No duo has been gaining traction in Music City quite like the quirky Striking Matches. With a definitive folk-Country vibe, Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann have the industry captivated, enough so that several of their tunes from their self-titled EP (released in 2012) have been featured on the hit TV drama Nashville.
Nashville Gab had the chance to sit down with the rising stars about their chance meeting in a classroom at Belmont University and their thoughts on the musical TV show (and much more).
Nashville Gab: What’s the process like in creating an EP or an album? How do you decide what stories you’re going to tell?
Sarah Zimmermann: It’s hard to pick songs, for sure. The song selection for us was easy, because we were able to say ‘what do we want to feature?’ We [got] songs where we were both either sharing the lead or Justin was singing. There were mandolin parts and guitar parts. It’s always fun to look at all of our songs and look at what we want to do.
Justin Davis: It’s sort of a snapshot of where we were then. [It was our] favorite tunes we had at that moment.
SZ: [It’s all about] showing how far you’ve come.
NG: As musicians, do you play all the instruments on your EP?
SZ: We played all of the guitar and mandolin. We only had bass, drums and keyboard come in. Other than that, we played everything else.
JD: That meant a lot to us. Moving forward, too, that’s going to be a part of what we are, our sound. We might have other variables [involved]. We take the musicianship part of it really serious. It’s so much fun being in the studio and come up with parts.
NG: How early did you start playing guitar, mandolin, etc?
SZ: I started playing guitar when I was 10, but I started playing clarinet when I was in second grade.
JD: I have pictures as a kid holding [a guitar] where I have no recollection of. I’d just say forever. [laughs] I remember it was like a moment where it clicked. I was like ‘oh great, girls like it when you play guitar.’
SZ: That was not my motivation. [laughs]
JD: I was already playing before then. I was like ‘at least I have this. I can’t play football or anything. So, at least, I have guitar.’
NG: You two met in a class at Belmont and were paired together to perform, right?
JD: It was sort of a random pairing where they were making the freshman get up and play in front of the upper classmen. It was a hazing kind of thing. They were pairing people by twos. We just happened to get thrown together. It sparked from the beginning. We played some blues and got an applause out of the class. It was a cool thing.
NG: In that moment, did you know you had something special?
SZ: I think so. It took us a little time to start writing and everything. It wasn’t long after, we were like ‘we just need to jam.’ We had a lot of the same favorite songs. We got together and played guitar, and eventually we started writing and started playing our stuff just to do it. People started coming up to us saying ‘what’s your duo name? Who are you?’ We were like ‘oh, we better figure this out pretty quick.’
EX: Why did you settle on the name, Striking Matches?
JD: We were looking for something that sounded exciting. I was trying to be too clever with it to come up with something with pair or two or match. I hated all that because it was just…too clever…or too lame. Then, I thought striking matches. I like [it]. It was more like I don’t hate it.
SZ: It was actually our second name. We already had to find a new name. [laughs]
JD: When it comes to band names, whichever one you don’t hate, that’s the one you end up liking and get used to it.
EX: What was your first name?
SZ: Common Thread…and it was just too common.
JD: That’s the way it goes. Luckily, we ended up loving [our name] a lot better. It’s kind of a better representation of us and what we do. [It’s] something we can own.
NG: What’s your favorite Patsy Cline song to perform?
SZ: I have two. We actually do the two in our set sometimes. We do ‘Turn the Cards Slowly.’ It’s one that most people don’t know about. I got a box set of [her] songs a couple Christmases ago, and was listening to it. I heard that song and I texted Justin. I was like ‘we have to cover this.’ We came up with our own version. Recently, we started doing ‘She’s Got You,’ which is one of my all time favorite songs. It’s a great song.
JD: We can really cut loose on it, too. It’s got this bluesy vibe to it and make it a cool moment.
SZ: That one fell into our lap. When the [Country Music] Hall of Fame opened the Patsy Cline exhibit, we got to play at the opening. Her husband was there and her daughter was there. They were like ‘you guys need to pick three songs.’ We played ‘Turn the Cards,’ and we got to pick two other ones and that was one of them. Then, we ended up getting to do it at the Classic Country [Grand Ole] Opry show one night. It found its way into our set after that.
NG: What was the first time playing the Grand Ole Opry like?
JD: Funny story. Yesterday, a fan came up to us and had a picture where he had taken [of a] great shot. He was at our initial show and captured the looks on our faces.
SZ: Bill Anderson was introducing us. It was at the Ryman because it was Christmastime, and they had the Rockettes out at Opryland. Two dreams came true at once, playing the Opry and at the Ryman. I cried. [laughs]
JD: The look of both excitement and sheer terror.
SZ: [laughs] We were so scared.
JD: Yet, it was incredibly comfortable once we started playing. That’s the thing I remember fondest. The Ryman…I’d always heard how incredible it sounds [playing there]. It is amazing. When you sound that good to yourself, you know you can settle in and really enjoy the moment. You can capture it in your mind.
NG: You had several songs featured on the hit TV show, ‘Nashville.’ How did that come about?
SZ: That came [about because] the music supervisors were in town for about a week just listening to songs before the pilot came out. It was last summer. It was their last day. They were going to be on the way to the airport. One of the pluggers at Universal, where we write, called them up and said ‘hey, we’ll feed you lunch. We really want you to come by and hear this duo that we have.’ We played them four songs. We played them ‘When the Right One Comes Along’ and made them cry. We got all these points. [laughs]
JD: It’s funny. We didn’t know anything about the show. The pilot hadn’t aired on anything. We got finished, and they were crying. They were like ‘oh my god. This is Scarlet and Gunnar.’ We were like ‘who’s that?’ [laughs]
SZ: Then time went by, and we put it out on our EP. At that point, we were still recording and had picked our songs. It was like ‘we’re gonna put it out,’ because we hadn’t heard anything. It was just after we put it out or maybe just right before, we got a call. ‘They recorded your song last night. It’s gonna be on episode eight.’ It was really cool. People going to find the song have found us. That’s been really cool.
NG: Do you think the show is an accurate representation of Nashville?
SZ: I like to say that every person on the show, you can find someone you know that fills that slot. Even down to the people just working at the Bluebird [Cafe]. I think some of it happens a little faster, you know? They got their first hold real quick. [laughs]
JD: The thing that cracked me up was the first episode. [It was like] ‘well, there’s plenty of time left at the Bluebird here tonight. Does anybody want to get up and play?’ That never happens. There are people out the door waiting to play. There’s never a time [where there isn’t anyone to play].
SZ: The line is [always] down the street. Overall, I think they do a really great job at depicting the city itself. I love the on-location stuff. They’ll shoot from places that are really bars down on Broadway. I think it’s really cool for people who don’t live here to get to see that side of our town.
JD: They’ve done most everything pretty respectfully with regard to songwriters and giving them some of the spotlight. The songs shine, for sure.
SZ: [It’s] really different than any other show that has music because so many of them are cover tunes. ‘Nashville’ has really let the writers have the songs shine. That is really neat.
Read the full interview here.
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