Striking Matches have a knack for constructing lovely songs. Just as importantly, they excel at building and maintaining close relationships. Talking before an acoustic but raucous performance at New York City’s FarmBorough Festival last weekend, the duo of Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis returned again and again to their key connections: with each other — the two met in college — with the show Nashville, and with producer T Bone Burnett.
In many ways, Striking Matches seem like an outlier. They’re a duo in an era dominated by solo stars, with a sound that’s a long way from the music that dominates the radio and a commitment to analog recording values in a digital age. Their position in the landscape makes more sense when you consider their trajectory. “We both moved to Nashville to be guitar players,” Zimmermann tells Rolling Stone Country. “We never set out to be artists.” This freed them to follow their own path, without many of the preconceptions that can hamstring aspiring stars. Now, the two singer-guitarists are determined to stick to their guns. “[I]f you removed the duo element from what we do,” Davis declares, “I don’t think that either of us would want to be artists anymore.”
Zimmermann and Davis’s career has been boosted by their music’s regular presence on the ABC series Nashville. But their connection with the show is more than just an exchange of tracks. “At first there was very little interaction [with the show] aside from writing the songs,” Davis remembers. “But as it happens, we’ve developed friendships with the music supervisors and a lot of the cast. Sam Palladio has become one of our best friends. . . And Buddy Miller, who’s producing a lot of the songs on there, he’s become a friend and sort of a mentor. He’s had us come in and actually play guitar and things on some of the tracks that they used. We really did have some creative input on how things were recorded and how they came out.”
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In the same way Striking Matches found creative partnerships with each other and with the cast of Nashville, they found an easy camaraderie with producer T Bone Burnett, who produced their debut album Nothing But the Silence. “I’ve never met someone more nurturing, kind and supportive,” Zimmerman notes. “The mark of a great producer is making your forget everything except just go sing, go play,” Davis adds. “Sort of making you feel like you can do anything in the world when you’re in the studio. That’s a very difficult thing to do that he makes look very easy.”
The duo studied Burnett’s approach closely. “His method was a big thing we walked away with,” Davis says. “He really is about capturing a moment in time. He’s really incredible at just not perfecting — he’s good at having a perspective outside of yourself where you would have everything perfect, but that’s not the way he works.” This translated to Striking Matches live set at FarmBorough, which was aggressive and unfettered. It’s fitting that one of the duo’s most famous songs includes the line, “you’ll know it, I can guarantee/when the right one comes along.” They proved that onstage, again and again.