Rockers on the Rise
If you haven’t yet heard of the local band Matchbook Romance, that should change any minute
by Thomas Staudter
Plucked from noisy yet relative obscurity by a hard-rock legend and signed to his cutting-edge record label; cheered by enthusiastic fans around the world as their music crystallized in the studio and tightened to a furious grandeur on the road; and then haunted by ghosts while cutting their breakout album in an old barn: welcome to the world of Matchbook Romance, regarded by many to be the Hudson Valley’s premier rock band.
Since their coalescence in the summer of 2001, the four members of the group — vocalist, guitarist, and chief songwriter Andrew Jordan; lead guitarist and vocalist Ryan “Judas” DePaolo; bassist Ryan Kienle; and drummer Aaron Stern — have taken their supercharged anthems far beyond the environs of the Chance (the popular Poughkeepsie music showcase where the band first began to excite fans).
To date, they’ve crisscrossed North America nearly a dozen times (spending three summers as part of the prestigious Vans Warped Tour), made the rounds in Europe twice, and traveled Down Under to perform several sold-out concerts in Australia this past December. (As a reward for surviving this relentless schedule with their friendship intact, they even fit in a scuba-diving expedition off the Great Barrier Reef. )
With several free weeks scheduled around the winter holidays, the idea was for the Matchbookers to spend time with family and friends before resuming the exhaustive pace of traveling and performing. Their second full-length CD, Voices, was released on Valentine’s Day. After a big promotional concert on Long Island and a few weeks of serious rehearsal, the group was primed to embark on a U.S. tour that only the road-warrior caste of rock-and-rollers would want to attempt: 45 shows in seven weeks, starting in Washington, D.C., heading out to California, then returning east to finish up in Worcester, Massachusetts, on April 25. (The band performs at the Chance on April 18.)
But after a few weeks of home cooking, the rhythm of the road beckoned. DePaolo flew to Florida, Kienle and Stern wound up at their favorite tattoo parlor in Dallas, and Jordan took care of business in Los Angeles. They all reunited in Colorado for a music-industry conference and a gig at a private party, followed by some snowboarding. It’s the “work hard, play hard” ethos of today’s young rock pros, a caffeine-fueled lifestyle that understands that success and sincerity are entwined.
“It’s a grueling way to live, but I’m young, so it’s easy for me right now,” says Stern, at 22 the band’s junior member. (Jordan, the oldest, will be 26 in November.) “Still, I’m careful to use some downtime to prepare myself for what’s going to happen next. The road can be nerve-wracking because you’re always moving and meeting tons of people, and so your mind seems to be always racing along, too. On the other hand, it’s pretty cool traveling around and having an opportunity to see the world. My parents haven’t gotten to some of the places where we’ve toured!
“The most amazing thing,” Stern continues, “is seeing the differences in the cultures from one country to the next. But on stage we’re always reminded of the connections that we have with our audiences, no matter where we are, and that we’ve come together for the same reason — because of music.”
The weeks leading up to the release of Voices had begun to cause almost too much anxiety for the band members to take. “We’re anticipating so much, it’s crazy,” admits Stern. “Also, this time around we know we’re a bigger priority to our record company and all the music stores out there. Our last album wasn’t always stocked in the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, near where I live, but they’ll definitely have this one.”
Indeed, prior to the band’s sonic Valentine, a music video of the first single from Voices — an ominous and defiant march of sorts called “Monsters” — was released, and quickly became the top download on mtv.com. Intrigued by the musicians’ attire (suits, buttoned-down shirts, and ties), the video had some fans wondering aloud in chat rooms whether Matchbook Romance might be on the way toward becoming, um, too “big” and popular.
“As a group, we’ve experienced an amazing development,” says Jordan, “so much so that it was strange listening to Voices after we’d finished recording it because we could hardly believe that it’s our band making that music. But we worked hard putting it together. To achieve a more nuanced sound, we decided to declare war on power chords and focus instead on the guitars playing single-note parts, which, along with Judas’s awesome harmony singing, helped create this orchestral feel that we weren’t necessarily hearing on other bands’ CDs.”
Playing a highly melodic, post-punk style of rock known as “emo” (heart-heavy lyrics delivered in anguished, mostly screaming vocals and matched in fury by crunching electric guitars and a relentless rhythm section), the Cinderella-like discovery and
rapid rise of Matchbook Romance is, undoubtedly, what young musicians dream of.
Jordan and Kienle, classmates at Roy C. Ketcham High School in Wappingers Falls, Dutchess County, had been playing in a band called Fizzlewick for three years when they decided to form their own outfit in February 2001. First they hooked up with DePaolo, a recent transplant to the area from Jacksonville, Florida, at a local record store. In August 2001 they rechristened themselves the Getaway after finding Stern during an open audition. Rehearsing steadily in the basement of Stern’s mother’s house in Yorktown Heights, the quartet built up a devoted following in the Hudson Valley, where the bona fide punk and metal rock scene attracts everyone from young fans with a taste for fast, ear-splitting sounds to all-ages crowds in clubs like the Chance.
In May 2002, Brett Gurewitz, the founder and president of L.A.â€“based Epitaph Records (and who is worshiped by punk fans for starting the archetypal 1980s hardcore band Bad Religion), was surfing punk music sites on the Internet. Gurewitz was startled to see that the Getaway’s song “Ex Marks the Spot” had been downloaded more than 20,000 times.
Taken by the tune, he flew east to hear the band play at the Chance. There, he says, he witnessed “six hundred kids, jumping up and down, singing all the words to the band’s songs.” Deciding that it was rare to find “these energetic, sincere guys with great songs full of harmony vocals and accurate musicianship,” he signed the band. They changed their name to Matchbook Romance (a Canadian band had already licensed the Getaway moniker) and in April 2003 released a five-song EP, West for Wishing, before bringing out Stories and Alibis, the band’s first full-length disc, a few months later.
Since the release of Stories and Alibis, Matchbook Romance has spent practically every month on the road. Initially they played at clubs “that always seem to be in the worst part of town,” DePaolo says. In short order, they graduated to arenas and summer-festival tours, sharing the stage with some of the biggest acts in the music business today. Success doesn’t seem to spoil the Matchbookers, though. The last time the band came through Manhattan, a backstage visit at Irving Plaza found the four musicians drinking coffee and soda, playing video games, and catching up with friends in the other bands that were on the bill.
Earlier this year, when it came time to start fleshing out the songs for Voices, Gurewitz brought Matchbook Romance out to California for rehearsals. But after several weeks of struggle, the band members asked if they could return to New York. They rented an old dance studio on Main Street in Poughkeepsie, snuck away on occasion back to Yorktown Heights, and within weeks the new music was ready. “There’s a vibe here in the Hudson Valley that allows me to focus on writing, and for some reason we always pull everything together when we’re back home,” Jordan says.
Working with producer John Goodmanson, the band traveled to the allegedly haunted Long View Studios, located in an old farm complex in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, where band members swear they were awakened in shaking beds and routinely saw ghostly spirits roaming the hallways. “The folks who run the place told us not to be scared, that Native Americans had long ago gathered in the area because of the creative energy they felt emanated from where the recording studio is now,” says Jordan. “In the end, we came up with a masterpiece, despite being freaked out.”
“More than ever, we’re playing like a solid unit,” says Stern, and having the opportunity to bring their songs to fans around the world “is exciting beyond words.” These days, Matchbook Romance rides in a tour bus with a six-person crew, and the band members no longer have to sit behind the wheel — a sure sign they’re hitting the big time.