CMA Fest Interview: Striking Matches – Nashville Songwriters on the Rise

CMA Fest Interview: Striking Matches – Nashville Songwriters on the Rise

Many of you may know the songwriting duo on the hit tv show, Nashville, Scarlett and Gunnar; they’ve garnered adoring fans from the very beginning, luring in viewers with their sweet love songs and folky country tunes. Little do most viewers know that two of their songs (“When The Right One Comes Along” & “Hangin’ On A Lie”) belong to real life duo, Striking Matches. Comprised of Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman, they were brought together in Nashville when they unexpectedly got paired up for something of a school hazing at Belmont University their Freshman year. The rest, as they say, is history.

We caught up with them during CMA Fest, amid their busy schedule that included a 5AM call for the local Fox 17 station and gigs throughout the city, yet they were kind enough to sit down and give us a little insight into who they are. Not a moment to soon, as they’ve just recently been hand picked by Hunter Hayes to open for his show in New York City. Just one viewing of their live performance, with spot on harmonies and dynamic guitar dueling, it’s no shock that this band is going places. I’m thankful to be along for this exciting ride.

Is this your first CMA Fest?

Sarah Z: This is our second, but this one is about ten times as crazy as the last one. Which is a good thing!

Justin D: The last one was sort of an introductory CMA Fest for us.

SZ: I think we played once and then we were done. It was the year before last, we were on the road last year so we couldn’t join in.

Did you have expectations coming into this years? Any goals you wanted to accomplish?

JD: I think this year we’ve developed more of a fan base, so we really want to try and meet them, hopefully in the span of all our shows we’ll be able to go out and meet them all. You know? There are lot of people that, once they see us play, they want to meet us and stuff. But the ones who already knew us and came specifically to see us, that would be awesome if we could meet them all. Face to face, cause there’s so many over twitter and Facebook saying “we really hope we get to see you and get an autograph or a picture or something.” So, yeah, we love doing that.

Is that the most exciting part of CMA Fest for you?

SZ: I think so! I mean, the shows are great but getting to have that opportunity to connect with the fans is really cool. And to meet them after the shows is really fun.

JD: And it’s rare that they’re all in one place.

This is a big kick off to summer, and everyone is here ready to get the summer started, and it’s hot…

SZ: This year is significantly better than the last year we were here, though.

JD: Right, it’s milder, last time you went outside and you’d just die.

It’s pretty insane how great the weather this year is… Speaking of summer, were there any activities that you guys liked to do growing up in the summer?

SZ: I feel like I never went on a lot of vacations, for me it was the same old thing, I just didn’t go to school (laughs). I’d go hang out with my friends and play. We never did anything big, maybe went to the beach maybe for a weekend, nothing too crazy.

JD: I always liked to play guitar outside when it was warming up, too.

SZ: Yeah, it just always killed my strings!

JD: Yeah! But I didn’t care about that (laughs). I wasn’t playing in front of as many people. It is pretty much one time outside and they’re done.

How did you guys get started performing? What got you into music?

SZ: I grew up in a really musical family. My dad is a musician, and I grew up right outside of Philadelphia, so when the shows would come off of Broadway and come to Philly, he would play. He’d play all the woodwinds. So I got started with clarinet and violin in second grade. I started playing guitar when I was ten. And I honestly don’t know what made me want to play guitar, I’d just see it on the wall in the music store he taught at, and I’d be like “I wanna play that!” But he wouldn’t buy me the electric one, he got me the acoustic, and i learned on that. (laughs) Then got an electric the year after that. I guess I just started playing with some friends and kind of became a guitar player with a friend and I moved here to BE a guitar player, pretty much.

JD: I didn’t have a musical family at all. I still don’t. (laughs) I’m like the only one to really… it’s pretty odd. I think I’m adopted, cause it dosen’t make any sense. Through friends I started, but I had been playing since I was really little, I have pictures of me as a little kid holding guitars. Before I really have any recollection of that…  But I think I’ve been playing for my whole life. Actually performing out – probably started in middle school bands, and by high school I was playing with a lot of people, in Church some, too. It wasn’t like I could just go jam with my family, I’d have to go borrow other peoples families so… (laughs)

What got you each into songwriting? Just playing in general?

JD: Yeah.

SZ: I think I’ve just always had such a respect for the song. So, I think, I was fourteen when I wrote my first song, and I only did it to do it. I don’t think I ever thought, “hey, I want to be a songwriter!” I just did it and wrote it down. And then when I got here (to Nashville) I was like “Oh, I CAN make a living doing this!”

JD: Yeah, I think for as long as I can remember I was making things up on guitar. Just doing it. That’s how a lot of people teach themselves how to play, they don’t know chords, so you’re making things up that sound good and humming along. You make up just musical songs before you move into lyrical things. It was a natural progression for me, I think.

How did the two of you meet and start writing together?

SZ: To Justin: You tell that better than I do.

JD: (laughs) We were both freshman here at Belmont in Nashville. We’re not originally from Nashville, but we met up here when we came to school. We were guitar majors there. It sounded like a good idea, go to college and play guitar! They were making the Freshmen get up and play in front of the upperclassmen guitar majors. Sort of a cruel hazing kind of thing.

SZ: It’s terrible, so mean!

