Shawn Harris of the Matches Talks Life on the Road
Since 1997, the Matches have been bringing a level of quirk and character to punk music that few bands can match. The attitude and energy in their music reverberates into their live show, a raucous, jumpy affair that's hard not to grin during. After creating a cult-like fervor in their homeland of the Bay Area, and perfecting a live intensity causing crowds to coin their shows "L3" (live, loud and local), the band began touring the world. The band signed to Epitaph early in their career, putting them on bills that ran the gamut of the genre: artists like Reel Big Fish, +44, the Starting Line, Motion City Soundtrack and more. In 2009 the band took a much-needed hiatus, and are now back, touring and releasing music when it feels right.
We spoke to singer/guitarist Shawn Harris about turkey testicles, Rick Rubin and hotel room football.
What album can everyone agree on in the van?
Weezer’s [Blue Album] or Third Eye Blind’s Blue. Maybe the Matches need to write a Blue Album…
What’s the most divisive?
As for the album that raises hackles, I can’t hear Muse’s Origin of Symmetry anymore — we’d been touring in the U.K. when Muse was just gaining popularity, and I thought I’d discovered something niche I could bring back to my friends in the States. Our guitarist Jon LOVED the record and learned every word and inflection word-for-word. Every time someone would play it, he’d sing louder than the recording. We ended up banning the record from the van.
What’s the strangest gig you’ve ever played?
We headlined a Turkey Testicle Festival somewhere in rural Illinois. I don’t think bird balls ended up in any of our mouths, though.
What the fuck is a Turkey Testicle Festival? How'd you get on the bill?
The Turkey Testicle Festival was basically a bunch of local Turkey farmers and their wives, standing in front of crock pots full of their turkeys' balls in their family recipe sauces, competing for the fowl gonad culinary blue ribbon. We told our booking agent to book us on anything to route back to CA from a tour ending in the midwest, just to break up the drive and get an extra couple paydays in. We were thinking little punk shows, or parties-- not a livestock festival... It was fucking weird. Especially since on Warped Tour, I'd recently done some videos with PETA. I was just waiting for some sort of backlash from playing the Testie fest, but I think it was so rural that nobody even paid attention.
Tell us about your biggest onstage clusterfuck.
Rick Rubin sent an A&R guy out to scout us playing in Indiana at some Knights of Columbus community center kind of venue. Our bassist’s amp wasn’t working, as we were line-checking before our set, so instead of cutting our set time, the rest of us started the set, expecting him to just join in when he got his sound together. I was singing the first verse when, all of a sudden, I was shoved off the stage into the crowd. I turned around in time to see Justin [San Souci] throw his bass through the drum kit, leaving our guitarist with the only still-playable instrument. The crowd was silent, as we left the stage after playing only 30 seconds of music. Amazingly, the A&R guy thought it was the most punk rock thing he’d seen in a long time and still wanted to sign us.
Describe your craziest afterparty.
We were playing co-ed tackle football in a hotel room, with the end-zones being the spaces on the far sides of the two beds in the room. Oh yeah, the football was a bedside ceramic lamp. One of us went long to catch a Hail Mary and went crashing through the sliding glass door behind the bed. There was a celebratory touchdown dance in the parking lot, culminating in the spiking of the ceramic lamp. We had to knuckle down on merch hustling for the rest of the tour to balance the credit card incidentals.
How do you deal with going days or even weeks without a shower?
Wet wipes and whore baths in venue sinks. The trick is to get to the venue bathroom before doors open and the place starts to flood with piss.
Be it an accident, crazy fan or place to crash, what’s your scariest experience on the road?
We were crossing the Canadian Rockies eastbound after playing Vancouver, and for some reason, the tour was routed such that we had to make the trip overnight. It had recently snowed, and us California boys weren’t accustomed to handling icy roads, nor were we yet very adept at towing our trailer. We ended up jackknifing around and getting in a one-vehicle collision with ourselves in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, a local in a pickup truck stopped and offered to pull us out of the ditch. We, however, only ended up pulling his bumper clean off his truck. Somehow, I think in a second attempt in which he pushed us, we ended up on the road again, but our engine’s electrical components shorted out and the engine died, leaving us with no lights or heat or locomotion, hours away from a town. It was freezing. I remember getting out of the van with a flashlight, and as the beam scanned our surroundings, seeing hundreds of sets of glimmering eyes watching us from the foot of the forest. We sat there for a few hours fearing death by wolf, until the lights miraculously flickered back on and the engine turned over.
What’s your universal must-go restaurant or road stop?
Tacos, pizza and burgers line the byways of this country, but a fresh leaf of spinach is a tough get out there. Pita Pit is my jam.
Who drives the most and least, and why?
I’m only allowed to drive when we’re not facing a deadline, because I notoriously drift below the speed limit. Our drummer Matt [Whalen] cleverly never figured out how to back up the trailer, so he was excused from the wheel when we got near cities and venues. Our bassist Justin drove most, which might be a chief reason why we barely lasted a year after he resigned before crying hiatus.
What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without sleep?
How many hours is three months of Warped Tour that first year we did it in a van with no crew?
How do you try to stay healthy on the road?
I go to France annually to get my blood replaced, like Keith Richards. No, I eat Pita Pit and drink beer instead of whiskey.
How do you amuse yourself on long stretches with nothing to do?
I draw tattoos for fans and send dirty texts to my wife.
What do you argue about the most?
Space. Like your weights vs. my books, or your feet vs. my pillow, or your second guitar cabinet vs. the merch boxes that are our only remaining fiscal commodity.