Twenty-one years old, with a preppy crew cut and Xs drawn on his hands in marker (denoting his straight-edge status), Matt Saincome is embattled. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool punk rocker who doesn’t look the part, and who doesn’t boast the right credentials. Saincome grew up in the suburbs of Danville where he spent his entire adolescence playing shows in people’s garages. He’s vehemently suburban and adamantly straight-edge — meaning he eschews drugs and alcohol — and he’s turned his life choices into a political credo. “I was too punk for my high school, but then when I got to the punk crowd I was too white, and too much from the suburbs,” he said during a recent interview. “I think there was resistance to it.” He said he still gets heckled for claiming Danville as his hometown. Sometimes, it makes him exotic.
Saincome’s band, Zero Progress, is a respectable four-piece, even if the singer sees it as a vessel into which his personality can be poured. It comprises two sets of brothers — Saincome’s older brother Ed plays bass; brothers Josh and Collin Jacobs play guitar and drums, respectively — and all of them seem relatively undefiled. Nobody in the band drinks or smokes; nobody has visible tattoos; everybody came up in the same temperate middle-class neighborhood. But they’re more alluring than other young bands, and a lot of that has to do with Saincome. He’s the one jumping offstage, wrapping mic cords around his neck, and bragging to a bemused audience about how he came to the show in a limousine. Not surprisingly, people often tell him to go back home.
But Saincome won’t take any guff from anyone. He came to punk at age nine by aping the tastes of his older brother, and at this point he feels a strong sense of rootedness in the scene. In the early 2000s, punk was actually ascendant in Danville — not the same left-field obscure punk you’d see in Berkeley or Oakland, but more of a “Warped Tour” form that served as the gateway to harder, faster, grimier music, Saincome’s brother Ed recalled. At that time, both Ed and Matt were primed for rebellion: Ed had quit Little League; Matt felt like an outlier in his fourth grade class. Ed started listening to The Ramones and the Sex Pistols, and foisting their records on his little brother. Pretty soon, Matt Saincome was the only kid at his elementary school to know the whole hagiography of early punk rock. He considered himself very precocious.
The brothers formed their first band, Skull Stomp, when Matt was fifteen and Ed was eighteen. At that time, Matt played drums, while his childhood best friend, Collin Jacobs, served as the lead singer. They had a rotating cast of guitar players, the last of who defected in 2009 to become a frat boy, Matt said. At that point, the remaining band members were so enamored of punk that they continued practicing on Fridays, even during college — Ed finished a history degree at Cal State University East Bay in the interim, while Matt pursued journalism at San Francisco State. They eventually recruited Collin’s then-fifteen-year-old brother Josh to play drums, which took a little coddling, Saincome said. It was mostly a matter of prying Josh away from his Xbox.
Zero Progress has existed for three years in its current iteration, with Ed composing most of the music — each guitar riff tends to emphasize the low “tonic” note of the chord, since they’re all written from a bassist’s perspective — and his younger brother penning the strident, repetitive lyrics. To date, the band has released a demo CD and two seven-inch records, the second of which came out last month. It’s also become the centerpiece of Saincome’s small cottage industry. He publishes a ‘zine called Punks! Punks! Punks!, billed as the Bay Area’s single purveyor of “the Valley punk perspective.” And he produces a whole line of Zero Progress merchandise, including vinyl records on the band’s independent label, Piledriver, and T-shirts that show a straight-edge kid, a punk-rock alcoholic, and a skinhead all hanging out together (that’s “punk” with the veneer of being ecumenical). Ed booked the band’s entire cross-country tour, finding kitchen or basement venues mostly through word of mouth.
Saincome ultimately wants to be a music journalist — he’s currently interning at SF Weekly and contributing to the fanzine Maximum Rocknroll. He’d also like to consolidate his mighty sphere of influence. He explained it in a recent email: “We are originally from Danville, CA (the suburbs) which got us a lot of shit … Unlike other bands from this area, we owned the label and started the ‘Valley Crew.’ Which is basically a group of kids from the San Ramon Valley that play in punk/hardcore bands [and] aren’t afraid to admit where they are from.” Punk is an inherently populist medium, but the purest way to express that isn’t by taunting the kid who rolls up to 924 Gilman in his mom’s BMW, Saincome said. It’s by accepting him without question.
Update, 7/11: A previous version of this article inccorectly stated that Matt Saincome booked Zero Progress’ tour. It was in fact Ed Saincome.