‘Bleeding Audio: The Rise and Fall of the Matches’: Filmmaker Chelsea Christer and Bassist Justin SanSouci on Revealing New Doc About the Mid-2000s Music Industry



Rock Cellar Magazine

The Matches are a four-piece band out of Northern California that emerged in the early 2000s with an offbeat style of pop/punk that landed them a deal with Epitaph Records and numerous tours around the world.

After catching the attention of the Vans Warped Tour scene of the era, the band’s momentum seemed unstoppable. The quartet pounded the pavement on national tours supporting major acts, attaining the respect of A-list icons in the music world and a passionate throng of fans reaching as far to Australia.

Surely Shawn Harris (vox/guitars), Jon Devoto (guitars), Justin SanSouci (bass) and Matt Whalen (drums) were destined to become “More Than Local Boys” on their path to superstardom … right?

As you can probably guess, that’s not quite what happened.

Bleeding Audio: The Rise and Fall of the Matches is a new documentary film from director Chelsea Christer that pulls no punches in detailing why and how the Matches were unable to attain those lofty ambitions, despite a unique creative arc and the respect of several big-name luminaries in the then-exploding emo/punk scene. It’s a bittersweet look at a band that can definitely be considered a “success,” despite their full potential being limited due to various road blocks put in place both internally and because of the music industry as a whole.

Whether you cut your teeth in the sweaty intimacy of iMusicast in Oakland with the Matches in the early days, caught an attention-grabbing Warped Tour set or maybe even never heard of them before stumbling upon Bleeding Audio on a streaming service, the doc does a masterful job contextualizing everything about the group. Theirs is a story of the mid-2000s music industry and its pitfalls, a cautionary tale of a hungry young band with their eyes on the prize … but missing the proper tools in place to make those dreams fully realized.

Get an inside look at the film in an interview with Christer and SanSouci about Bleeding Audio and what the documentary seeks to reveal to audiences with its honest, open and, at times, frustrating look at the Matches’ journey.

The film will be released on Blu-ray on June 21, and is available to rent or purchase via various streaming services now.

Click here to pre-order Bleeding Audio on Blu-ray from our Rock Cellar Store

 

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Rock Cellar: Feedback about the film I’ve seen so far is a lot of that, “I’d never heard of the Matches before seeing this movie, and now I can’t get enough of their music!” That seems perfect, because I imagine part of what made the process of making this movie take as long as it did was crafting a story that would appeal to those familiar with the Matches, but also those who’d never heard of them.

Chelsea Christer: Yeah. When I started working on this film and I was trying to find people to invest in it, people were like, “Who are the Matches, and why do I care?” That was a lot of the pushback I got. “Why are you making a feature doc about a band nobody’s heard of?”

And I’d try and detail more about their story and explain that this is, one, a tried-and-true story, but two, something that is compelling. They’re great characters. That was my challenge early on, just trying to get the film any kind of funding. In the storytelling process, I knew that no matter what we’d have Matches fans clued-in because they’re so loyal and dedicated, but also because they are genuinely interested. And so for me, the thought was, “How do I construct this narrative in a way that allows a general audience to meet these guys for the first time and fall in love with them, like their fans did?” When I filled out my crew, who helped edit the film and produce the film, I made sure that they were all not Matches fans or had no idea who the Matches were, because I thought if I can get these collaborators to fall in love with this band and want to tell their story, and be my objective participants, then I’ll be able to have a film that’s more interesting for a general audience. And that’s what I feel we succeeded at.

Rock Cellar: It probably was a benefit, like you said, to have people that weren’t necessarily from the Bay Area and not necessarily aware of the music scene of the era. I’ve never made a feature-length documentary, but I imagine having the objectivity there is crucial. Even if you’re trying to paint a picture like … “this band kind of got a raw deal, it was partly due to their own decisions, partly not. Some parts of the music industry kind of sucked back then,” it shows what happened and how it went off the rails in certain ways, but from the perspective of a bigger picture.

