Bird by Bird
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Bird by Bird

Berkeley, California, United States

Berkeley, California, United States
Band Rock Pop


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Bird by Bird - 09.16.09"

Bird by Bird - 09.16.09
Interviewed by: Adam Pfleider (09/16/09)

After 12 years, The Matches announced their hiatus earlier this year, and played their final show on August 23rd. At that same show, guitarist Jonathan Devoto opened with his new project Bird by Bird. Devoto took time to answer some questions via e-mail about his time in The Matches, what we can expect from him in the future, and playing a Weezer song with frontman Rivers Coumo.

AP: Before moving on with your new project, do you believe you achieved everything you creatively wanted to with The Matches? Were some of the demos on Myspace written before The Matches' disbandment?

JD: Yes, as The Matches, we definitely did everything that we wanted to creatively, and then some. That was sort of our thing. We were the super-creative-quirky band that was always pushing the boundaries of the oppressive grips that genres typically create. At least that's what people told us. As far as me personally, I'd been writing a lot of material, some of it that just didn't make sense to become Matches music. So yes, some of the demos on the Bird by Bird Myspace were written while The Matches were still going.

AP: Bird by Bird has a more accessible sound that you say in your biography is influenced by bands such as Kings of Leon, Third Eye Blind and Tom Petty. Is the writing style for Bird by Bird something you felt you didn't have the ability to express in The Matches, or is it more an expansion of what you were already were doing in the band?

JD: This sort of ties into the previous question a little bit. The Matches were a band that really strove to be different. That's who we were, and it worked great for us. Honestly, I'm a big fan of catchy, smart, rock songs. That's what I'm trying to create right now, and I'm having a great time doing it.

AP: I’ve read that you've been playing with a few musicians, but haven't "solidified" a line-up yet. Would you prefer a solo run for a while, or do you feel a full band would convey the sound you are going for, possibly something more full?

JD: A few of the guys I'm playing with could turn into permanent members, but I'm still looking around. I'd love to find all the right guys as soon as possible though. It'd be a huge weight off my shoulders. I've been playing a lot of solo acoustic shows, which is great, and I feel is really important to help me build character as a frontman, but the sound of the project really is a full band. The sooner the band is put together, the sooner we can start taking recording and touring more seriously.

AP: You've gotten a lot of praise as one of the scene's most promising new guitarist, how are you going to take that fuel over into this project?

JD: Oh, well, thank you. I've been playing guitar for a long time, it's something I love to do. The types of guitar parts that these songs have are catchy riffs, interesting chord patterns and voicing, and some pretty cool instrumental sections as opposed to just balls-out shred solos (though there will undoubtedly be some shred moments, though hopefully tasteful, ha). I'm a big fan of recording guitar sounds in such a way that can be recreated live, rather than just recording walls of guitars that are impossible to recreate without 10 guitar players on stage. I've also been experimenting a lot with new pedals.

AP: Lyrically, where are you coming from with the new material? Any general concept related to the name Bird by Bird?

JD: I'd like the words to come out as easy to relate to, but also written with enough cleverness as to not come across as simple. Being a lyricist is something that's relatively new to me. I've only been seriously writing lyrics for a couple years now. It's not something I did as part of the Matches... I've always read a lot of books, but typically non-fiction. I've recently been digging into some marvelous literature that's changing the way I feel about fiction (I'm 600 pages into Infinite Jest right now, and loving it), and really influencing my lyric writing in a positive way. As far as subject matter, I really enjoy writing about the human condition, politics and beliefs, interesting concepts in general – and then of course there are love songs. Everybody is affected strongly by love. It's impossible not to write about.

AP: How did the "Pinkerton" cover show go? Who had that idea, and did any of the guys from Weezer show up to that one?

