A Scrapbook of my Youth: 10 Years of E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and a Madman Dream

10 years ago a band from Oakland, California called The Matches released a record called E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals (referred to a E. Von Dahl for short). On that record was many songs that would go on to impact my life in ways I didn’t even yet understand. One of those songs was called “Audio Blood” and I named my teeny online magazine after it in 2006 and started my company of the same name in 2009. The band broke up that year after releasing 3 albums on Epitaph and busting their balls on the emo punk circuit. They left many a disappointed fan in their wake.

If you know me or you’ve ever wanted to know more about me, look no further than E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals. Young Sari quickly traded in any authority for the morals laced in this album. The Matches were unlike any other band to me and will always be. There was something vaguely odd about how close to home their lyrics felt and I’m sure they had that affect with many.

Below is a quick lesson in The Matches, my youth, the story of how I started my company, and the things that matter to me most. I always look back and think, ‘god, I was lucky”. And My parents were lucky!’ I put a lot of blind faith in the Matches at an early age and somehow they steered me here.

Now in retrospect, from my place in the music industry I can see the way The Matches treated their fans and the hard work they put behind their careers laid the groundwork for the standards I would carry out in my own career and the qualities I would look for in the bands I one day managed.

To celebrate the 10 year release of their album The Matches announced 2 reunions shows which will take place in San Francisco later this year.

I’m just the dog-eared page you turn back to…

Originally called The Locals, The Matches wrote songs when they were 18 years old in their basements or garages or whatever punk rock locale you want to envision… you get it. Not unlike any local band. They had hopes of breaking out of their suffocating home town of Oakland, they sang about them, and then they did just that- got the hell out. They worked their asses off. They did the notoriously gruelling Warped circuit, toured most days out of a year, and released 3 diverse-as-hell records (well 4 if you count the one that went up online after their break up).

In 2004, my sister Erin bought me the Warped Tour DVD for Hanukkah. The Matches had 3 live songs on it if I remember correctly. On the 2004 Warped compilation The Matches “Audio Blood” was sandwiched between 1208 and The Lawrence Arms. Any kid who grew up in the early 2000’s will attest that compilation CDs were LIFE. I listened to each track intensely, researching the artists as I went. The Matches instantly grabbed me. I remember overplaying that DVD a million times, studying the band, looking at the cool tattooed girls standing side stage (wishing I could be them) and the crowd’s reaction. My heart broke when the DVD got scratched and “Jack Slap Cheer” turned in to a triphop version of itself.

You said the distance would make a difference but it didn’t…

Sure, by most peoples standards the Matches were not famous but to many they were. They were on the cover of Alternative Press (read: huge deal in 2004 emo-punk era) and toured with all the big names. They had a story and no one was going to get in the way of them sharing it.  And sure in the grand scheme of things it could be argued that The Matches didn’t break the surface. What surface? But that’s the thing about fame… it’s entirely subjective and it doesn’t really matter. What matters now is there are fans across the country waiting with bated breath for tickets to go on sale to a show that will undoubtedly sell out in minutes. Fans who will fly across the country and pay whatever price to be there. Myself included.

And the bands make noise… that we call Audio Blood.

Somehow they wrote these songs that spoke to millions of kids at home in their shitty cities (Barrie, Ontario was mine), frustrated with their hometowns and dying to break out. Their songs were anthems for many a bus-ridden headphone. Epitaph scooped them up and the media wrote stories. That’s where young ‘journalist’ Sari came in to the picture.