Chelsea Christer: Oh, absolutely. And what was great about the objective tone is I got to have people push back on me when they’d say things like, “Hey, that’s too inside baseball. That’s something that’s a little too niche. I don’t know, I’m not interested by it.” Alternatively, on the other side, I’d be like, “Oh, I think the fact that they make their own artwork is a critical part of the story,” something that was originally pushed back against. It was like, “Oh, well why does that matter?” And then I’d be able to say, “Well, especially in that DIY scene, you know, most bands make their own artwork in the early days and then eventually develop and collaborate. The Matches did collaborate with people like Emilee Seymour and a few other artists, but for the most part it was always Shawn and Justin at the core, Shawn in particular. Inside knowledge like that was something that I was able to bring to life in the film.

Rock Cellar: The mix of musicians and industry icons interviewed for the film is especially noteworthy, especially if you consider how it might affect anybody who stumbles upon Bleeding Audio on streaming and doesn’t know who the Matches were. “Wait a minute, I’m not too familiar with this band, but if these guys like them, maybe I will too.” From the musicians and key people involved with the Matches you guys interviewed for the doc, were they mostly enthusiastic to share their memories of working with the Matches and the roles they may have had in their careers back during the mid-2000s?

[Editorial note: music figures interviewed for the film include Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, Nick Hexum of 311, Simon Neil & James Johnston of Biffy Clyro, Cassadee Pope from The Voice, Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s, and more).

Chelsea Christer: Honestly, the people in the film were all thrilled to be involved. There was no convincing. As soon as I said, “Hey, I’m making a documentary about the Matches. Would you be interested in imparting your experience, as well as some of your insight to how the industry has changed?” Everybody was just like, “Yeah, absolutely. I love those guys.” And I think honestly, Biffy Clyro, they were, I think one of the first big ones that … they were just so excited to even speak about the Matches. Their interview, I only got like 30 minutes with them before their show at the Fillmore, and all they did was gush about how great the Matches were. I couldn’t get them to shut up about it.

With Mark Hoppus and Nick Hexum, I knew that in selecting people to be in this film, I wanted people who would have wonderful things to say about the Matches, but I also wanted to have an air of credibility. In pre-production, I asked the Matches to send me a list of people who they had toured with over the years, collaborated with, several I obviously knew myself, just knowing who produced the records and everything. And I created these two Venn diagrams. There were people who knew and worked with the Matches and loved them, and then there were music industry people. People who know and love the Matches includes family, fans and musicians. And then there’s the music industry people who know how to reflect on the industry itself. And then what I did is overlap those Venn diagrams, and anybody who is in the center ended up in the film.

There were a lot of music industry people I interviewed that just didn’t make the final cut. A big reason was because they didn’t have a one-to-one connection with the Matches, and couldn’t speak about them authentically. There’s so much stuff on the cutting-room floor about the music industry that was just fascinating. But the people who brought the most weight are people like Mark Hoppus, Nick Hexum, you know, Cassadee Pope, Eric Valentine, Tom Higgenson, all these people who experienced the Matches at different stages in their career, and were able to also bring an insight to what they were going through from a very authentic place. It was a very conscious decision who we picked, but also, the enthusiasm was there.

Which is a testament to the Matches themselves, I don’t think anybody’s chomping at the bit to talk about a band that kind of, unfortunately, faded away very early, unless the band is comprised of really wonderful talented guys.

Justin SanSouci: I think when we passed on the list of some of these people, we really figured that there was gonna be like a long shot that nobody would show up and do an interview. To have, like, Mark Hoppus and Nick Hexum and some really like big names in the industry come on board and give all their time and conduct these interviews, it really meant a lot to us. Reflecting back on the whole situation, it was, in a way, validating. Some of the things they said, I thought, like, “Oh, that made me feel a lot better.” Because when you work with Mark Hoppus, you think, like, “He meets a million people. He’s not gonna remember me,” and but then you see and hear him say really nice things. Being a band member in the band the documentary is about, you don’t necessarily get to see the whole picture. So it’s actually kind of nice to be able to, like, sit down and see that.