JD: I got an e-mail one day from Lewis Patzner of Judgment Day, a band from Oakland we're good friends with. All it said was, "Yo man, how do you feel about that old school Weezer stuff?” I hadn't heard from Lewis in months, and was a little confused by the e-mail. When I heard that he was rounding up local musicians to cover Pinkerton, I was all for it, even though [The Blue Album] is my favorite Weezer album. It was a blast getting together with talented friends and learning the record together. It's a ridiculous album, and was a little difficult to learn, which made it all the more fun. (I loved playing those guitar solos!) And yes, Rivers [Coumo] made it out to the show, and played “Butterfly.”

AP: Even more exciting, how was the Gap show?

JD: Haha – totally weird. Apparently I won some contest that I didn't know I was entered in, and didn't find out about it until just a few days before the show happened, so there really wasn't much promotion involved. I was playing acoustic for maybe 10 or 15 fans that came out, and a bunch of random folks buying jeans. About half of those fans were from out of town. The show was right before the Bird by Bird debut/Matches final show, so a lot of people flew in from all over the world for the shows. These out-of-towners got to The Gap to see me play, and had this really weird expression like they didn't know what was going on (neither did I). I think they were expecting a huge crowd of people at the show because it's my hometown. But the reality of the situation was that it was a last minute show booked with absolutely no promotion, at a clothing store, not a venue. But it was a good chance to try out some new material before playing it at the full band debut show, and also to meet these people that flew all the way here just to see the shows. I also had some fun messing around with the Gap's patrons.

AP: Are there any plans for a full length or EP sometime in the near future, or are you still looking to put together a full-cemented line-up first, and then go into the studio?

JD: Definitely. There's some discussion right now about booking studio time. We'll likely record a few songs, then depending on how they come out, they could turn into songs we sell online, print for an EP, shop around to record labels, or just a round of demos. If I don't have the band line-up completely set up at that point, I can record all the instruments myself, which is how I've been doing it for GarageBand demos of all the songs. But really, I'd like to not have to play everything on the recordings. I get nasty blisters on my fingers from playing the drums.

AP: As a whole, what are you hoping to achieve with Bird by Bird's songwriting, and for you as an artist? In it's early stages, how close are you to that now?

JD: I want to create powerful catchy rock songs that people can easily connect with and relate to. That's not too much to ask is it? How close am I to that now? I don't think that's for me to answer. -



On July 9, NorCal hyphenate-rockers (and former AP cover stars and 2008 AP Tour alum) THE MATCHES announced a hiatus after nearly 10 years of playing together. In August, they digitally released album 4 unreleased; graphics? title? or not needed? and played two sold-out farewell shows (Aug. 22 and Aug. 23, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and The Fillmore in San Francisco, respectively). AP checks in with guitarist JON DEVOTO the week after the farewell shows as he's driving a trailer full of Matches equipment from the band's Oakland headquarters (drummer Matt Whalen's parents' house) to his grandmother's house, which is where he's setting up a practice space for his new band, BIRD BY BIRD.


RL: It had to be a little crazy to do the full-band debut of Bird By Bird the same weekend as the Matches finale shows.

JD: It was a little weird. [Laughs.] It was a huge mix of emotions and everything, because there's the debut show, which is the mindset I've been in for the past couple of months. It was a really cool thing having the debut show [Aug. 21] because we had a whole bunch of Matches fans that were in town from overseas and everything. It was a sold-out show, which was awesome. But then playing the Matches farewell shows, it was kind of like running into an ex-girlfriend at a party and hooking up and then all these emotions kind of come back, and it's like, "Oh, my God. I forgot about how much I care about you!" We've all kind of moved on with our lives--it's been a few months that we've known about [the hiatus], and we've started new projects and everything. But playing the shows was just a huge rush of emotions and everything.

I was really afraid of talking to fans after the shows because I was expecting some angry people, [adopts angry tone] "What the hell are you doing? Why'd you quit? What the fuck? Fuck you, I'm going to stab you!" But they were all really awesome, and I talked to people in the crowd after the Fillmore show, and everyone was happy that we're happy, and really cool about everything. They were emotional, and it made me emotional. Everyone was holding back tears--myself included. [Laughs.] It was totally weird--really, really weird. But most Matches fans are incredibly supportive of my new band, although there are a couple people--because I kind of had the newer project first--who blame me for the breakup. [Laughs.] I've gotten a couple--not a lot--but I've gotten two intense e-mails from people who are like, "I'm going to punch you in the face." Which I love. I mean, it's great press. [Laughs.] But that's obviously not how things happened, but people kind of make up their mind about how things went and make their own story up, and it if it makes them feel good, then good for them. [Laughs.] But overall, most people are really supportive of us having new projects.

