maniac?

Yeah, we’re trying out the idea of having another album by the time we’re 40 (laughs).

What made you come to Australia prior to The Matches tour? 

We’re pretty much just doing a weekend of shows so it seemed like it would be a waste of jet fuel to come over for a weekend, you know? Might as well maximize the fuel.

Fantastic! Most bands just come over for a tour without enjoying the attractions so it’s great you’ve decided to make the most of it. 

Oh yeah, we used to have that kind of schedule but now that we’re only partially a real band, we can do whatever the f*ck we want!

Do you have a favourite place in Sydney?

Yeah, I’m staying over at my buddy’s (Lachlan West), who used to play the drums in Maniac. He’s over in the States’ playing with a band called The Griswolds, so his flat is empty – I’ve got my own flat here (laughs). It’s quite nice.

Congratulations on your 10th Year Anniversary for the sophomore album ‘Decomposer!’ What’s it like to revisit old tracks?

Thank you. It’s pretty cool! It’s always interesting coming back to something a decade later or so and seeing what’s still relevant. It feels kind of nostalgic, you know? I remember the time we were making the record, like the second track on the record, Drive. We were pushing things really far forward. Matt (Whalen) was playing a sample pad along with his drums and we had this kind of heavy kick sound. It was a sample and we were just incorporating a few particular elements in with our organic sound.

It was still punk and it felt very interesting at the time but now when we’re relearning that song it’s like, alright, that song’s a little bit dated. And a song like Salty Eyes didn’t really have a genre or a place at the time back then. It actually feels like something I might write tomorrow. It could still come out of my mouth, it still feels really relevant, so it was interesting going through the entire album and seeing what songs still have an air of timelessness to them.

Apart from the tour, are there any celebrations planned for the Anniversary?

No? (laughs) It’s really about the shows. Me and Matt came out early – Matt’s out North right now, and so we’re just stoked to be able to spend a couple of weeks over here before the shows. These are the first shows we will be playing off the ‘Decomposer’ Anniversary tour so when we play in Melbourne, that first show will be the first time playing the whole record for an audience. The chaos for me is being able to do that. Back in the day when we wrote the record we were mostly playing supporting slots for bigger bands, trying to climb the ladder, or playing Warped Tour or Soundwave – whatever it might’ve been, which is generally a half an hour or maybe 40 minutes.

We never actually got to play this album in its entirety and that’s kind of the fun of these tours. On one hand you kind of know what to expect aside from the encore, so maybe it takes some surprise out of the sequence, but at the same time we’re not going to be able to do this with albums we’re releasing now in 10 years because people aren’t really repeat listening to albums and the sequences we intend. They come on playlists. We take our favourite 2 or 3 songs off any given album and put those in playlists and maybe only listen to the full thing once in a while.

Back in the day I’m sure people listened to ‘Decomposer’ on a CD in their car stereos and it was a pain in the ass to change a CD in your car. I didn’t have a CD changer so whenever a CD was in my car I would just leave it in there until whenever I got sick of it. I think a lot of people heard the album that way so it’s gonna be fun to basically replay that experience in a live sesh.

Is there any chance The Matches will make a new album in the future? 

Yeah, there’s a chance for sure! We had so much fun doing the reunion shows a few years ago for ‘E. Von Dahl’ that we decided we wanted to keep playing. None of us had any interest in going back on the road in the same capacity that we’re used to, meaning 200 shows a year. Our lives have kind of changed. We basically didn’t want to go out and be road dogs again but we did have so much fun playing we thought as long as there’s an audience, as long as people cared to come out then there’s a reason to do it.

The minute it didn’t feel as urgent or the crowd got used to it, I think it wouldn’t feel as special to me. I like being able to come back to this band, have it still feel really exciting and having the crowd seeing something they might not get to see ever again. That means a lot – this little blip in music people still have a soft spot for. 

