Matchbook Romance's musical tastes mature
February 02, 2005 - By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
Over the past year, one of the hottest emerging rock styles has been "screamo," a sub-genre named for the blend of lyrically heartfelt guitar pop of emo — Dash-board Confessional and Weezer are among the kings of emo — and the screaming vocals and intensity of hard-core.
The past year has seen commercial break-throughs for several screamo bands, in-cluding Yellowcard, Thursday and Taking Back Sunday.
Matchbox Romance seems to be a strong contender to become the next breakout band from the screamo scene. Its 2004 full-length debut, "Stories and Alibis," has sold more than 100,000 copies, mostly on the strength of word-of-mouth raves.
The band is primed to parlay that initial impact to even bigger sales and popularity with a follow-up album that drummer Aaron Stern said should be ready for release on the heels of their summer stint on the main stage of the Vans' Warped tour.
There's only one problem; Matchbook Romance may not qualify as a screamo band when the next CD hits the stores.
"I think we're over the whole scene, the screamo thing," Stern said. "We'll keep some elements of that, but we're at a totally different place now musically.
"Our musical tastes have changed since we wrote the last album, very much so," he said. "So the music we're coming up with now is way more us and way more taking influences from other places besides where we were a couple of years ago when we didn't know what we know now. We've grown as people and as musicians and seen the world and seen a lot of different stuff."
Stern, though, only offered a few hints at how the sound is evolving.
"We've been listening to Pink Floyd and more classic rock, going back to the roots of this rock music and where it all evolved from, starting from way back," Stern said.
The drummer might have been smart in sticking to vague descriptions of the new Matchbook Romance sound.
While the foursome, which includes Stern, singer-guitarist Andrew Jordan, guitarist Ryan "Judas" DePaolo and bassist Ryan Kienle, has made a considerable dent in the writing for the new CD, plenty of work remains before the band will be ready to return to the studio.
To continue the creative process, the band members are taking special steps as they return to the concert trail to headline this winter's Epitaph Records tour, which travels coast to coast this February and March.
Other bands on the bill include label-mates Motion City Soundtrack, From First to Last and either the Matches or Scatter the Ashes, depending on the city.
"On this tour we actually have a tour bus where we're setting up a studio in the back lounge so we have full access to 24-hour recording," Stern said.
Some new material may be included in the live sets on the Epitaph tour dates, he said, but fans can expect the songs from "Stories and Alibis" to be the centerpiece of the show.
The album represents a good snapshot of the band's musical development up to 2004. It includes material, Stern said, that dates back to the group's beginnings in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 2001 right up to a song, "Shadows Like Statues," that was written just before recording the album.
"Stories and Alibis" followed an EP, "West for Wishing," that was released in 2003, and it seems clear that Matchbook Romance saved its best material for the full-length CD.
Songs such as "Your Stories, My Alibis," "Playing for Keeps" and "Lovers & Liars" set the tone, offering plenty of drama, as epic guitar melodies and churning rhythms provide a sweeping backdrop for Jordan's yearning vocals, which occasionally are punctuated with background screams.
This sound isn't far removed from any number of screamo bands, but Matchbook Romance gets the nod over many other bands with sharp songwriting and some nifty layering of guitar riffs and lead lines that bring a subtle but refreshing texture to even its briskest rockers.
The songwriting in Matchbook Romance is a true team effort, with all four band members working together on the music. And while Stern feels the collaboration is producing even better results on the new songs, the group dynamic almost fell apart last fall, when DePaolo nearly left the band because of touring stress.
"We set up tryouts and stuff to replace him, and after we did all the stuff that we had to do to get ready for him to leave, he decided he didn't want to leave," Stern said. "We didn't want him to leave. It all ended up working out together and now we're all on the same page."
Matchbook Romance headlines when the Epitaph tour stops Feb. 4 at Mississippi Nights. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $13 in advance or $15 at the door.