RL: It seemed like you all got to a point where you had other interests, and you had to decide if it's worth it to go through the rat race again, finding a new label, etc.

JD: It was a really tough choice. A couple of Matches' fans perspectives were, "Well, more bands for me to love [now]." So, I like that.

RL: Did you feel like you got closure from the weekend?

JD: Yeah... I'm still kind of weirded out by everything. [Laughs.] I'm not emotionally recovered from the weekend. It's been almost 10 years. And then when we made the choice in, like, May or something, we all kind of started doing other things and I guess we kind of, well, me at least, I kind of forgot how much the Matches meant to me until we played the shows, which kind of brought everything back. Our fans are so awesome--we have the best fans in the world. They're intense, man. It was loud at those last shows. It was a good way to go out. We wanted to go out while we were on a high still, rather than give it another couple of years and stuff starts to kind of disappear, and we just kind of get depressed and end up without any fans anymore. So I think this was a good time to take a break.

RL: And you left the door open for the future.

JD: Right. We could come back to it in a few years.

RL: You've been publicly working on Bird By Bird for a bit, but is it something you've had in your life for a while?

JD: I've been writing a lot of stuff for the past year-and-a-half, two years or so. A little bit of that went into Matches stuff, and the rest of it kind of stayed on GarageBand for a while, in the form of half-finished music and not completed tracks, versus, choruses, riffs--things like that. Then we started to talk about what we were going to do, Matches-wise. Like, are we going to record an album, tour or take a break? Miles [Hurwitz], who not only managed the Matches but co-wrote pretty much every song--asked if I wanted to write with him and pushed me to finish up a lot of songs that I hadn't finished. We ended up booking an acoustic show before finishing up any songs, but it pushed us to finish up a group of songs. Then we played the show and I started playing a bunch of acoustic shows in the area. Then the Matches hiatus thing became real, and it was like, "Okay, this isn't my side project anymore, it's a real project." And then we booked the debut band show before having a band. [Laughs.] So that pushed us to find some fucking members.

RL: So are Max Bernstein and Jeremy Bonsall [of the Actual] permanent members?

JD: They could turn into permanent members, but at the moment I'm still playing with other people just to keep my options open.

RL: Matches drummer Matt Whalen also played with you for the debut. What's his status as a full-time member?

JD: I would love Matt to be in the band. But he's kind of trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, if he wants to be in a band. We wouldn't be completely a new band, but it's kind of a new band--there'd be a lot of van tours at first. There are a lot of sacrifices. So he's trying to figure out if he wants to be in a band, and in the meantime, I'm trying out other people to see if I can find anyone else. I'm actually talking to Michael Whalen, who is Matt's younger brother and plays the drums. How cool would that be? [Laughs.]

RL: Do you have a timeline in your head for when you want a lineup solidified?

JD: I'd like to immediately, but I'm not rushing into anything because I don't want to make a choice I regret lately. I've been basically writing all of the instruments and demoing them, and I've spent the past couple months finishing up all the songs for the show. We were still writing lyrics as of last Wednesday and the debut show was Friday, so I haven't had time to focus on auditions at all. But I have a couple people lined up who I'm going to try out soon and see how it goes.

RL: Then you plan to record?

JD:Yeah, I plan to record real soon--even if it isn't with members who are permanent guys. If I had to, I could record all the instruments, but I don't want to because I'm not a very good drummer and I kind of would rather hang out in the room with the mixer and all that stuff, drinking coffee and telling them, "Oh, that sounds great!" But I plan to start recording pretty soon, and hope to be on tour early next year. It's a little ambitious, but I guess if we book a tour, everything will come after that, like finding members and recording an album and all that stuff. [Laughs.] I'm just really anxious to get back out on tour again, I've been off tour for way too long--it's driving me crazy.