JD: So, they were pairing you up two by two with someone you didn’t know. You just have to make something up and improvise. So it was like kickball, nobody wanted the girl and Sarah was the only girl in the class.

SZ: I never thought about that, like “I’m gonna go be the only girl in the class!” It was an excuse to be in Nashville and play guitar.

JD: So they picked me and they picked her and i was like… “ugh, okay, do you know any blues?” And she pulled out her slide and started to play. And we got an applause out of all the seniors. It was like, “yeah! We should play again, that was fun.”

SZ: So then I think we started to get together to just jam and play on some songs for fun. And we had both written forever, and it was like, what you do in Nashville. “Hey, lets write some time!” So we started to write and for whatever reason we started to play our stuff at songwriter rounds, just to do it, I think. Eventually people started to come around and listen to us, asking us what our name was, and we had to figure out a band name. It was like, “oh, I guess this is happening!”

And where did the band name “Striking Matches” come from?

JD: That was… we needed a name (laughs). I was just trying to come up with something that sounded exciting. At first I was trying to be too clever, trying to do something with match or pair or whatever. I hated all of it. But Striking Matches… I like it. And I tell everyone this, the band name you don’t hate is usually the right one.

SZ: Right, you don’t hate it. You don’t hate it AND there’s an available website. You don’t have to fight for it.

JD: It just kind of grows on you. If you don’t hate it two weeks from then and you’re still liking it it’s meant to be. So it just sort of became ours. It applies to us and it feels like, more and more all the time, it’s what we do.

Striking Matches playing the Chevy Acoustic Stage @ CMA Fest 2013

You mentioned you were doing songwriting rounds once you kicked things off. You’ve had some big things happen for you recently with the ABC show Nashville. Is that how you got your songs placed on the show? How did that come about?

SZ: It all applies for sure. We had been playing those rounds at least once a week, or a few times a week, for about a year before we signed over at Universal. And then, the music supervisors for the show were in town for about a week listening to, what they say, was thousands of songs. And they were on their way to the airport and one of the pluggers at Universal called them up, told them they’d buy them lunch, they wanted them to come hear this duo. We actually got to play live for them. It was a cool experience, we love to really play instead of just letting them hear the recorded material. We played them three or four songs. And when we played them “When The Right One Comes Along” it made them cry.

JD: This was before the show, so we didn’t know anything about it.

SZ: The pilot hadn’t even aired.

JD: And they were like, “Oh my god, this IS Scarlett and Gunnar.” And we were like, what are they talking about…

SZ: Yeah, no! We’re Sarah and Justin!

JD: But in retrospect it’s funny now that they just thought it right away. I think the first time we ever played it (“When The Right One Comes Along”) out it was actually at the Bluebird. And I think that’s where they did it the first time on the show, too. Piece of irony.

SZ: It’s been really cool because we had that day where they fell in love with it, but we didn’t know if they were going to use it or not, and we were just finishing up recording our EP. So we decided to put it on the EP. Why not, right? And they called us just after the EP came out and said they had just recorded the song and were going to use it on Episode 8. So when people were searching for the Nashville version, they not only found that but they found ours through it. Which was true for both songs we had on the show. It’s been cool how many fans have found us through that show. It’s been really cool.

You just put out that EP in October. Are there any plans to do a full length album?

JD: Oh that’s always the plan! It’s in the works. We’re heading in to the studio soon, we like to think it’s the ground work for the next piece of work. We’re always going in recording like it’s what we’re going to put on a record. So if we get something, and we think it’s too good and fans definitely have to hear it, we want to put it out. So, it’s definitely on the horizon.  No one is more excited than us!

SZ: We really love to share the music.

What are your plans for this summer? Touring? Recording?

SZ & JD: Both! All of the above!

JD: We’ve got a ton going on. A lot of shows, we can talk about some, not others. It’s gonna be really fun. Some of the acts we’re going to play with and share the stage with… it’s a dream come true.

Awesome! So if you could perform with any act, who would you want to go on tour with or share the stage with?

JD: Oh boy… do they have to be living? The Beatles.

SZ: I’m gonna make mine living. I’d love to go out with Keith Urban… I mean, not go OUT with him.. but you know what I mean. I’d go out with him if he wasn’t married! John Mayer, I know he’s not country but..

JD: Yeah, definitely him.

SZ: Be still my beating heart.

JD: Vince Gill…

SZ: There are a lot. I’m a fan of so many artists right now, I’d take anybody.

JD: And odds are, they’d be a guitar player if we had our pick, we could come out and jam with them. Hunter Hayes would fun.

SZ: Yeah, he’s so fun!

Last question, we’re based in California. Any plans to go out west and share your music with us?

JD: Yeah! We actually work with a charity out west by Napa. So we’ve been out… we went out last year.

SZ: And we’re going out again in August for that.

JD: Yeah, August. And hopefully we’ll be able to book some public shows, since the charity tends to be private, which is great because it’s a bunch of Nashville songwriters and artists. It’s a really cool thing. But we love being out in Cali a lot! We’ll be there, for sure.

Be sure to check out Striking Matches on iTunes or Spotify! Follow them on twitter @StrikingMatches and like them on facebook!

Striking Matches at Musicians Corner during CMA Fest 2013

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