Lots of successful bands have strong work ethics. Then there are those like Matchbook Romance who make other workaholics look like sloths in comparison.
Just days after the release of their 2003 debut, Stories and Alibis, frontman Andrew Jordan started writing the band’s next album on the road. During 18 months of nonstop touring, the back lounge of the Matchbook bus served as a mobile studio, and whenever they had a moment, Jordan, guitarist Ryan DePaolo, bassist Ryan Kienle and drummer Aaron Stern furiously experimented with different riffs, beats, melodies and vocal passages. Then, when Matchbook Romance finally got off the road, Jordan locked himself away and worked obsessively for more than 70 hours a week.
“If I wasn’t working on the record I felt bad,” Jordan explained a month before the Valentine’s Day release of the band’s sophomore disc, Voices. “If I took two hours to go shopping or hang out with friends, I was like, ‘Dude, what am I doing? In those two hours I could have written the greatest song ever.’ It was the worst stress I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Jordan’s anxiety was largely the result of success. Stories and Alibis sold more than 200,000 copies and established the group as a contender for the emo/pop-punk throne. Matchook Romance had a lot to live up to heading into the second record, and the pressure was even greater because Jordan was determined to stray from the group’s proven musical roots and create something truly original.
“We kind of had to prove ourselves after Stories and Alibis,” Jordan explained. “All these naysayers and nonbelievers were like, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ve seen what happened to all the other bands that came out of your scene. Can’t wait to see you guys fail.’ That’s what fueled our fire. We wanted to show everyone that we’re really musicians and we can really play our instruments well and write great songs.”
It seems that Matchbook Romance’s ambition and dedication have paid off. Voices is sonically unconventional, but it’s packed with enough strong melodies to keep listeners hanging on through the sudden twists and hairpin turns. “You Can Run, but We’ll Find You” opens with tender, reflective piano; “Monsters” is a carnival ride embellished with handclaps; and the elegiac “Goody, Like Two Shoes” and the desperate “What a Sight” feature weeping strings that buffer heavier guitar blows.
“I’m just fed up with a lot of these bands that aren’t doing anything and are just spinning their wheels,” Jordan said. “They don’t give a sh– about how they sound when they play live. They don’t give a sh– about the messages they send out. There’s nothing backing up what they’re doing. So I just declared war on that and declared war on cheesy music.”
Clearly on a roll, Jordan continued: “We didn’t just want to have another CD that’s taking up room in a CD store. We actually wanted to contribute to the evolution of music. Even if we just do a second of something cool, and then that inspires someone else to say, ‘Hey, that’s pretty rad,’ and they experiment with that and go off and do an amazing thing. Even if it’s just that, we want that tiny knowledge that we might have done something meaningful.”
Jordan is equally passionate about his lyrics, which are unflinchingly confessional and filled with equal doses of self-pity and self-loathing. Pretty much anything that’s on his mind is fair game for exploration in a song: “Say It Like You Mean It” is about his contempt for vacuous pop-punk bands, while the first single, “Monsters,” examines the tenuous relationship between celebrities and the people who look up to them.
“[People] tend to idolize [celebrities] and think they’re the most beautiful people in the world,” he explained. “When really they’re coke fiends, heroin addicts and complete f—-ups. They have people run their lives for them because they can’t handle it, while there are people who aren’t famous, who are living life way more and doing way greater things than all of these celebrities combined.”
Other songs are far more personal. “Surrender,” for instance, is about Jordan’s unusual perspective on past sexual indiscretions. “I really blew this one relationship because I wasn’t completely truthful,” he explained. “I never told this person about the sh– that went down because I feel like it’s better to pay off your debt to somebody by not telling them and just totally facing it by yourself. I think a lot of people just say, ‘Hey, you know, I f—ed up. Real sorry.’ And the other person freaks out and cries and gets f—ed-up permanently over one of your mistakes. Then they’re always looking over their shoulders.
“The way I pay these people back is to go, ‘I’ll never do that again to anybody else, ever,’ ” he concluded. “That’s more of a punishment than anything because secrets eat you alive and haunt you. Those people wind up hiding in the back of your head forever, like voices.”