“Sometimes I think why is it important for us to even exist as a band? Yea know, there’s so many good bands…. There are so many bad bands too, but there is a massive quantity of bands. It’s kind of daunting. Sometimes I sit and try to figure out why it’s important that we even write music. And I’m not really sure. Sometimes I feel like such a hack. Like compared to the master painter or something like that, me on the guitar, is kind of a sad sight. Well, I’ve been playing for 10 years, I’m not a prodigy. I just write songs about people I know and try to channel stories and what not. But I think a certain factor for music is that, music is a parasite and I think it attaches itself to people’s memories.  So when you hear a couple chords they could be the jankiest garage recorded, terribulest amp, whatever it doesn’t even matter what the musician is playing its just a way that that connects to your memories. Like you can hear a little progression and think of somebody you kissed in a barn when you were 17 years old. Or  or , you can hear a progression in a certain instrument and think of going to the opera with your parents when you were a child and just there’s that flood of memories that just come rushing in, that you can’t control. Yea and I think that’s how we’re lucky. That’s how we survive, is by people’s memories,” Shawn Harris, lead singer of The Matches, said to me in the back room at The Phoenix before a show one night in 2006.

Even back then, I remember thinking that luck had nothing to do with their success. I remember being frustrated that he didn’t understand his own genius in my mind. But now 10 years deep in this industry, I of course get it. And he’s right. His band is only as big as we allow them to be in our hearts. And that’s got to be frustrating because it can’t be controlled… what if those hearts give up on you.

And sometimes they do. But sometimes they don’t.

Sweating in the Dark We’re Freed…

Looking back… I genuinely thought I wanted to be a journalist but I think what I liked was the closeness it provided me to those I admired. I interviewed the band probably 6 times throughout my stint as a writer. An overly emotive writer at that (I guess not much has changed). I can’t look back without cringing at some of the articles I wrote from that time. Audio Blood Zine launched in 2006 and the premise was that anyone could contribute and send in their music reviews, photos, poetry, etc. We quickly built up a roster of 60 contributors across the country.

She said she wants to see the stars…

The first single off E. Von Dahl “Chain Me Free”:

From my post as a super fan throughout the Matches’ career I witnessed Shawn having his own quarrels with success and the industry. I interviewed him whenever the band was in Canada and my 14 year old self somehow picked up on this. He would be up or down and on the days he was bothered, about a girl or who knows what, he would rant and I would listen. Holding on to his every word. He was the glimpse in to a life I had yet to know and I wanted every part of it. I always looked forward to our chats and his real-ness. His wisdom and way of looking at things would seep in to my daily life and school work (which was becoming harder and harder to care about). He always had this intense fervour and was always asking questions. At first it was passion and excitement but as time went on it confused me more. It was at this stage I realized that artists are different. They are special. And I wanted to find a way to empower them.

By my own accord I’m a borderline creep. 

I was oddly obsessed with this band. I’m very aware of how this all seems. Every song, every video, every poster. In fact… I even made a fake press kit for the Matches once. I rewrote their bio for them, I made clippings from all the times they were mentioned in magazines, I would work for hours plotting their way to success in my bedroom. In many ways they were my case study and I was developing lots of the skills I rely on today.

Looking out the window at a brick wall I swore that I would be the first one to make this zipcode fucking history…

I moved away from Barrie to Toronto as soon as I could in 2007. I started interning at a record label and so the story goes. I grew in to a love/hate relationship with Barrie- my hometown where everything started. I always will hold it dear, it’s home, but I knew to achieve what I wanted I needed to be in the big city. It was intimating but that nervousness excited me.

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Before I had moved, I remember bussing down to TO with my best friend Amanda to see The Matches at the El Mocambo and interview them. Toronto was a big maze to me and we navigated ourselves from the bus station to the show. I remember walking the stretch from Spadina Station to the College/Spadina intersection in a terrible snow-y blizzard and not complaining once. Of course we were hours early so we set up shop at the Burger King across the street and waited for our interview time. Keith, the bands’ publicist, walked us over to the Red Room to sit down with the band. ‘Woah I thought what a crazy bar’. The city was so elusive to me. After the show the band kindly took photos with us (above) and we went on our way. Little did I know on this cold night in 2007, my future Toronto apartment (a couple years later)  would be situated on top of the Red Room. That corner was my stomping grounds for 3 years and home to many a legendary Audio Blood Rooftop party. The city and intersection that once seemed so foreign, the Matches the only familiarity parked on it, soon became my world.

