As many of you know we’re very big fans of a Country duo based in Nashville called Striking Matches. Zoe has met them on a number of occasions at C2C Festival 2014 and 2015, on her recent trip to Nashville during their album launch week and on their last tour of the UK in Manchester. Famous for their intricate guitar licks coupled with beautiful vocals and clever lyrics, the duo has gone from strength to strength since we first heard one of their songs featured in the TV show ‘Nashville’. Their debut album has been hugely successful not just in their home country of the USA but it also climbed to number one on the UK iTunes charts within the first week of it being released! I was thrilled to get the chance to interview them as part of our coverage of the Cornbury Festival as I as a songwriter myself am incredibly inspired by the pair and I know I am certainly not the only one! Read on below to find out what Sarah and Justin had to say!
JZ: How are you both?
Sarah: We’re good, getting started with our Tuesday we just got back to Nashville last night. We’ve been all over the US we’ve been in California the other day and then all the way across the entire country in New Jersey yesterday.
JZ: So you’re covering a lot of ground on the US tour then?
Sarah: Yes definitely!
JZ: So I wanted to talk about your songwriting process for the album, we know your guitar parts are really complex and we wondered if that came first or whether it was different every time?
Sarah: Its definitely different every time I mean ‘Trouble is as Trouble Does’ started with that guitar lick, I came up with that one evening and showed it to Justin and we automatically knew what we felt like the song was about just from that guitar lick but then there are songs like “Nothing but the Silence” which Justin had the idea for about 6 months before we wrote it so its always different.
JZ: And what about the songs that have been featured in ‘Nashville’, because you’ve had 8 featured in ‘Nashville’ now? Do you write those thinking that someone else is going to sing them or do you just write them and the programme comes along and says “they’re great songs, can we feature them in the show?”
Sarah: Yeah exactly, we’ve always just wanted to write songs and ‘Nashville’ has been so great to just have been fans of the songs which has been so cool.
Justin: Yeah I don’t think we ever set out to write with the intention of getting them on a TV show or anything for that matter, I think we only write songs to write songs haha.
JZ: Great, and where do your lyrical ideas come from?
Sarah: I think they come from everywhere, you know, sometimes you’ll hear something or you’ll see something and that’ll spark something and sometimes things just pop into your head, ‘Trouble is as Trouble Does’ that line was just something that popped into my head so I wrote it down and then when I came up with that guitar lick I kind of just felt like this could go together so it definitely comes from all over the place you kind of never know when to expect it.
Justin: They stem from personal experiences most of the time whether its something you’ve experienced directly, first hand or maybe you heard a story from a friend or something like that who’s going through an experience and that inspires you but most of the time if not all the time they have a personal connection.
JZ: Do you have a favourite song to play live?
Sarah: I think my favourite song to play live right now, I mean it can be different every time but my favourite to play live is ‘Never Gonna Love Again’ because its always a little different its always a little improvised when we get to the jam at the end so its always exciting to see whats going to happen, and I just love singing it, theres something about the melody and lyrics that I really love so its a lot of fun.
Justin: For me I really love to play ‘Make a Liar Out of Me’ because thats just a lot of fun and usually we tend to play that near the end of the set so thats just exciting but you tend to love every moment in the show for a different reason so I really love to play ‘When the Right One Comes Along’ because thats usually the quietest most exposed part of the show so thats fun all by itself for a different reason.
JZ: Talking about playing live, you’ve got a string of UK dates coming up including the Cornbury Festival which we’ll be covering, and I was wondering if theres any big differences between UK audiences and US audiences and what you like about playing over here in Britain?
Justin: There are definite differences I think, UK audiences tend to love to sing with us a lot more which is really really fun, I don’t know, either US audiences, I don’t know whether they don’t think they can or they just like to listen but its just so much fun when we play ‘When the Right One Comes Along’ and the UK tend to sing it with us I think its really cool and unique to the UK right now. They’re both fun in their own right and theres a lot of similarities but there are subtle differences, but they’re both great.
JZ: Great! We talk to a lot of UK artists and one of the questions we ask them is what are your main influences and I’ve heard a lot of them mention you guys because you’re fantastic all rounders; you’re great vocalists, phenomenal guitarists and you write amazing songs so I just wondered, for all the people you inspire if you could firstly give them a message of what you feel is the secret to your success and how aspiring songwriters and performers can achieve a similar level?
Sarah: Thats very sweet!
Justin: Yeah, thats incredibly kind and makes us feel really, really good but I think especially because the way you said we’re all-rounders, the way that we sing and play and write and thats all we’ve ever wanted to be seen as, artists that do play and sing and write and so if people see us that way then thats the highest compliment we could ever get and we’re incredibly grateful that they get inspired by us because we were inspired by somebody else in the same way. We always look up to people who write songs as well as sing and play, all-rounders, and inspired to get to that level and not accept anything less so I think if we can inspire people in that same way then thats great.
