STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Sarah Zimmermann is coming home. Not only to nearby Downingtown, Pa., where she grew up, but to the city where she cut her teeth on the guitar and the stage where she performed numerous times with the Paul Green School of Rock All-Stars.
But at 27 Zimmermann is all grown up now. She relocated to Nashville to study at Belmont University and as luck would have it, she was paired with fellow guitar major Justin Davis in a class. Initially Davis was disappointed about being paired with “the girl,” but when he asked her if she could play blues and she pulled out her slide, any doubt about her capabilities disappeared.
The two had a natural chemistry and were soon performing covers together. That led to learning each other’s songs and then they began writing songs together. A publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group ensued, two of their songs were featured in the TV show “Nashville” (ABC) and they were the first artist signed to the newly revived I.R.S. Nashville label.
Their full-length debut “Nothing but the Silence” (I.R.S. Nashville, 2015) was released in March. It was produced by the legendary 13-time Grammy Award–winner T Bone Burnett. They are getting radio play nationally and internationally and have embarked on a U.S. tour with The Secret Sisters that brings them to Philadelphia. Though I tried to resist making any puns regarding their name, Striking Matches really are on fire.
I had the opportunity to talk to Zimmermann by phone. She was on a West Coast radio tour and had just arrived in Seattle.
Zimmermann said that she and Davis had been doing week-long radio tours for a couple of months. One of their stops was Philadelphia’s country station WXTU.
“Yeah, it was so fun to… go there because that was (the) station I listened to growing up, and so it was really neat to get to meet all the people behind the scenes,” said Zimmermann. “It was really fun.”
Zimmermann also talked about recording the album and working with T Bone Burnett, which she also described as a very fun experience.
“We made (the album) right in Nashville. It took about a week to (record)… We did it all live, just four musicians – myself and Justin playing guitars, and I was doing some mandolin stuff, and then bass and drums.
“We always wanted to make a live record because we’ve done recording in the past where we would track acoustic (guitars) and we’d track four different electric guitars and stack the thing, and we felt like it was taking away from our sound and our voice. We knew going in that we wanted to make (this) record live, and T Bone wanted to do that too, and so when we brought it up he (said) ‘great, that’s exactly what I was thinking.’”
Zimmermann reminisced about being a “country girl” and performing with Paul Green’s All-Stars.
“I remember being… about 12 years old and I found a Dixie Chicks record in my mom’s car. And that’s really when I fell in love with country music. Even for doing the School of Rock, