Two stellar musical duos hit the T-Bone paved road together.
By Steve Houk
In the annals of popular music, there have been very few truly successful duos, I’m talking influential groups that are equally driven and led by two primary band members. Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers probably top the list, and there are a few others — perhaps Ashford and Simpson, The Righteous Brothers, maybe even the Indigo Girls, and today, you’d have to throw in the Black Keys — that spring to mind as duos that have truly made their mark.
But all in all, the duo is not a concept you really see every day, at least not long lasting ones.
Yet there are two dynamic duos out there making memorable music right now who just may have some staying power, Striking Matches and The Secret Sisters. These two different yet talented pairs who have one major thing in common — one of music’s best producers produced their latest record — are touring together for a May-June run that’s one of the best tickets of the season. The Matches/Sisters tour makes it’s way to the Birchmere on May 27th.
Country/rock/blues hybrid Striking Matches is made up of the engaging and uber-talented Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis, whose evolution is just like, well, the flare of a match. Their first happy moment came when they met in a guitar class at Nashville’s Belmont University, and that began a string of serendipity that, along with their raw talent and great songwriting chops, have propelled them forward. This included a chance meeting with a record producer who was a guest speaker in a class Zimmermann was taking at Vanderbilt, and who would soon become their manager.
“He walks in and we start talking,” Zimmermann said, “and it turns out he had seen a You Tube video Justin and I and few friends did at Belmont, and he just really liked it. So we kinda got to talking and I think the next day, the three of us got together for coffee, and not long after that he became our manager.”
The two gained some early fame when, even before they released their own record, a few of their songs were used on ABC’s “Nashville.” They noticed that when they played live, people knew those songs already, giving them a nice leg up. “We’ve had several moments like that along the way,” said Davis, “that just make us feel like we’re doing the right thing, or we’re headed down the right path. It’s been kinda, well, weird.”
In March, they released their debut “Nothing But The Silence” to very positive reviews, and rightly so, perfectly blending top notch songwriting, harmonies and strikingly adept guitar work. For these Matches, things are flaming brightly.
“(The record) came out a couple weeks ago and it’s been kind of a whirlwind since,” Davis said. “But when you put out your record you want it to be this busy. Because if you’re just sitting around at home and you’ve got a record out you get bored, and you’re like, what are we doing?. It’s been really really great. And we’ve just been really enjoying every minute of it.”
For Laura Rodgers — one half of the more traditional sounding Secret Sisters along with sister Lydia — putting out their well-received second album “Put Your Needle Down” last year meant that striking a balance was key to maintaining their burgeoning career. “We put it out and then pretty much toured all year, “Laura said. “Then we took some time off to do some writing, and then my sister got married. It’s difficult to navigate a music career when you have personal relationships and other life goals, but her husband is very supportive, so we’ve made it work so far.”
Lydia was the Secret Sister who appeared more destined for a music career early on, but the sisters found that singing together was what seemed to work best. “When we were growing up,” Rodgers continued, “Lydia was more inclined to performance, and I always had terrible stage fright, you couldn’t pay me money to sing in front of a crowd. We knew we could sing together, being raised in a church that sings a cappella, we knew we could sing. So we both auditioned separately and the people at the audition were like, ‘Hey have you guys ever done anything together, like in harmony?’ And we’re like, ‘Well, yeah if you want us to!’ We started singing and you could see the light bulbs going off in the room, they started talking about how we were the female version of the Everly Brothers, and about demos and record labels and all that. That was the moment when we realized, hey, we’ve been given the ability to do this, then we should give it a shot.”
Speaking of serendipity, both Striking Matches and The Secret Sisters have one major element to their aspiring success in common: both of their recent records were helmed by revered Americana producer T-Bone Burnett, and like seemingly everyone who works with Burnett, they have strikingly similar and hugely glowing things to say about the experience.
“We’ve known T-Bone from very early in our career, “said The Secret Sisters’ Rodgers. “When he started working with us, we had so much in common and we wanted the same things for our music and we just hit off so well with him. The first record, he kinda put his touch on it, and with our second record, he helped us from the ground up. We need to see the big picture and that’s what T-Bone is so incredibly great at, the concept of the record. I don’t think we could have done that on our own. He was right on the same wavelength as us. He was so supportive and so smart about so many things.”
“(Working with T-Bone) was amazing,” said Striking Matches’ Zimmermann. “I expected it to be really intimidating, because on the outside he’s very tall and he always wears his sunglasses, and his resume is so incredible, so I think I expected to be nervous. But he was the most nurturing person in the studio, and just knew how to get us to where we needed to be. He makes you feel like you’re a superhero, you can do anything. It was really awesome.”
Striking Matches and The Secret Sisters perform Wednesday June 27th at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. For tickets click here.
Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.wordpress.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover band Second Wind plus other local rock ensembles.