Introducing....Striking Matches

Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis comprise country music duo Striking Matches. The duo released their debut EP in 2012 with single Trouble Is As Trouble Does following in 2013. They have played multiple concerts in the US alongside artists such as Ashley Monroe and are about to travel over to the UK to perform two headlining shows in London after their warm reception at March's C2C: Country To Country Festival.

Their self-titled EP includes four songs, Hangin' On A Lie, Tell Me So, When The Right One Comes Along and Blame It On Me. The EP opens with a catchy mandolin hook in Hangin' On A Lie. As with the majority of the tracks Zimmermann provides lead vocals. The production has a bluesy feel to it, most evident in the verses, with the mandolin leading that. The mandolin is still used in the chorus however is harder to pick out, something that I think is a shame as the production in the verses is perfect and the gutsy delivery of the vocals works well against that. Unfortunately the chorus can feel a little messy and loses the blues feel that works so well in the verses.

Tell Me So is one of two standout tracks from the EP. My favourite of the four, the solid base line from the acoustic guitar and drums gives a strong platform to build upon and Zimmermann delivers an emotive, heartfelt vocal that blends effortlessly with the backing vocals from Davis. Lyrics such as "I may be making a mistake but baby make it with me" and "I was so lost in your eyes I couldn't find the air to breath" tell a really touching story and the production is complex enough to not be boring but also allows the focus to be on the vocals and the story behind the lyrics.

Fans of the TV show "Nashville" will probably know When The Right One Comes Along however the Striking Matches release is a lot stronger than the version Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen perform on the show. The stripped back instrumentalisation and vocal strength creates a real goose bump moment throughout and I am sure many people will be drawn to this gorgeous track. In my opinion this is undoubtedly the other stand out track on the EP and contrasts really well with the other more upbeat tracks.

The EP is rounded out with Blame It On Me. The only track to have lead vocals provided by Davis, it is nice to see the vocal focus flipped for this song and I hope the duo spread the lead vocals for their album as they are both talented vocalists. The track has a great pace and the duo's energy radiates through it making me think this must be a great track to see performed live. Whilst not on the EP, Trouble Is As Trouble Does is another great track and immediately drew me to it with the catchy production. The duo also share lead vocals on the track.

I was recently able to catch up with them during a break in their schedule....

What first drew you to country music?
SARAH - I think we both have different answers, I kind of grew up listening to a lot of different music but it was kind of for me my mum had a Dixie Chicks CD in the car and that kind of got me started on it and just fell in love with that and what they were doing, it kind of made it cool for girls to be playing instruments so I got into that and then got in to country music at that time then started to work my way back to the Patsy Clines and Johnny Cash and all that kind of stuff so....that's me [laughs] 
JUSTIN - I'm originally from pretty far down south. My parents had always listened to it. They'd always listened to other stuff but I remember on my rides to school or pre-school even they'd listen to country music or they'd listen to Motown, anything like that. Usually just stuff from their generation. Country music always stuck with me and I got turned on to so many of the country guitar players, Jerry Reed or Chet Atkins and I was always so fond of that and of course when I grew up to be a teenager you can't listen to whatever your parents are listening to so I kind of fell out and re fell in love with it again when I first got to college or university it'd been a long, a long love relationship.
 You both mentioned playing the guitar, when did you first start playing?
SARAH - I started when I was ten. My dad worked at a music store and I would go. He would teach lessons for woodwind, clarinet and flute and others like that. I would go there and see the guitars on the wall say 'I want to play that', 'I want to play that' and finally he let me and I just kind of went from there with it!
Which artist would you like to collaborate with and why?
JUSTIN - Um I think there are loads of them but actually one of our favourites out right now is Ashley Monroe and we've actually collaborated a bit with her already I guess, we have a couple of songs on her new record so that's been really cool that we wrote with her but she's amazing....who for you? (Sarah) somebody not country 
SARAH - Um John Mayer, I want to collaborate with him. There are so many great artists right now. Hunter Hayes is awesome, we obviously love the guitar players like Keith Urban....all of those really! [laughs] 
Which song do you wish you had written and why?
SARAH - Which song do we wish we had written and why....good question....
JUSTIN - [laughs] How many thousands of them....
SARAH - I think it changes sometimes, I think sometimes you just hear an amazing song and think why didn't I think of that. Keith Urban has a song which I think was written by Rivers Rutherford called "The Hard Way". I just love that song, it's so good, why didn't I think of that! [laughs]
JUSTIN - Yeah that's a great one, all I can think of is Ashley Monroe songs [laughs] because I started thing about her. She has one on her new record, or her last record called "The Morning After" which definitely kills me. When you hear one that really feels like you thought of it, like you said it 
SARAH - Feels like they're talking right to you
JUSTIN - Yeah, yeah. That happens so much and there are so many incredible writers in Nashville, in this town, it just seems to happen every other day you hear a great song you just kick yourself and think why didn't I think of that [laughs]
Do you write from personal experiences when you write your songs?
JUSTIN - Many times
SARAH -  Yeah, I think more often than not. I mean it can be fun to sort of go out of your own element and tell sort of a story that maybe is in your head but I think the songs that mean the most to us I think are personal experiences songs.
JUSTIN - I think it's a little bit of both, we definitely use a lot of personal experiences but I kind of equate it to maybe how acting is where you can kind of step into the shoes of another character or imagine if you hear about something that happened to a friend, they lost someone or something, you kind of step into their perspective and sometimes you can write like that.
What would you say has been the hardest song to write?
JUSTIN - The next one! [laughs]
SARAH - It's funny, sometimes a song....we wrote something a couple of weeks ago that kind of just fell into our laps. I was just sitting around and then all of a sudden I had three verses and then I met up with Justin and he had a chorus in about ten minutes and we were just like 'well that was fast'. We've had songs where it's taken six months to write.
JUSTIN - For instance, we have an EP out, it's just a four song EP and some of the people that we came into contact with and the fans we met over at C2C were so incredible to buy it so they might know one called "Tell Me So" which is on the EP and that song, I think, we slaved over that song for about six months like Sarah was saying and it was just almost like a painting where you come to it every day and you paint a little bit and you erase a little bit and add a little more. Sometimes it can just happen in an hour.
What is your favourite song to perform live?
SARAH - Ohh that definitely changes all the time too. I think right now mine's a cross between "Make A Liar Out Of Me" and a new song called "Nothing But The Silence" but we've put a couple of other songs in the set that we're excited about.
JUSTIN - Yeah, I think between maybe "Make A Liar Out Of Me" because we get to play guitar and rock out a little bit and maybe "When The Right One Comes Along" that's probably the quietest moment in the set.
Do you ever perform any covers live or do you just stick with your original songs?
SARAH - We like to throw in a few covers every now and then, we like to do sort of quirky little different ones. For years we've done a Patsy Cline song that nobody's ever heard of called "Turn The Card Slowly" which was just one we found after listening to a box set of her stuff so kind of sometimes like to be left of centre.
