We’ve been huge fans of Nashville duo Striking Matches since they broke onto the scene with the debut EP in October 2012. Since then, they’ve toured with acts like Ashley Monroe, Hunter Hayes, and Train, been booked to play the Grand Ole Opry 29 times (30th time tomorrow evening), and will have their seventh song placement on the upcoming season of Nashville. To top it all off, their debut album, executive produced by T-Bone Burnett, is expected to drop in the upcoming months. We checked in with them to see how they’re dealing with all the newfound success:
Hey guys! Are you on the road right now?
Sarah: We’re getting ready to leave for Chicago tonight! We’re doing a CMA Songwriters Showcase.
Oh, awesome! Tell me a little bit about the upcoming album. How’s that going?
S: Great—we just got back from L.A.! We were out there mixing the record so we’re getting there.
Any sort of release date yet?
S: We’re hoping for a fall release—maybe late fall. But it’s still in the works so we’ll see.
Sonically, is it along the same lines as the sound from your debut EP or does it take a different turn?
Justin: I think the best thing you can equate it to is if you see us live, it’ll be very much in the same vein as that. I think it’ll be a departure from where the EP was. It’s going to be a bit different than that but it’ll be much more cohesive, live, and full sounding. Once you listen to the record, it’ll sound like a live show.
S: Well we recorded it all live together—Justin and I with bass and drums got in a room and cut it right to tape. We did it pretty much like a show and just captured it all right there. It’s definitely going to have that same feel of our show, which we’re excited about. We’ve always wanted to make a record like that, so the fact that that was kind of in line with our team’s vision—it was pretty great.
That’s amazing. That’s such a cool vibe. In terms of your live show, I know you guys have been on the road with a bunch of incredible artists—most recently Train, right?
S: Yeah, we’ve got about five more shows with them this summer—next week we’re going to Billings, Montana and then Red Rocks with them, which is going to be super fun. That’s been a blast. We’ve done two so far—they’re all so awesome and the crowds have ben great.
J: They’ve been having Sarah get up on stage and sing one of their tunes, “Bruises,” which Ashley [Monroe] sang on the recorded version, so it’s pretty funny. Sarah and Ashley are pretty much sisters now.
S: I try to do my best Ashley Monroe! It’s really fun.
That’s so great! How does it differ opening for an artist like Train, who isn’t a fundamentally “country” artist vs. an artist like Hunter Hayes who’s very much in the country space?
S: I think what I’ve noticed about the crowds there at the Train shows, they just like music. We started playing an assortment of different vibes and feels. Justin and I have similar musical backgrounds, but also a little bit different—we come from some blues and rock. We put that in all of our songs and now we’re opening full band so we can kind of go those places. The audiences have responded really well—to all of it really.
J: It’s been amazing. I think we wondered how we would be received, or perceived, but it was seamless. The first show, we walked and the crowd was so warm and so into it that it made our job really easy. It was a blast.
In terms of your sound and stuff—how do you guys describe your sound? Because I’d say it’s a fusion of a lot of different vibes.
J: Yeah, you’re right. It’s tough when somebody just asks for one genre to describe our music because where do we start? It’s all become a mix of everything we like and are inspired by, which is honestly been country music, folk, traditional and roots music, but also classic rock too. It’s always a combination of all these different genres, so I don’t know—we’ve kind of just become what we are. And to some extent that’s a good thing because we can go play a show with Ashley Monroe and a crowd of die hard country fans and get a great reaction and play the Grand Ole Opry and feel at home. And then we can go play with Train and play a rock n roll show with them and it feels great.
So let’s talk about the Opry a little bit —you guys have played 29 times now. THAT’S CRAZY
S: Yeah, it’s been crazy. I call it my recurring dream come true because every time we get back out there—it’s like the first time all over again.
Yeah I was gonna ask does that get old at some point, I mean…
S: Not yet!
J: NO, the nerves don’t really taper off either. You think it’d never really become old hat, but just a bit more used it it…but really you don’t. Every time we step out there it’s a huge rush.
S: I’m not as scared to talk to the crowd as I used to be either. But even so, the first couple notes of the song you’re like “Oh my God, I’m standing in the circle where everybody has stood” and trying to take it all in in 15 minutes.
When was the first time you guys played there?
S: It was December of 2012.
That’s a lot in a pretty short time!
S: Yeah and our debut was at the Ryman—which was a double dream come true.
No kidding! That’s awesome. Did you guys grow up with country? What were your influences?
S: I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff. My dad was always into Chicago and James Taylor, so I kind of grew up around that stuff. But I was 11 or 12 and I found the Dixie Chicks record in my mom’s car and that’s when I got so into country. I just started working my way around and worked my way back to Patsy Cline and all that kind of stuff. So I feel like I grew up with it—but I grew up outside Philadelphia, and it’s not south, but there’s a lot of country music there. Even now, they’ve got a country festival and all that kind of stuff.
J: I was always around it. My parents listened to it when I was a kid, and I was very much exposed to it when I was younger and I knew all the songs and eventually you get to a point where you can’t listen to what your parents are listening to ‘cause that’s not cool at all. So I got into more rock and roll and even then I was kind of listening to classic rock, which skirted the line of rock & roll and country—some of the stuff, like Fleetwood Mac, even acoustic-y or even just more rootsy-inspired rock and roll. The country I was listening to—I was just always into the guitar players: Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins. The great thing about Patsy Cline records is that they were so jazzy and swingy that it was really musically inspiring when you’d listen to somebody like that.