Sarah: Yeah and I think one of the most important things for any aspiring artist is to just get out there and play. When we were starting out we would be out 4 or 5 nights a week, anywhere that would let us play and I think thats one of the best ways to home your craft and get to know your artistry. Just get out there and play!
JZ: Another thing I hear people say a lot and in fact, a dream of my own, is to play at the Grand Ole Opry, and you’ve done that over forty times now, and I just wondered if you could tell us what thats like?
Sarah: Its amazing, we’ll do it for the 46th time tomorrow night and it feels like the first time every time we do it and I think everyone says that but it really does and its just such an honour to stand where so many of your heroes have stood and stand still today and just to be able to do it and to have that opportunity is just the greatest honour.
Justin: Yeah its always over very quickly.
Sarah: Yeah thats true haha!
Justin: Thats the thing nobody really tells you, they kind of tell you that you’ll feel nervous or its amazing and its wonderful and all of thats true, it feels amazing every single time but the thing that catches you off guard is how quickly it flies by, because you’re doing two or three songs each performance because theres several artists playing throughout the show and it just feels like as soon as you go out on stage your walking off stage again.
JZ: And going back to the album what were your main influences, not just writing the songs but coming up with the instrumentation that you wanted to use?
Sarah: Its interesting we draw so much inspiration from so many different things I think most of the forms and the instrumentation for the record we had had for a long time, thats one thing that T-Bone said he was a fan of was the fact that we had already made up a lot of the arrangements before we went into the studio. I think a lot of that comes from listening to music like Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin where the arrangements and parts were so important to the music and I think we drew a lot from that. We go a lot of different places on that record and just draw from everything we’ve ever listened to, not just Country but Rock and everything like that and the biggest goal I think we had for the record was we wanted to do it all live so we pretty much used all the live arrangements that we were playing out already.
JZ: Whats it like now, with all the hard work you’ve put in, to hear your songs on the radio or to hear people doing them as covers or to hear people singing them back to you at gigs?
Sarah: Thats a dream come true, thats when you realise that your music has had enough of an impact on someone that they want to play it, that they want to cover it or that the radio is playing it, its just absolutely amazing, I don’t think I can find the best word to describe how incredible that is!
JZ: A few sillier questions now, I was just wondering whats the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about? Either together or separately and it doesn’t have to have been released or even left your bedroom!
Sarah: Good question! Hmm, I’m not sure I’ve ever written anything weird or strange, have you Justin?
Justin: I wrote a song one time about being sleepy, just because that seemed like the only thing I could come up with at the time because I was genuinely sleepy it was a long winded dement about the trials and tribulations of being sleepy and unable to wake up.
JZ: I like that one! We know your guitar skills are incredible and they’re mesmerising for us as fans to watch and it probably takes a lot of concentration but I was just wondering if you ever let your mind wander when your on stage and if you have any mid-gig thoughts?
Sarah: Every now and then I’ll just like let my mind go and I go through my to-do list in my head, you want to be in the moment and sometimes for whatever reason you start to go and you end up, in trying to concentrate, concentrating on other things. Sometimes you lose yourself in the music and you think about where you are and you think, gosh how did I get here? That can be a pretty magical moment you know when we played the Opry for the first time all I could think about was all of the gigs that had come before that, that were not that great or less than desirable, those things that took up your time, paying you dues in a way. So sometimes if you let it wander its an opportunity to be very grateful.
JZ: In Manchester, Justin, we saw you break your guitar, I’m sure you both have more than one so I just wondered if you had a favourite make and model?
Sarah: My stand by is the one that I have been playing for the last three or four years, I haven’t broken it yet and its the Takamine TAN45C thats mine and thats the one I’ve had for three years and it doesn’t usually do me wrong but the last time I said that the pre-amp inside it blew up but hopefully nothing bad will happen this time with saying it again.
Justin: Yeah and mine was actually the one I was playing, the one I was beating into submission. I actually had it sort of repaired, they repaired it as best they could they sort of sealed all the cracks I put in it. I was still playing it on this past tour, its just my Takamine which is slightly different from Sarah’s, just different enough so that the sounds are distinct.
JZ: Well I’m glad they repaired it!
Sarah: For now, it’ll probably break again when we get back over there!
JZ: And what made you decide on the name ‘Striking Matches’?
Justin: Striking Matches, we were just sort of searching for something that was evocative of what we were doing live which tended to be pretty high energy. The reliance of the chemistry between each other and the intensity that could come out of us playing at each other or with each other. So Striking Matches just seemed fitting after we’d thrown some things around, and that just seemed to be what worked the most and when we tried it on for size it really just sort of suited us.