JUSTIN - Yeah, when we cover something we like to just try and re-imagine it a little bit rather than do a carbon copy version, everybody's already heard that version. It's great to cover country songs but it's kind of fun to cover songs that aren't in country because they're so far outside of the box and they're just going to sound different.
SARAH - We've covered Pink before, we've covered Buddy Holly before.
You've played the Grand Ole Opry a few times now, how is the experience?
JUSTIN - Yes, it was twenty-six times this past Saturday, it's incredible, one of the most intimidating places from the outside before you do it and one of the most welcoming places once you're finally invited to come and play. From the moment we first walked in the first time we played we just felt like part of the family, how warm they were to us. 
SARAH - The security guards know our names now! I think there's a comfort level there but it doesn't matter when you walk out on that stage I just get nervous anyway, it's like 'okay here we go' [laughs]
JUSTIN - It's such an icon in the world but especially country music, once that hits you there's no slowing your heart.
SARAH - Makes you not want to mess up and you have to go home and say 'I messed up on the Opry' [laughs] 
You've already mentioned but you played a few sets as part of the C2C Festival, how did you find the UK audience?
SARAH - Absolutely amazing! We were blown away literally. The fans over there are so ravenous for music and just so excited about stuff and it was just so cool for us.
JUSTIN - Well that's why we can't wait to get back. The people were so friendly to us. We had hoped so, it was our first trip to the UK and so it really just surpassed our wildest expectations which was really really cool.
SARAH - I'll never forget the third day we played a pop-up stage and just the crowd went on for as far as you could see and as far as you could see the people were paying attention, there were no people on their phones or talking. It was out in the middle of the arena and they cared and it was amazing! [laughs] There were people on the stairs, it was just so cool.
You're set to play some headlining shows over here next week, does that mean we are going to see you here a lot?
JUSTIN - Yes, we're incredibly excited. We get to play a bit longer so we can kind of stretch our legs and play some more songs and play some new songs and we may even throw in a few of those covers that we mentioned.
SARAH - We plan on coming over every few months probably, hopefully. We want to expand too, we want to get out and go to Manchester and go up to Scotland, kind of stretch our wings a little bit. We definitely plan on making over there a part of everything.
Congratulations on your recent album deal, do you have any news regarding that release?
JUSTIN - We do, we're slayed right now, we're incredibly excited where it's going and it sounds amazing so we're just putting on the finishing touches, mixing and that should happen over the next couple of weeks and we're hoping that it'll release, at least over here, in October and then hopefully soon thereafter in the UK.
Do you have a title yet?
SARAH - We don't yet, we've been talking about that, whether we want it to be self-titled or not. I think it will all come to us, kind of like the way Striking Matches kind of came and it was just like 'oh that feels right' I think we'll know when it feels right.
Where did the name Striking Matches come from?
JUSTIN -  Well, that was a lot of trial and error because if you've ever had a band or you've ever tried to come up with a band name it's not easy. I think I was trying to be way too clever with the whole duo thing and try and come up with something with two or double or match or anything and all that was just horrible but I think in that process I said Striking Matches at some point. In our experience in the past it's always been the band name that you don't really hate first that you kind of grow to love and so when I said that we were kind of 'well we don't hate that' and it was kind of amazing because as we tried it on for size and used it it really started to suit us more and more and we took it on as even a descriptor because it sounds exciting and sounds potentially unstable [laughs] 
How do you balance music with your other responsibilities?
BOTH - We don't! [laughs]
JUSTIN - We haven't eaten for weeks! [laughs]
SARAH - Thankfully we're blessed to be able to do this as a living. Most of our responsibilities end up being music related whether it's answering emails or keeping up with social media or playing shows or just practising, all those things.
JUSTIN - Writing....
SARAH - Writing yep, they all kind of find their way in. We try and go to the gym and things like that a little bit, pay our bills every now and then.
JUSTIN - Remember to call our parents [laughs]
SARAH - But neither of us have any pets or anything things like that so....we're never home really so....that makes it easy that everything is sort of, in one way or another, music related. It keeps it all together. Sometimes we have to make to do lists but it's not bad.
You obviously work quite closely as a duo, have you always got along or do you have disagreements about things?
SARAH - You know, not too bad. Usually no, I think we have a very good judgement on....if we're writing or something and there's a line and one of us is 'I don't really like that' the other is usually like 'alright, you're probably right' I think we have a good balance of figuring those things out. I can't think of a time where it was like 'no I'm right and I'm sticking to it' I think we always sort of meet in the middle somewhere, I can't really think of any epic band fights [laughs] 
JUSTIN - Fingers crossed!
SARAH - Yeah, so far so good [laughs]
What's your favourite part about being a musician?
JUSTIN - I think there are so many things so it's hard to say what exactly is the favourite but I guess just at it's core it's waking up and realising that that's what you get to do. An incredible honour and you have the luck to be able to say that today you get to make music again instead of having to do something else so that you get to make music. It's difficult to put into words what kind of feeling that is but I guess that's what people are talking about when they say if you can do what you love you'll never work a day in your life.