When you guys are writing for a new album, what kind of stuff inspires you? What’s the music consumption process like?
J: One of the most inspiring things that I can do really is go see someone live—that’s usually the thing that makes me want to write. It can happen with anybody really. I think the last time I saw Hunter, the last time I saw Ashley, these Train shows, everything, it fires you up, because it’s like “Wow, isn’t that cool, and wouldn’t it be cool to write something in that vein?” or just spurs all kinds of ideas. It can happen when you’re listening to records of course, but I think it’s an interesting way to become inspired—just seeing someone live.
S: While we write, a lot of the time, we are trying to write songs that are going to be awesome live—like how can we do things that are going to be cool live, and make it cool, and so Justin’s definitely right— watching the Train shows, we’ve loved them forever, but watching them actually do it, it’s sort of a different level of inspiration I think.
So, being so inspired by the whole live component of it, is it hard for you guys to be off the road? Or it nice to take a break and be in one place?
S: I think, at least so far, it feels like we’ve been continuously in and out, on and off the road just the right amount of times. There’s a couple weeks off and then we’re right back out—we’ve never had like a six month stretch where we’re not playing shows and not on the road, so we’re getting an even dose of both I think so far.
Back to writing, what’s your process when you’re writing? Does it start with an idea, and how do you go about fleshing out that idea?
S: I think it’s definitely always different—sometimes one of us will have some kind of a guitar lick that we want to write around, or just a lyrical idea, maybe a piece of a chorus, or maybe just some chords or something. I feel like it’s different every time. Sometimes one of us will sit down and have a bunch of verses but no chorus and we’ll bring it to the other one like help me fix this! Sometimes we just write on our own, and kind of bring what we have so far to each other, and that’s probably my favorite way to do it. I think we’ve both written so long by ourselves that co-writing was sort of a new thing, so naturally we can easily go back to writing by ourselves but bring it to the other person.
And do you guys ever write with other artists as well, or it just mostly you guys at this point?
J: Yeah, we’ve gotten pretty accustomed to collaborating with a lot of our heroes and a lot of people we look up to. Just recently, we’ve been writing a lot with Ashley Monroe and she’s an incredible writer—she’s so incredibly inspiring. We wrote a bunch of songs with her, and she ended up going on to record two of them, which will be on her next record. She did them more than justice.
Talk to me a little bit about the show Nashville. I feel like you guys are sort of the musical poster child for the show.
J: I don’t know—they’ve been such an incredible thing for us in so many ways and it seems like just directly from that experience and that exposure we’ve experienced so many other things—including playing the Grand Ole Opry. It was right after “When the Right One Comes Along” debuted on Nashville and we had that little moment of success where we ended up getting our Opry debut, and so many things spawned off of that. If we are the Nashville poster child, that’s okay—we can proudly claim that.
S: It’s been pretty neat. And just as a writer, to see your songs not only performed by someone else but on TV, just the way they put the scenes together and put a story to the song that goes just beyond the lyrics of it. We’ve never written directly for the show—we’ve always just kind of written to write, and some of the songs that they have chosen we were like “Well hopefully they’ll find a home.” It’s given us the opportunity to relearn them and go out and play them and people know ‘em which is so cool. It’s just been a really neat experience all around.
So does that work? You’ll write a song—but some of them seem like such a perfect fit for the storyline of the show. How does that happen?
J: Well interestingly enough, I think we’ve heard from them that sometimes even the songs inspire the story. They’ll have a basic story line where if they find this perfect song, they might incorporate the story to fit it. If it seems perfect, it might be because it was by design. And it’s a huge compliment too, because it says that they liked your songs so much that they’ll change their process for it. If creativity inspires creativity, that’s all the process is—‘cause that’s what inspires the song in the first place: something else that we were inspired by. It’s all full circle.
How did you guys initially get in contact with the guys from Nashville?
S: That came, I guess, before even the pilot had aired, the music supervisors from ABC were in Nashville I think for a week or so taking meetings and listening to songs and they were on their way out of town, getting ready to go to the airport, and one of the publishers at Universal—where we write—called them up and just said “Hey guys can you come over here? We’ll give you a ride to the airport, we’ll feed you lunch—we really want you to hear this duo that we have,” and so we played them 2 or 3 songs, and made them cry. We were probably one of the few people that actually got to play live for them, which was just really neat, and then they were kind of hinting this would be great for Scarlett and Gunnar and we’re like “Who are they? We’re Sarah and Justin!”
That’s so cool. Do you think the show has given a new appreciation for songwriters behind the music in Nashville?
J: Absolutely. I think really because they present it in such a way that the song is really the star in the scene—you know the characters and you follow them, but they showcase the song so well that I think it makes people curious and the songs have been so strong that they’ve picked. I mean, we’ve even discovered songwriters and artists that way through the show just because you’re like “DAMN, who wrote THAT?” And there are people out there who are just like in Nashville maybe unknown, like we were, and you just kind of discover them through the show. I think it’s done in a really, really cool way, not just background music—it’s the star of the scene. It’s for sure given a huge boost to curiosity about songwriters and also just provided a whole new avenue aside from radio or just regular syncs in TV and film and stuff, which tends to provide the background music for the scene but doesn’t tend to be the scene.
Well, thank you so much guys! We really appreciate it.
S: THANK YOU!
J: We’re hoping that our record’s out before the end of the year—so fingers crossed.
We’re looking forward to it—we’re huge supporters. Enjoy your time on the road and take care!