JZ: Great! Finally I’m sure you’re just enjoying the success from your debut album at the moment and rightly so but I was just wondering where you wanted to go next? Are you enjoying touring and have any plans to take it elsewhere like Australia or Asia or are you thinking about writing and recording more for another album?
Sarah: I think both at the same time, you know, we’d love to get to Australia and Asia and we’d love to see more of the UK than we already have but we’re always writing and we’ve already got a list going of things we want to put on the next record and we’re writing for it. That part I don’t think ever stops, we’re always planning ahead for the next musical adventure.
Justin: Yeah, you kind of always have something on the horizon and we’re concentrating on how to make the second record better than the first so thats all a good thing, its an inspiring thing.
Sarah: We’re so excited to be coming back and to be playing the Cornbury Festival, we can’t wait!
JZ: We caught up with the pair at Cornbury Festival this year and this is what they had to say!
So how did the US tour go?
Justin: Yes, its always a lot of fun, a different energy back home as it is here, they’re both really great and positive but they’re different and its interesting to see, you almost kind of switch gears when you go back over there and then switch again when we’re here, its fun.
JZ: Did you get to go any places that you’ve never been before?
Sarah: Yeah, actually we had never played in Boston so we got to go there, a couple of places in the mid-west, we always like playing in Chicago, we got to go there, so we got to go to a lot of cities that we either hadn’t been to in a long time or had never been to at all. Its funny because we only got as far as Chicago, you do everything in little pockets and the US is very large you find out haha!
JZ: Does the way you perform have to change or adapt much between Festivals and doing your own tour?
Justin: Yeah, definitely, the structure of the set is different, its so easy when its your own show and people have come to see you and they know all your songs and you kind of play a little more of the deep cuts and the ballads, play everything for the fans but at a festival when people don’t know your music you kind of just have to play the things that will get their attention and they hear it and they think, what is that? Thats cool and hopefully they’ll become a fan and they’ll come to your shows and thats when you can really play every song you’ve got.
JZ: Sarah, I read that you used to play Violin, do you still play?
Sarah: I don’t, I grew up playing Clarinet and Violin in school and I played Violin all through college until I stopped going. I played all through senior year of high school and I never really got into it, I think I just played it because its what I did. In third grade you pick a string instrument and I just did it but I never got good, I was good at Clarinet, I had that in the bag but Violin, not so much, no one wants me to do that haha.
Justin: But it did help transitioning to the Mandolin, right?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely! The strings are tuned the same so its good remembering where all the notes are.
Justin: Its a lot different because you don’t have the bow technique but for someone who’s a guitar player being able to play the violin I think it helps a lot with the mandolin.
JZ: Great, and on your debut album you co-wrote a lot with different collaborators, how do you go in there and start that off because obviously people write with different approaches?
Sarah: I think its different every time. Sometimes one of us will have an idea or we’ll both have an idea to take to that third person. I think everything on the record that we wrote with a third person started with one of our ideas. Usually when you’re the artist and you’re in a room with another writer they want to write something you’re going to cut so they’ll want to roll with what you want to do so its kind of always different. Sometimes you wont have anything and somehow something magically appears, sometimes it doesn’t haha.
Justin: Its tricky, its an intangible thing that happens and sometimes it doesn’t and you can’t figure out why because everyone in the room’s a great writer in their own right.
JZ: So last time I asked you if you had any mid-gig thoughts, this time I wanted to know if you have a ritual or anything before you go on stage?
Justin: I think our ritual is probably not exciting because it is a ritual but its not like a turn around three times or anything we always just check the strings, check the tuning, check each other, check we have water and the cable works, its sort of just a checklist. We go through the setlist and the talking points we want to makesure we say things like we’ll be back here in November or whatever, thats the ritual but its incredibly important because usually when you get on and the adrenaline starts going and the nerves start going, if you haven’t planned everything before hand, you’ll just forget.
JZ: And finally, I was speaking to The Shires earlier and Ben dared me to ask you to speak some French Justin!
Sarah: Haha, thats because you let the cat out the bag last night!
Justin: Naturellement il a dit cela! Ce qui vous veulent que je dise, je peux dire quelque chose que vous voulez mais sans sujet son genre de dur! (I think thats what he said)
JZ: And whats that in English?
Justin: Of course he said that! What do you want me to say, I can say anything you want but without a subject its kind of hard!
JZ: How about you introduce yourself and the record in French?
Justin: (Then he says something like this according to google translate!) Nous sommes les Striking Matches et notre premier album rien mais le silence est maintenant!
There you have it folks! Striking Matches, the rising stars of Nashville that are taking the UK by storm at the minute! It was a pleasure to get to interview them and as always we’d love to hear what you think! If you’ve not yet got your copy of ‘Nothing But The Silence’ head over to iTunes or visit their website!
Just Zoe x