STRIKING MATCHES’ SIZZLING GUITAR PLAY BREAKS THE SILENCE ON NEW ALBUM
Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis are two singer/songwriter musicians who could easily have chosen separate paths in the music business and been wildly successful. As fate would have it, they were matched up in a college class at Belmont University as randomly as the choice you would make selecting a single match from a box of 100. Justin didn’t expect to be impressed with Sarah’s guitar playing, but her fingers on the instrument left the entire classroom standing in a backdraft of sound and skill. When the two decided to combine their musical talent, striking their guitars against each other, a flame was born. The depth of their combined play puts the heat in the music they make. Their dynamic vocals control the intensity of the lyrics, adding and subtracting friction through tight harmonies. With their new album, Nothing But The Silence, Striking Matches has created a live recording of songs that live and breathe in the moment and continue to take shape each time they’re heard. To classify it under any one particular genre would be a disservice to the creative process. When you strike a match, you get a single flame. Untouched, it will burn itself out very quickly. Touch that flame to another thing and you’ve just started a fire, whose possibilities are endless.
Several of Striking Matches’ original songs have been featured on the television show, Nashville. The exposure has been good for them and their music. However, for a better example of who they are and what you can expect on their new album, watch the lyric video for “Missing You Tonight.” It is, by far, the most expressive, musically artistic lyric video I’ve seen. They worked with Dillon White on this and said he had a vision for it going in. He felt it was important that the two of them appear in the video and play on it. Rather than using a closed caption approach, the lyrics often appear directly on the bodies of Sarah and Justin, putting into words what their hearts were feeling. Sarah lights a match just as the lyric says, “I don’t wanna start a fire, and I don’t wanna start a fight.” Mirroring the two sides of a broken relationship, she and Justin appear on opposite sides of the wall between them. Sarah blows out the single flame, leaving Justin in a cloud of smoke. Guitars in hand, they pour out their feelings for each other through intense play. Giving in to the emotion, Sarah lights another match and starts a fire. Unable to fan the flames, they turn towards each other and meld into one as the video ends. The heat from this passionate union and the wreckage it can leave behind create the theme and content for their fiery new album.
For Striking Matches, making an album is very much an organic process, inside and outside the studio. They were fully involved from the inception of each song to its recorded state on the album. The heart of their music comes from what these two create with the strings of their guitars, both solo and intertwined. It was important to them that the album sound like a live recording, a living representation of a moment in time, captured in raw form. Justin referred to it as an “auditory photograph.” In the studio, there were just four people and the producer, T Bone Burnett. Sarah and Justin agreed he is not a heavy handed producer, bringing out the best in them and making only subtle changes in sound or direction. What you hear on this album is what felt right at the time, whether it be how it was played or who sings which part of the song. With so much to say both musically and lyrically, I wondered what made them choose the title, Nothing But The Silence. They said they’d already put out a self-titled EP and wanted something that was a title and a message. The title track took a long time to write, and when it came time to record it, they said it just felt right. It was a light bulb moment when everyone in the studio realized they’d found their title. The 11 songs on this album hold a mirror to the vulnerabilities of the heart, exposing every tumultuous beat in the aftermath of a breakup. The heart doesn’t often heed storm warnings until its been tossed around and left on the brink of destruction. What remains in its wake is the silence.
“Trouble Is As Trouble Does” opens the album with a relationship gone wild. It’s a fast-paced acoustic guitar chase that’s been mic’d and plugged into an amp to blend the sound of the two guitars. This one feels like you’ve just climbed atop a bull and when that gate opens, this is no eight second ride. It’s 3:50 of exhilarating guitar fun! Now it’s time to get serious. “Make A Liar Out Of Me” turns the heat up to inferno with a sultry intro and a sexy guitar that answers every breathless lyric. When Sarah comes in with her vocal, it slides easily into Justin’s, leading to the sexual tension that builds in the middle of the song with the intensity of the guitar playing. The blistering guitar solo at the end is a mixture of grinding and passion that brings this one to a climactic close. Recording this solo as a live moment made it tougher to do, but Justin said it’s an important part of who they are musically. There was pride and awe in his voice when he told me that Sarah did that solo all in one pass and in his words, “annihilated it.” Yes Justin, the girl can play!
