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Interview: Striking Matches talk Black Deer Festival, UK tour and new music

We caught up with the duo ahead of their performance at Black Deer.

Striking Matches
Credit: Capitol Records

Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis – better known as Striking Matches – shot to fame when their song When The Right One Comes Along was featured on the TV series Nashville.

Since then the duo have become well-known for their vocal harmonies and stunning guitar riffs. They’ve performed at C2C: Country To Country and released their debut album, Nothing But The Silence, in 2015, which was produced by T-Bone Burnett. Earlier this year they released their latest EP, Retrograde.

Ahead of their performance at Black Deer Festival this weekend, I spoke to Sarah and Justin about their upcoming UK tour, Nashville and plans for new music.

How are you finding the festival so far?

Sarah: So far so good, yeah!

Justin: Yeah, it feels amazing outside…

Sarah: Yeah, the weather’s perfect.

Justin: We’ve toured over here in November so we kept kind of seeing the other side of it, where it starts to get dark at 3pm and just cold the whole time and raining, so this is perfect.

What is it that keeps you coming back to the UK?

Sarah: The fans, I guess. You know, we’ve really, really found a great thing over here and the fans are so amazing, so they just keep us coming back because we have so much fun.

Justin: You know what it is, it’s actually the Percy Pigs.

Sarah: That’s helpful, for sure.

Justin: But the fans are great too.

Sarah: Yes, they bring me Percy Pigs, which is amazing [laughs].

Justin: Yeah, they go hand in hand.

Do you find that UK audiences react differently compared to in the US or other places?

Justin: I think they do respond to different songs, which is cool.

Sarah: Yeah, I would say so.

Justin: I think over here they’re more apt to appreciate a heartfelt ballad, which feels really good. As songwriters it’s really gratifying. And they just… I don’t know, there’s just something really amazing about that. They really pay attention to musicianship, I guess, when you do a guitar solo or something and everybody’s just in it with you and loves it. That part feels really, really good. Whereas maybe in the States I think they’re waiting for the big chorus to sing along to. Not that they don’t here but more focus there.

 

Would you say that festival crowds are different to other shows?

Sarah: Sometimes. I think a lot of times with a festival crowd you’re getting in front of people that know your stuff but also people that don’t know your stuff. So it can be a really great opportunity to get in front of people from all over, depending on the nation or the world. So it’s always different because when you go and play a show at such-and-such a club, more than likely most of them know your music, know your songs. But then doing a festival you get this chance to play for some people that haven’t heard you before.

Justin: Which is exciting. And depending on which day of the festival, it matters, because first day everybody’s pretty respectable and pretty clean. Day three, it’s like maybe a little raunchier kind of crowd. Maybe they need a shower. It’s luckily day one here.

You’re out on tour in the UK this summer – what can people coming to those shows expect?

Sarah: Yeah. I think they can expect a pretty exciting live show [laughs].

Justin: Yeah, they’re pretty high energy and our fans know that we’re guitar players. That’s actually how we met, by getting thrown together in a guitar class. Sarah’s like a really amazing slide guitarist and that was always the thing that grabbed me from the beginning – just absolutely blown away by her playing. So you’ll see a lot of that, a lot of solos and guitar playing.

You’re working on a new album at the moment. Can you tell us more about that?

Sarah: Yeah, we’ve got a new record coming out later this year, which we’re very excited about. We’ve released a couple of EPs with a few songs from that record but they’ll come together with about six or seven other songs to be released later in the year.

Justin: We’ve been exploring with a lot of new sounds. So it’s gonna be a departure from the first record we did which we made with T-Bone Burnett and it sounds very T-Bone Burnett. And this one is kind of a departure, where we wanted to explore some different sonic spaces and different things, just as being different people two, three years on.

Were there any songs on this record that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?

Justin: Yeah, there were a few. Retrograde which came out was pretty easy to write, because that was just such a fun jam. It was coming from a honest place of talking about Mercury being in retrograde and equating it to your heart and how you feel when it’s just off…

Sarah: And everything is weird [laughs].

Justin: But then a song named Shameless took quite a bit, because it’s a subject that feels touchier today. It’s something that especially in our country and just in today’s times where it feels like knowing who you are and being alright with that, and then understanding it’s alright to be who you are is just a more important subject. It took time to put it together.

You’ve had several songs featured on the TV series Nashville – how did that come about?

Sarah: Yeah, that happened through our publisher. The music supervisors on the show, who are the people that pick all the songs, they were in town before the show ever aired, when the pilot was just getting ready to air. They were listening to songs all week long, and so at the very end of their trip our publisher said, ‘hey, will you guys just come by? Can these kids play for you – if we do lunch can they play live for you?’ So we played two or three songs, I think. When The Right One Comes Along was one of them, Hanging On A Lie was one of them, which are two songs that were both on the show. We got done singing When The Right One Comes Along and they were like, ‘this is like the real Scarlett and Gunnar’. And we were like, ‘who’s that?!’ We had no idea what they were talking about. And after that we found out they were using Right One, that was the first song they used, and they just started digging into our catalogue and picking songs from it that we probably never would have recorded. They were songs we loved but songs that really weren’t gonna be Striking Matches songs. So for them to go and pick them for the show and let them have that life was really cool.

Did you have a favourite song in terms of how it was used on the show?

Justin: That was probably still When The Right One Comes Along.

Sarah: Yeah, I would say so.

Justin: Just because it was a pretty soul-baring honest song, and they used it pretty respectfully, I guess, in that way. Sometimes when you get a song placement, just depending on the scene it’s in the background or something stupid is happening in the scene so it gives it a weird portrayal. But with Right One they did it in a wedding scene and there was just this heartfelt moment. It gives the song a context that’s really cool.

Did your writing process change much for this new record?

Sarah: I think for the new music it changed from the old way we used to do it, which was more like sitting down with an acoustic guitar, writing the song, figuring out guitar parts, retrofitting them. For this new music really most of the songs started with a guitar riff. So then we sort of created the rest of the song around whatever the riff was. We would make the riff and we would have a beat to it and have all those parts already in place, and then we would write the song to it. Which sort of let us let our hair down a little bit more with the guitar on the recordings, which was really fun.

Justin: Yeah, it let us experiment with different sounds production-wise too. We were almost asking what the song felt like and then writing to that.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Sarah: Mine would be Rainbow Connection, which is from The Muppets. It’s just such a well-written song.

Justin: How do you pick just one?! God Only Knows, maybe, by The Beach Boys. Or any of theirs – Good Vibrations, that’d be cool.

Sarah: Any Beatles song [laughs].

Justin: Immigrant Song. So annoyingly good.

What does the rest of 2018 look like for you?

Sarah: We’ve got the new music coming out, we’ve got dates over here, we’ve got dates getting ready to announce in the US. That’ll take us till through mid-fall, so we may do some more shows over here, you never know.

See Striking Matches on tour in the UK this summer:

25 June – Bush Hall, London
23 July – Gorilla, Manchester
24 July – Arts Club, Liverpool
6 September – Oran Mor, Glasgow
7 September – Leadmill, Sheffield
9 September – Thekla, Bristol

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