Also here’s a photo I took that night… was going through my “I can be a photographer too” phase. That didn’t last long…

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Though they make no sense these are the moments we’ll remember for the rest of our restless lives. 

Acoustic version of “The Restless”:  

What I love about music and this story of mine here is that everyone has their own The Matches. We all grew up so far away from each other. The Matches wrote these songs miles away from Barrie Ontario. But for some reason we all connect at this same nostalgia-filled place. All ages shows, vodka in water bottles, boys with skateboards, disc mans held together with duct tape… nothing was ever as real as it was back then.

Uniquely though E Von Dahl is an album that never got old. Every time I’m pissed or stressed it instantly puts me in the right frame of mind. But I don’t only listen to it now because of what it reminds me of… the songs are simply great power pop punk songs with loads of soul. I would argue that if I just heard the band for the first time now I would still get in to the album just as heavy as I did 10 years ago. But of course… nothing is ever as heavy as when I was 14.

You’re gonna eat popcorn in the dark and pay 10 bucks to watch your life one day 

“I’ve never been frustrated with somebody not getting our band. I don’t think it makes sense that everyone should. There’s a certain status quo about what music is currently popular, just the same as this idea of what is attractive currently… like blondes, big breasted girls … but a few thousand years ago if you were chubby it was a sign that you were well-fed and therefore had a rich family, and that was attractive. Y’know what I mean? And so with music it doesn’t make sense that everyone should like the same music so it’s kind of really manipulative that some music is able to get really popular. Because it means some label or some group of people have figured out how to manipulate peoples taste and boil them down into these little genres basically. Not that I would be opposed to being popular with a great number of people, that would be quite rewarding, but we are not interested in making music in the first place to be marketed. I would much rather rely on dumb luck that somehow people will for some reason hear about us and connect with us because they simply like it,” said Shawn in one of my interviews.

‘Thems the brakes Shawn!’ is probably what I would tell one of my artists now if they said that.

But really… Shawn’s views on marketing always spoke to me. Even though you might be surprised to hear it, I agree with him fully. Though marketing is my second love to music and I’ve been successful at running a marketing company I like to think of us as the anti-BS marketing team. We love the music and brands we work with and we try to genuinely engage with potential fans, never force-feed. In everyone’s life or career there is that bridge you walk of remaining credible or selling out and making money. I like to think I can maintain a middle ground – work with truly great clients that are making the world a better place, maintain integrity – and be wildly successful (one day). Time will tell. But given the option I would say our core values and morals would far outweigh a shiny pay cheque and we’ve been faced with that road block (if you can even call it that) before.

I’m sure this is a similar struggle Shawn had with being in a band and having to market themselves. The wear and tear of labels and industry BS surely can be heard on their 3rd and last release A Band in Hope. But forget that, we’re talking about E Von Dahl. When the band was bright eyed and bushy tailed. I remember wishing I had the power to break them when I was 14 years old. To make them the hugest band in the world. I didn’t understand when someone didn’t ‘get’ The Matches and I thought if they could be massively successful the world would be better for it.

The Matches had this truly unique power of turning every fan in to a full-fledged promoter. They didn’t ask or instigate it but every fan wanted to selflessly share their music with their circles. And in their own way the band was brilliant at marketing themselves. Commotion promotion was an early ploy – playing acoustic sets on the streets to fans as they exited venues of like-shows. More on that below.

But to sum up this battle between a place of ‘fuck-the-man’ and aggressive marketing I choose to arrive on a new type of marketing – genuine marketing. However contradictory that may be, it’s the closest to what I live by and a lot of that is in thanks to this album and this bands’ approach to marketing themselves.

Theres a new hot band out of Oakland and its the sound of my way out…

This acoustic video was released just a few weeks ago when the band announced they would be doing a reunion show:

In many ways my faux writing career was my ticket out of Barrie. I remember vividly my step dad telling me if I was hired as a writer I could go to as many shows in Toronto as I would like. It was a challenge I had to destroy and I feverishly sent out samples of my writing to magazines. Luckily BedlamSociety.com gave me a shot and were the first to publish my youthful diatribes. There’s no reason I should have been allowed to write for anyone, I was a mess of a writer, 15 years old and so in love with everything. But my work ethic was unstoppable.

Once I had convinced my parents shuttling back and forth to Toronto for “work” (aka. interviewing bands and seeing shows) was crucial nothing was going to get in my way. It instantly took over my whole life and I started counting down days until I could leave Barrie.

We were just 18 with a madman dream… and now it seems we’re still insane 

18 is the age when I started the Audio Blood that we know and love today – a music PR and marketing company. I started it in my bedroom on Salem Ave. in Toronto. My roomies thought I was bat shit crazy. I didn’t know what I was doing but I remember thinking about it so simply, “hey if I can get like 5 bands to pay me $100 a month I can make rent” and so I left my job and went for it.

Kinda simular to how The Matches went for it when they were just a local band.

Commotion promotion, as mentioned above:

They were always the first to make sure fans got enough bang for their buck – playing acoustic sets outside the doors after the show. They were promo whores in many ways always playing every in-store – I saw them at Criminal Records in Toronto with 40 other people – and any radio station in site. They were tireless and thankful for every opportunity. They put on a show no matter how big the audience and made the best out of every situation.

I get to meet so many artists, some of which are hugely talented but still they don’t get this. I will always expect The Matches level commitment to their career and work ethic, which I realize is a tall order.

There’s a sick little suicide in all that we do.. you decide which one’s for you 

This was the first song that hooked me on that Warped DVD in 2004. I think of it to this day whenever I smoke a cigarette. It doesn’t stop me from smoking it but it makes me chuckle. This song told a lesson I had already learned the hard way, but appreciated it being conceptualized in this song. We all have a side of us that wants to fuck with our shit. Call it neurosis. This song took that realization out of my head and made me realize that everyone has their shit. I stopped letting mine hold me back and let it propel me forward.

Art is meant to be seen
not felt, not heard
it’s just paint
they’re just words
and fingers are for feeling
fists are for beating
scabs are for healing
and blood is for bleeding…

 

Every artist I know goes through the tumultuous juxtaposition of wanting the attention fame brings, dying for it, and then running from it when it comes too quickly. This love/hate fuels so much. What’s potentially the hardest as an artist is the drastically changing values in different environments. You are like a used cars. Every time you cross a border your value drops or increases for no good reason.  You’re trying to get comfortable in this awkward space of fame and road life but you’re constantly being thrust upwards or downwards in society.

It always boggles my mind overhearing friends or acquaintances saying after they’ve come close to a famous person, “omg they were just like a regular person.” Because they are in every single sense. People just intrinsically respect them more than you or I and know their name. There is absolutely nothing that makes them different scientifically. Fame, if anything, is a social construction. It’s a psychotic twist on the norm to keep life exciting.

I don’t believe any of my love affair with The Matches had anything to do with fame, it had to do with great music, perfect timing, and a whole lot of luck. I needed some direction and The Matches, unbeknownst to themselves, were there to give it. Any fan of the band can attest that what was so very obvious about this band was that they poured their hearts and souls in to this album and their careers. I took the Matches well-written songs and filled them with my own journey. I created a youth from their power chords that will stay burnt in my memory for life.

In it’s utter and complete messy perfection, E. Von Dahl has always lived in the now. E. Von Dahl captured what many albums strive to, but fail to do, a spirit. A spirit of youth and community, and making a difference. And that’s why it will always remain relevant.

In Shawn’s words, “and I don’t believe in the truth, but I do believe in belief and I like to believe in things and sometimes I end up inventing things for myself to believe in.”

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