RL: Do you think that you'll be looking at labels and doing showcases and the whole thing?

JD: Yep. I think we'll be doing all that whole thing--just like a real band. [Laughs.]

RL: Not to imply that you're not a real band.

JD: Well, we're not a real band. Yet. Very soon. Luckily Miles was in touch with a lot of record label people for the Matches' Album 4 about us potentially having a new album, so he's still in touch with all those people. There's a chance that things could move pretty quickly with this, which is kind of what we hope for--but if not, we'll take our time and do it right. I guess. I don't know what that means. [Laughs.]

RL: Was there something specifically you wanted to do musically that you weren't getting to do with the Matches?

JD: I wanted to be a little more straightforward. A little bit less quirky, indefinable. I want to keep the element of cleverness to a certain point, because that was one of the best points about us, our cleverness and all that. But there was also a point where every song was completely different and I think we lost a lot of opportunities with that. So it's a bit more like raw, straightforward rock, but obviously influenced by the Matches because I've been in the Matches for such a long time. I think we've managed to create a balance of the quirkiness mixed with catchiness and a little more definable. I don't want to say it fits into a "scene"--that's not correct. But I think it won't be every song is completely different.

But it's kind of like I'm kind of telling people it's a mixture of Kings Of Leon meets the Bravery meets Tom Petty meets Spoon--I don't know. Maybe it's completely different, but that's what I think it sounds like. [Laughs.] And high energy live shows, as I'm sure you can imagine.
-alt - Alternative Press,


Still working on that hot first release.



to SXSW 2010 staff
- Bird by Bird's Devoto played SXSW 2008 and 2009 as lead guitarist of the Matches, headlining several parties and a showcase each year, drawing large crowds (overcapacity for the evening showcases). Fans eager to check out Devoto's new project will look for his band at SxSW 2010.
- Bird by Bird debuted in Berkeley as a club headliner in August 2009, selling out the Berkeley CA club. A few other Bay Area shows followed, and a revised line-up will debut as headliner at their next show, Jan 2, headlining San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill. Touring beginning Feb 09 being booked now.
- After a few months with just acoustic demos streaming on myspace, new full-band recordings (here as early mixes on this EPK Nov 09) will be first available to the public just before the Jan 2, 2010 S.F. club debut.
- Matches' Shawn Harris and Devoto, impromptu street performance Austin, SXSW 2009, on the back of a police cart, captured by Alternative Press mag: ...Exclusive video: The Matches perform "Wicked Walk" acoustic at SXSW

Jonathan Devoto surprises some long-time fans as he bounds forward to front his own band, Bird by Bird, as lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and songwriter. However, those who have followed his eight year career with the Matches, the popular Oakland-based (and constantly touring) rock band with Devoto handling lead guitar and backing vocals, are familiar with his intense and fiery live show and magnetic stage presence even in his support role.

Through three albums (Epitaph Records) and years of international touring, Devoto generated raves and accolades. Alternative Press magazine identifying him as one of current music's three best guitarists of 2008, declared: "Devoto brings a chameleon-like quality to the lead guitar slot in the Matches, as he's equally adept at sunny pop and lo-fi fuzz as he is on theater-punk and loud rockers."

The new songs Bird by Bird deliver are woven with sharp and nimble wordplay, fusing driving, syncopated rhythms and compelling melodies, much like the Matches' music. However, Devoto's material leans toward a more emphatic, more robust rock sound, unabashed guitar glimmer supporting melodic charm and layered harmonies.

Devoto and his writing partner have shaped a sonic blend with echoes of Kings of Leon, Tom Petty, Third Eye Blind, and, yes, the Matches. Emotional, intense, vulnerable, and vivid -- the songs, the vocal delivery, the guitar moves, the instrumental interplay all convey the passion of Bird by Bird's complete and confident music vision.