Rock Cellar And it’s a great storytelling device to help tell the story. Speaking of, Tom from the Plain White T’s and that visual breakdown of, like, “So you had a hit song? Here’s why you made no money.” I think that’s the most singularly effective part of the entire documentary that anybody should watch. I hope people that watch the documentary get to that part, because Tom obviously had no problem going into a lot of detail on his experience with all of that.

Chelsea Christer: We had to cut him down, too, he went into immense detail. It’s one of those things where yeah, that fucking sucks, but it’s also like this label is investing all this money in you to get you out there at the hope of making more money. It is an investment risk. I have to give my animator, Marisa Cruz, credit for those animations, because we sat down and talked long and hard about how we wanted to represent that because it was such a critical component of telling the story and explaining how record deals work, since the average person doesn’t understand it.

And a lot of bands who are signing these deals don’t fully understand how it works, either. That’s no fault of their own, you know, it’s just a very complicated industry, as I’ve learned. Marissa and I, we come from the Bay Area and a lot of our work is corporate video work, breaking down this kind of information into bite-sized animations. She and I were like, “Well, this is gonna be an easy one,” because we’re so used to kind of distilling data in this way. But we got to do it in a really fun way, and she had awesome creative ideas. To me, it was, it was one of the most important graphics to get right, because what I wanted people to understand is this is what your artists are facing.

Rock Cellar: There’s an undercurrent in the doc, which was unavoidable in order to tell the story accurately, of the bittersweet nature of the Matches’ career and how they didn’t truly take off like they could (and probably should) have. I’ve always thought about how My Chemical Romance played before the Matches at the Oakland Art and Soul Festival in 2004 at, like, one in the afternoon. And then like two years later, MCR exploded all over MTV, TRL and the whole scene. And I remember thinking —  not that the bands sound the same, because they don’t —  but they did share a similar aesthetic, the emo-goth-esque, visual-heavy style of irreverent, avant-garde approach to their music. The way that the Matches’ career arc is broached in the doc is also effective, because you can’t tell the story of what the Matches went through without talking about how they didn’t really come to an end, so to speak, in the way they thought they might after the first few years.

Justin SanSouci: Yeah, I mean, you always hope that the thing you’re working on goes to the top, but at the time it really kind of felt like there was an insurmountable roadblock in our way toward the end. It was pretty crazy seeing some bands blow up. But you’ve gotta just take your own path and do your best. There’s a time when you’re like, “This is as far as we can take it, it’s time to maybe take take a different approach.” So I think the doc does a good job navigating that, and some of the things that we dealt with.

Chelsea Christer: I think, too, the Matches really did stick to their creative guns, you know, they wanted to maintain a lot of control. And unfortunately, wanting a lot of creative control can omit you from the big machine, right? I can, myself, attest to this from making this film. A lot of people thought that I shouldn’t make a film just about the Matches and should make it more about the music industry. But when it started coming together, everyone was like, “Oh God, the music industry story feels like a lecture. We want to know more about these guys,” because people love emotional stories, they love connecting with human beings. And the thing about the Matches and their trajectory is, yeah, it wasn’t what I think anyone hoped for them, but at the same time, what they did get was very special, and very rare. That is something that I wanted to express with the film.

And this whole My Chemical Romance and the Matches thing, I do feel like in some people’s minds it was almost like these bands were competing. They were so creatively and musically different, you know? But what I do think is that whoever handled My Chemical Romance knew exactly what they were and how to approach it. And I don’t feel like the Matches had that same treatment. I feel like the Matches were this outside-of-the-box band, similar to My Chem, but they’re this outside-the-box band, and people kept trying to fit them in other boxes instead of giving them their own. There were so many things going on behind the scenes, I’m sure, that were inhibiting that.

