Two powerful, blues-inspired country guitarists stand determined, face-to-face, as they wage war on silence, creating new music that oozes of twang, chemistry and raw emotion in a way not heard since The Civil Wars. This is Striking Matches. Made up of Nashvillians Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann, the latest riveting country duo is ready to take their friendly competition into the stratosphere.
"[There is] a competitive nature to us; I think that just makes us better," Davis said in an exclusive interview with Music Times. "We both respect each other as musicians and I think every time we see one of us do something really cool; it's a natural thing that the other wants to do something really cool. It's just sort of a natural element in between us. It's never trying to put the other down, you just want to keep up and you want to push each other. That's how you make each other better."
The initial fire of competition for Striking Matches was lit during a Davis and Zimmermann's first week at Belmont University during a "hazing" guitar seminar class, where each new member of the guitar major was expected to perform an improvised set with a fellow classmate. Despite not wanting to be paired with the only female student in the class, Davis wound up dueling with Zimmermann and sparks flew.
"I remember the guys I was sitting around, nobody wanted to wind up with the girl, for whatever reason, because I guess they'd never seen a girl guitar player before. So sure enough they're going down the list and everyone's getting up and kind of crashing and burning and they pick me and then they pick Sarah and I say, 'Oh great, here we go,'" Davis said. "We got up and I said, 'well do you know any blues or something?' and she pulled out her slide and proceeded to blow everyone away. And I was like, 'Wow that was really fun, we should do that again.'"
After jamming in the dorms together at Belmont and performing at hyper-local shows, Sparking Matches formed organically, setting roots in the real-life Nashville. And, as that happened, a fictional Nashville came knocking.
The music of Striking Matches may be familiar to fans of the ABC drama Nashville. With eight of their original compositions making it to the show's airwaves over the last three years, Striking Matches are one of the most-synced bands on the program. And of course, it's impacted the band and its fanbase along the way.
"It put us on the map not only in the U.S., but internationally because of that show. And we had done the first couple of songs on an EP of ours that was released in 2012 and that happened right before the show aired. So when people would go look for those songs from the show, they would also find our versions. That helped a lot," Zimmermann said.
Buzz from the band's international Nashville-related fanbase led the band to recording and releasing its debut album Nothing But The Silence - which is out in stores today (March 24).
Recorded live over four days with the help of legendary country producer T Bone Burnett, Nothing But The Silence was a "dream come true" for Davis and Zimmermann.
"It'll sound odd, but he was really nurturing, which I think is really, kind of a defining characteristic of a great producer is just to make you feel comfortable and make you feel like you can do anything in the world and you can sing anything, you can play anything," Davis said about working with Burnett, who has also recorded with the likes of Willie Nelson, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Brandi Carlisle, among others.
"It just gives you this confidence and comfort that you can really go for it in the studio and kind of give everything you've got. He was very much a proponent, like us, of making the record live and making it to tape, which was really cool. It was something we'd always wanted to do because we wanted it to translate from our live show to our record, so we made sure we played and sang live all together," he added.
The result is dueling guitar country at its best with songs ranging from the biting ("Trouble Is As Trouble Does") to the tender ("Like Lovers"). Fueled by some intense plucking of the strings from Zimmermann and Davis, and Zimmermann's twangy alto voice, Nothing But The Silence combines the sass of Pistol Annies with the chemistry of The Civil Wars and the rootsy vibes of Shovels & Rope.
Despite recording Nothing But The Silence live in less than a week, actually writing the album has taken Davis and Zimmermann their whole lives. "You could say we kind of made the record in five days, but really it's taken years," Davis said.
Though "Make a Liar Out of Me" is what Zimmermann and Davis assume to be the oldest song on the record, Nothing But The Silence's latest single "Hanging On a Lie" also has old roots, originally appearing on the band's 2012 EP.
"That song just sort of fell out and needed a title," Zimmermann said. "So it took us until we were about to go play this song for our publisher that Justin was like what about 'Hanging One a Lie.' That's perfect, it makes complete sense. It is about being lied to and wronged, but being wise enough to it."
The recently released music video for "Hanging On a Lie" translates this sense of being wrongs into Striking Matches' live performance. In the clip, Zimmermann and Davis have it out in a musical argument of sorts.
In "Hanging On a Lie," that competitive nature of Striking Matches' shines through. That chemistry, as well as riveting music and a drive to make their dreams come true while staying true to themselves could help Striking Matches to set the whole world of country music on fire.