Bird by Bird interview (Jonathan Devoto)


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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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

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.”

Even more exciting, how was the Gap show?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.


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