But at the end of the day, while they could never really be lifted in that way by the people who were putting them out there, I still think that they got the community that they wanted. If you think about bands that were doing as well, if not better than the Matches around that time, their reunion shows didn’t sell out in seconds. You know what I mean? And I’m not saying it’s a competition, I’m just saying there’s this staying power of this feeling of community that the Matches held on to so dearly that I think would have been lost if they became a My Chemical Romance. Not that they wouldn’t have maintained it, but just because it would have been taken out of their hands and out of their control. I also have a very goofy and silly joke theory that there’s a multiverse where My Chem and the Matches have switched places. [laughs]

Rock Cellar: You mentioned the people in charge of the Matches who weren’t as equipped to handle them, and that is a very important part of the doc. I have to admit, from somebody who thought he was relatively aware of the band’s goings on back then, I had no clue about any of that. Looking back, I put pieces together once I saw it, and I was like, “Okay, shit. Yeah. Now, now, some of these other things I remember made sense.” That had to have been not necessarily awkward, but a very delicate storyline to weave, right?

Chelsea Christer: Yeah, I wanted the film to be an honest portrayal, but also a celebration, you know? If you dwell too much in every single misstep, and you lose the celebratory nature of what this film is supposed to be about. The key part of telling that story was giving credit where credit was due, but also being transparent about what wasn’t handled properly. There was a lot that we chose not to put in the film, because that’s not the movie. That’s not the story we wanted to tell, you know? I think that it was very challenging to find the balance for that story. But we stand by it as just being an honest and genuine portrayal, you know, of what happened.

Justin SanSouci: I think for the band, as well, like, yeah, there’s definitely some very difficult topics to talk about, and some of the issues we dealt with were really emotionally difficult. I do really appreciate the way that the film handled those issues because it wasn’t necessarily finger-pointing. It presented these issues and we talked about the difficulties, the thing I never wanted to do was point fingers and blame other people for any missteps, like, “Well, we could have been huge except for this person.” That’s just not what we wanted or what we feel because we always felt that it was a group effort. We’re all gonna do it, we’re gonna do it together, or it’s not gonna happen. It was nice to see how the film navigated a lot of those issues.

Rock Cellar: And I thought it was very interesting of Mark Hoppus to reflect on that specific aspect, and recall how he took the band aside and asked, “Is this really what you guys want right now?” when he was working with you during the Decomposer album sessions.

Chelsea Christer: The truth is, artists want to create art, you know, we seek the support and guidance of more experienced people in our industries to help us through it. Especially when you’re young — these guys were teenagers, so eager and excited for guidance. I think we all hope that the people we surround ourselves with are more experienced and have our best interests at heart. But sometimes, that’s just not the case. It’s the challenging thing about having an industry that is getting more democratized, both in film and music. Where you have a lot more agency to create things outside of the system, you need to become better at managing your business. It sucks, because as a creative, you don’t want to do this business stuff. We inherently make ourselves, especially super talented bands like the Matches, we make ourselves vulnerable to people who see that talent, and maybe not necessarily want to take advantage of it, but maybe see the opportunity without having a path forward.

I think that’s definitely something that I ran into a couple of times making Bleeding Audio. It’s something that I think a lot of creatives need to be very conscious of, it’s not a matter of just being distrustful of people in the industry, I think it’s a matter of understanding that what you’re creating is inherently a product. The people you surround yourself with are your employees. Your friends can become your employees, and you need to hire and fire them if they are not doing their job. And that’s something that I think is difficult for creatives to stomach.

Justin SanSouci: I totally agree. That was obviously something we struggled with, you know, transitioning from that garage band into a business. Once you get a label deal, you’re trying to manage your merch, you’re trying to manage travel, you are a business because you have all these expenses coming in, you have all this money flowing through the band, you’ve gotta make sure you’re managing your taxes and paying your crew. All that boring stuff. That stuff can really cripple a band, if you don’t get a good plan down. That was definitely something that did really hurt us.

