Interview: Stranger Friends

Photo credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

When you zoom out from your regular perspective of the world, it’s easy to find connections everywhere you look. So-and-so knows so-and-so who introduces you to so-and-so…much like Kevin Bacon, we’re all probably separated by six degrees or less to others in ways we’d never imagine possible. Such is the story of how Nashville-based Americountry duo Stranger Friends came to be.

Oklahoma native John Martin and Florida-bred Jamie Floyd met in Nashville years ago for a chance co-writing session–everyday business in the Music City. Recently, Martin had the opportunity to write a song for a movie through a family connection. “I got my hands on the script, and it was unbelievable. I was so inspired. I didn’t know how the process worked, so I wrote one song, but I knew there was more there. It’s an independent film, and no one was in charge of the music. I knew we had to give them more,” Martin recalls. “Jamie has had a lot of success writing for film and t.v. movies, and she was the first person I called.”

Over the course of several weeks, the pair recorded a set of songs in a garage, which they believed were just demos that another artist would perform for the film. Those demos ended up being used for the movie; the movie, Dog Years, starring Burt Reynolds, premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival in April, and has been winning awards and acclaim ever since. Martin and Floyd were asked to perform in a scene in the film, and quickly assembled a group of players  for the shoot. “We realized that this was the sound of a band, not just two songwriters writing for a movie,” Martin says. “We needed to run that down, and found a sound that was unique to us.” “We started writing an EP to develop our sound together, and wanted to have some music out there before the movie comes out so people can get to know us,” Floyd adds of their recent self-titled release. The album houses five tracks:

“Country Song,” written about the hustle and bustle of Nashville, and “Sacred Garden” was inspired by a walk in Salt Lake City. “We came upon this garden in a graffitied alley, kind of hidden away,” explains Floyd. “The graffiti scrawled across the wall said ‘Sacred Garden’ and we came up with a melody that sounded like that place to us.” “The talent of the session players in this band is outstanding. Whenever we play this song, I feel like we’re The Beatles,” laughs Martin. “We also stole a chord from a Harry Styles song.” For “I Ain’t Dead,” Martin asked Floyd to come up with some dark finger-picking riffs to match the title she already had for the song. “If you’e ever been written off, this is the song for you,” Martin levels of the track, which features ambient backyard sounds and auxiliary percussion in the form of a propane tank. “It was the song that got us in the door to work on the movie. It’s the song that made us realize we had something.” “November & June” is the second song they ever wrote together; it covers their history, and shows their development. After they finished the soundtrack for Dog Years, “Don’t Get Back Up” was one of the first songs created for the EP. “It’s so simple, but it’s awesome,” says Floyd. “John captured that simplicity with depth with one line, ‘When you fall in love, don’t get back up.’ It’s a great example of our songwriting language and what we’re trying to accomplish lyrically.”

“We have this shared love affair with the pedal steel,” Floyd continues. “We love the sound, the atmosphere it creates, it’s very cinematic and beautiful. We incorporated it heavily into our EP, and it shapes a lot of our sound,” she adds. “When we perform live, a lot of times it’s just us and a steel guitar.” “We write simple and direct songs,” Martin interjects of their style, which he describes as a blend of Everly Brothers harmonies with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers-esque grit. “It’s almost like a throwback that sounds new,” he says. “It sounds like two people with one voice.”

Stranger Friends are currently awaiting the wide release of Dog Years and are working on their debut full-length; with connection and collaboration as the foundation of their musical partnership, they want to include others in their journey. “Stranger Friends is all about finding creative ways to collaborate with people,” explains Martin; the band celebrated the release of their EP with a show in Nashville last month, and invited visual artist Ryan Rado to paint live at the performance. “We want to use this opportunity to create a culture,” says Floyd. “You’re only one connection away from being a stranger to becoming a friend. Our connection point was music. We want to connect with others through our music, and shine a light on others’ artistic talents,” she adds. “You come to our shows as strangers, but you leave as friends.”

 

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Susan Hubbard

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