The title track, “Nothing But The Silence,” is a musical conversation between two broken hearts. Justin’s vocal dominates here, with Sarah’s taking the lower, softer track. The volume builds as these two hearts break their silence, then drops back to a whisper as they retreat to reconsider the risks. Most often when we hear the blues, it’s sung from a single perspective. Striking Matches taking this on gives us two hearts singing the blues in harmony. The duality creates a groove that ebbs and flows with the emotion of the lyrics. What they’ve created here is a palpitating piece of music. “Hanging On A Lie” will be the first single released to country radio, and this song holds nothing back. Sarah opens this one with some pointed accusations and a guitar that echoes the level of her aggression. This is the sound of a woman too pissed off to sing the blues. Justin’s vocal plays timid antagonist against Sarah’s demand to “open up your mouth if you’ve got something to say, don’t keep me waiting, don’t leave me hanging on a lie.” The driving guitar play towards the end is pure emotion meets instrumental. This is music therapy! “Never Gonna Love Again” is a song Sarah said changed tremendously from the demo they came in with to the recorded version on the album. When they worked on it in the studio, T Bone Burnett suggested a more tribal beat throughout. Initially, Sara said she thought it felt so wrong, but after the first pass, she was sold. It was one of those organic, unrefined moments in the recording process where they went with what felt right at the time. The tribal beat sets the pulse of the song, with the instrumental sections adding the mood. This captures the anguish of a broken heart perfectly.
“When The Right One Comes Along” is a song written by Justin Davis, Georgia Middleman, and Sarah Zimmermann. It was featured on the television show, Nashville, sung by Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio. The song certainly fits the theme of this album. Sarah and Justin do a vocal slow dance here with the simplest of musical accompaniments. Sarah’s lead vocal is pure and stunning, with Justin adding a soft touch in just the right places. This is a breathtaking moment on the album that feels like you just witnessed the perfect union. Sarah and Justin work in vocal tandem on “What A Broken Heart Feels Like” to give an upbeat feel to a heartache song. It’s misery loves company that surprises in a feel good, sing-a-long song. Sarah and Justin taunt each other in the playful, “Miss Me More.” It’s acoustic with a flair that turns vindictive into fun.
Sarah and Justin’s vocal flexibility gives them an advantage in the creative process that most artists don’t have. As a duo, they can add depth through perspective, strength to a character, or emotion to a lyric. It comes pretty easily to them, who will sing what, and that doesn’t change between writing and recording. The exception to that was “Like Lovers.” When they got into the studio to record this one, the story of the song seemed best told from a two-part person. Imagine a darkened stage with nothing more than a single spotlight on two voices. The music they sing to is just enough to remind you it’s a song. Listening to this, it feels like we’re eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. At times, the vocal is barely above a whisper. As they relate the passion that once was, the strength of the vocal increases with it. It burns itself out in the crescendo at the end, trailing off in soft resignation. On an album full of vocal gems from these two, this is as beautiful as it is powerful. An exceptional blending of voices by any standard. “Missing You Tonight” will be released as a single on AAA radio. You can watch the lyric video and learn the words to this rock-edged, guitar driven song. This one plays out on the strings of another era, when guitars were as expressive as the lyrics they accompanied and solos took on a life of their own. The only thing missing here is the turntable to play it on.
If the purpose of the final cut on an album is meant to leave you with a lasting impression, “God And You” is the gold standard. Justin said there was so much they wanted to say on this album that it felt like the last song was the ending of a novel. “God And You” felt like that epilogue moment, and it was engineered so that the last chord rings out, the resonance of a powerful message. If the soul could tell you how it was feeling, this is what it would sound like. Justin’s voice has a reverence in it here that perfectly suits the lyrics. Sarah’s harmonies add the object of his reverence. Their combined voices give this a spiritual tone. In April, Striking Matches will be heading to the UK for a few shows, one of which is in an old church. I can’t imagine a more perfect setting for this song.
Striking Matches is one of those rare acts in music that is the same, yet never the same, no matter where you see them. The quality will always be at the highest level, but their intense connection to the music and extraordinary talent, give new life to their stage performances as the music is created in the moment. They believe that music changes as people do and it should be played against the elements that exist, whether indoors or out. When Sarah and Justin come together, both vocally and musically, they are two matches striking a stage that erupt into one flame. Their sound, like fire, has no boundaries. It will grow out of what feeds it and roar as it might until it burns itself out. All that remains is the concert experience in the smoldering embers, evidence of their living, breathing performance. When they leave the stage and the crowd goes home, there is Nothing But The Silence – a guitar driven, vocally intense music experience. The album drops March 23.
Pre-order Nothing But The Silence through iTunes: HERE
Download “Hanging On A Lie” through iTunes: HERE
Visit Striking Matches’ website: http://www.strikingmatches.com/
Watch the video for “Trouble Is As Trouble Does” (1Mic 1Take)
©2015-nashvillethreesixty.com. All rights reserved.