We have since done much better figuring that out, but it’s a big hump to get over from, you know, being the garage band playing local shows where you’re splitting 50 bucks after a show to figuring out how to finance an entire three-month tour or traveling to England or something — because it gets really complicated.

Rock Cellar: What was the most surprising thing you took away from the experience of either watching the doc or putting it all together?

Justin SanSouci: When first making the movie, doing the interview, I was super guarded. I really didn’t want to do it. It was dragging up a lot of trauma, difficult personal situations. Going through the different interviews, seeing the film get developed, over time each time I watched it it helped me process it a little bit more. It really helped me make sense of, like, my entire 20s. It was almost like going to therapy. At the time I left the band, I had a lot of really hard feelings, it was very emotional for me. But now that I’m able to process a lot of that stuff, I can look back and really see the good and the positive that came out of it. It was quite an entire journey for me.

Chelsea Christer: There was a lot that I learned, but I think it in terms of surprises, I learned fully just how difficult it is to really make a film. It really is. It’s such a challenge, especially making a music documentary about a band nobody’s heard of, you know. We didn’t get a single grant, I applied for all of them multiple times. We did Kickstarters. I learned a lot of difficult things. I learned a lot about film business, and unfortunately maybe a little too late in the game, but there’s just so much that I learned about this process. I think like what I learned most is that a lot of people who went through what I did to make films like this quit or didn’t finish or are never going to make another film, you know, and frankly, I don’t blame them.

Rock Cellar: It’s been like, what, six or seven years since you started making Bleeding Audio?

Chelsea Christer: It’s been eight years, technically. It’ll be eight years in October.

Justin SanSouci: It parallels our journey, really well. [laughs]

Chelsea Christer: Yeah. But if there’s anything I learned is that, you know, I’ve come to the end of this journey burned out, broken down a little bit, but I can’t wait to make another one. So I’ve at least learned for myself that I’m resilient, and that I’m doing what I’ve should be doing. Sometimes you really have to reflect inward before you decide to do another one of these. And for me, this is where I belong. So that feels nice. And it’s a nice little Matches theme to be like, “Oh, hey, at the end of making a Matches film, I found out that I belong.” Their band mantra is “You Belong,” so that’s pretty cool. And if there’s any other little thing that I can add, it’s just that the Matches’ community and the fans that they have are some of the most wonderful, kind, thoughtful humans on this planet. They’ve been instrumental in getting this film made.

Rock Cellar: Now that this is finally getting distribution, it’s finally hitting Blu-ray, streaming and all that, do you have any other plans attached to the release and the promotion? What are your goals now that the product is finally out, so to speak?

Chelsea Christer: Well, I’m really hoping to do some limited theatrical screenings. I’d love to bring the Matches into that, but But Shawn is incredibly busy with his super successful children’s book career, so we’ll see. But for me, yeah, most of my film festival run was digital. I want to get into theaters and be with audiences while they watch it. I think, too, there’s been whispers of a VHS release, which is kind of nerdy and cool.

Rock Cellar: Justin, last question for you. For people who come across this documentary having not known the Matches in the beginning or being unfamiliar with the story, what do you hope they take away from it?

Justin SanSouci: I think maybe if they’re not really familiar with how bands work, or how difficult it can be to be a band, to maybe make sure that they support their smaller bands and go see shows. That’s gonna be a big one, all these bands that haven’t had the opportunity to tour the last couple of years, they’re all going to be trying to hit the road. Some of them are going to be in a pretty rough financial spot. Get out to the shows, buy merch, try and support the bands you love, make sure they will like keep making music.

We’re people trying to make music, it’s a tough life, and you’ve got to support the artists you care about.



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