SARAH - Yeah I think that's the same for me for sure. We get to make people happy, we get to go play shows and let people kind of forget to world for a little while, that's always a good feeling! [laughs] 
JUSTIN - Feel incredibly blessed and lucky
How about your least favourite part?
SARAH - Um I would have said my least favourite part is....
JUSTIN - Changing strings! [laughs]
SARAH - Changing strings and having to wake up early for flights, like 6am, that's hard.
JUSTIN - If the flight is at 6am then maybe you have to wake up at 4 or 3:30 [laughs] 
SARAH - That is kind of a drag but once you get over that part and you're up you're like 'okay I'm ready to go now', the getting up part is hard. That first twenty minutes is hard.
JUSTIN - That's probably though, that's in any occupation at some point so as far as just being a musician....
SARAH - Changing strings [laughs]
JUSTIN - Absolutely, it's the worst! 
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
JUSTIN - Um, I know, I'll never forget somebody said, either to me or I was around when they said it to someone else like me they were trying to do music and it was early on and they said 'don't do this if you don't have to' so that was a really good sort of check. I thought about it for a while because it seemed kind of harsh at first then upon reflecting on it I realised wow I really do have to do this and when people would ask what would you be doing if you weren't doing music I would always think about it and say I'd still be doing music, I would just be starving and doing music! 
SARAH - Yeah that's definitely a good one for me too and I think another one for me is just to stop and celebrate the small victories, don't forget to enjoy the ride that we're on right now and how everything is going. It's easy to just get caught up and be like okay we did this and we did that and we did that and forget to stop and say hey we're about to go over to London for the second time and headline two shows and celebrate that and enjoy that. You get a limited time to enjoy the things that you're experiencing before they become memories so enjoy them while you have them.
Would advice would you give to anyone?
JUSTIN - Just keep going if you really really really want to do it, be a songwriter or a musician or an artist or anything just keep going and if you want it bad enough you'll find a way even if it takes a while but I think it kind of plays into the whole don't do it unless you have to do it but if you have to do it you're going to find a way anyway and so you'll automatically keep going no matter what.
SARAH - Yeah and if you believe in yourself and you believe in what you're doing then at the end of the day that's what matters if you can go to sleep at night and say I feel strongly about what I did today, where I'm going.
Do you prefer to play slower songs or more up-tempo?
SARAH - I think it definitely depends on my mood for me but I think overall it's more fun to jam and play a lot of notes! [laughs] and keep the energy in the room. There's nothing like the feeling of just playing an up-tempo song and just watching the crowd get into it. We like to go back and forth on guitar and sort of just jam that way that's always fun.
JUSTIN - I think it depends on how early it is! [laughs] 
SARAH - Or how late it is!
JUSTIN - Or if it's terrible weather. It'll always change.
Are you following the World Cup at all for the USA?
JUSTIN - Yes, yes. It's pretty cool actually, I don't know that I was expecting there to be as much of a following. There were people out on the streets and big screens set up in the parks here in Nashville and everything and it was really really surprising! But yeah, we're definitely cheering them on [laughs]
You've been featured on the show 'Nashville' on a few times now, how did that come about originally?
SARAH - I guess that started before the show had even actually aired. The music supervisors from ABC were in town listening to songs for about a week because they kind of knew the pilot was going to be coming up and hopefully getting the whole season. So they were here in town and our publisher at Universal called them up, they were ready to go, they were right at the airport and he said 'we've got this duo, we really want you to hear them, we'll take you to the airport, we'll give you lunch, come by and let them play for you'. We played about three songs for them and made them cry [laughs] kind of what we tried for! They fell in love with our music and just created a relationship there and later we heard that they were going to have "When The Right One Comes Along" as the first song, our first song that we got cut there, it kind of turned into that and then we had five more between then and this season. We ended up getting to be on the show, obviously they did that 'On The Record' special that I think has aired over there, which was a live concert but Buddy Miller who produces all the music asked us to come and play guitar and mandolin on the song "I Ain't Leaving Without Your Love" in the studio for the actual recording for the show for the episode. So we came by and did that and they had some of the producers in from the show and they said 'why don't you come and be in the episode and play in the band' so we went and played in the band for the two songs in the episode and that kind of turned into the 'On The Record''s been a journey! [laughs]
Some tickets are still available for the duo's UK dates, having seen them live at the Country To Country Festival I am sure both shows will be very impressive! Monday 23rd June will feature opening act The Shires and Tuesday 24th June will feature Sam Palladio.

I am incredibly excited to see what their album brings, Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis are both talented musicians, singers and songwriters and I am sure they will be very successful!