Rarely do the phrases “emerging teen prodigy” and “been around the block” intersect at the same person.
But Mill Valley singer-songwriter Matt Jaffe is that nexus. He turns just 18 this weekend, but he’s been a working musician in the Bay Area for so long that his prodigious emergence began long before he technically qualified as a teen.
Besides his impending entry into adulthood, there’s something else new about Jaffe: after years of working primarily as a solo artist and dabbling with other bands, he’s been playing with the same bandmates for nearly a year. With Terra Linda resident Alex Coltharp on drums and Novato musician Sammie Fischer on bass – both attend the Marin School of the Arts – the trio is Matt Jaffe & the Distractions.
“It already feels like a really long time, in a good way,” Jaffe says. “I’ve never been in a band that has had this rigorous of a schedule. We’ve done so many gigs together.”
That loaded slate of gigs – they’ve played all over the Bay Area and just landed a return invite to play the Roxy in Los Angeles – continues this weekend, with five shows over three days, including the annual Youth Rock the Rebuild benefit at the Sweetwater Music Hall Sunday night.
Jaffe acknowledges that he continues to find both his singing and songwriting voice, drawing on a range of influences from the Talking Heads and Ted Leo & The Pharmacists to the Decemberists and Django Reinhardt.
Jaffe and the Distractions have been sitting on an album’s worth of original material that now makes up the bulk of the band’s live sets. The quality of that material has not gone unnoticed.
“Not since seeing The White Stripes in their early days have I seen a young band with so much promise, and one that I am sure is going to make it big, one whose music we will be buying in the very near future,” wrote music critic Lonnie Burstein after their show at the Central in Santa Monica.
As Jaffe gets set to graduate from Branson High next month and ponders his next move, what exactly he and his bandmates do with that would-be album is the big question.
Jaffe counts local legends Narada Michael Walden and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads among his mentors, and the latter produced the album itself.
“You meet so many different people who have promised so many different things and have talked a big game,” Jaffe says of Harrison. “But it’s really very special to have someone who wasn’t talking a big game but was genuinely interested in helping me get to this point.”
But Jaffe now must weigh pursuit of his sonic dreams and the business that comes with it – sign with a record label or continue on the independent path – with the natural and obvious inclination to go to college and continue doing what he’s been doing for ages: balancing would-be musical stardom with academics.
Jaffe says he’s unsure of his next move. But he clearly relishes the moment. The band just released the single “Backs of Our Eyelids” and an accompany music video (at right) that was shot in the Marin Headlands. They’re timing the release of another single, “The New Continent,” which ruminates on the language in The Great Gatsby to coincide with the debut of the feature film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Despite the difficult choices that await him, Jaffe is now a veteran of the music world at just 18, playing with a potent band, booking dates left and right and using those dates as a showcase of what he and his bandmates have become.
“We have a lot of energy right now and we’re really growing and expanding our base,” Jaffe says. “Now that I have a really solid band behind me, we can really show what we can do live. It’s been incredible.”
The 411: Matt Jaffe & the Distractions perform Friday at the Dolores Park Café in San Francisco, Saturday at the Pacific Beach Earth Day Fest and 924 Gilman in Berkeley on Saturday, the Earth Day Marin event in Larkspur (Jaffe solo) and the Youth Rock the Rebuild event at the Sweetwater on Sunday. Go to the band’s Facebook page for more info.