I’m a really big fan of your surf rock solo project St. Ranger. How did you come up with this alter ego?

I found an Airstream trailer out in the desert. It actually belonged to a musician friend of mine, well it belonged to his father-in-law. I started talking about wanting to travel in a trailer and do a solo project. My friend Tim called me up and said, “Hey, you were talking about a trailer, what do you think of those silver ones that are airstreamed?” and I’m like, “yes, those are the best!” He said, “ Well if you want to go pull this one out of the van, I think it’s in pretty shit shape, but if you want to fix it up go for it.” So me and my girlfriend at the time – who’s now my wife, fixed up the Airstream, I proposed to her, we went out on the road, and I started doing these shows.

At first I was just going to have it be my name and then I was like, “no, I don’t like that.” I can’t buy a shirt of a solo artist aside from one of The Beatles, I just can’t do it. I can’t wear a dude’s name and at the same time I didn’t want it to be me because then I would feel like everything I said was something I unintentionally endorsed, which I generally do but it’s nice to put a little wall in there so if somebody’s like, “Oh my god, you are such a dickhead, you said that in your song,” I can be like, “No St. Ranger said that, not Shawn Harris.”

It’s just a tiny tiny tiny buffer but yeah, it’s my solo project and it’s been really fun to start up. It’s kind of all my odds and ends that don’t fit in with all the rest of my bands for many years to come because I can’t really break up with myself as much as I would like to sometimes (laughs). 

Were there any funny stories on your St. Ranger trip that didn’t make the album? 

Oh yes, plenty of them! I drove a trailer for years while we were touring but the Airstream is a little bit bigger and I hadn’t driven a trailer for a while. I got caught in a Mississippi swamp and I bummed my wheels out a bunch of times that I ended up coming face to face with this huge carcass in the middle of the road. I couldn’t get around – it was in the mud, so I had to dig the trailer out of the mud in front of this carcass with all these ravens landing on it and reverse about 3 miles out of the swamp while I was constantly getting bogged. That was a fun one. There were guys sitting on their porches playing the banjo and laughing at me.

Mostly I’m just going to all these places I passed on the highway so many times when we were touring. Because when you’re touring on such a small time constraint and you have to get from one city to the next, if you have a day off it’s usually in some stupid suburb where all you can do is get an ice cream and see a movie. I wanted to get out of that and see all these beautiful places around America and actually dig the best parts about my country, which is not the people (laughs). I did a bunch of recording in canyons, meadows and caves and stuff that I found along the way, hunting for reverb and mute places to get sounds. 

What are your plans for the next few years? 

Two years? My two-year plan? (laughs). I like a two-year plan! I just bought a house in Joshua Street, California, which is where Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age has a studio. There’s a bunch of artists and musicians out in the desert and so I’m making a little studio in my basement out there. I’m pretty excited about that. I should have that within a year and then I’m going to do some album recording, rent out my house and go back out on the road with the Airstream and do more recording out in fields and canyons too. Probably try to come back out to Australia again in about two years – we’ll see what happens, and play some Matches shows whenever those guys are around, I don’t know.

I have kind of a 10-year plan which is I’d like to go completely gray before I’m 40. I’m about halfway there, believe it or not. I know it’s not anything that can have a real affect on but I’m pretty excited about it (laughs). So that’s my 10-year plan!

That’s a pretty damn good 10-year plan!

Yup. And my 30-year plan is to be that weird old musician in the trailer that drives around and records flowers. Yeah, and if you’re still around I’ll be putting out albums – who knows what medium I’ll be putting them out on. Music can’t get anymore free than it is right now. I think it’s in a pretty good state, I can put out whatever the hell I want and people still like to go to shows because they get lonely and that’s why I’ll probably never be out of a job!

The Matches 10th Anniversary ‘Decomposer’ Tour

Max Watt’s , Melbourne
The Brightside, Brisbane
Sydney, Oxford Art Factory

Get Tickets HERE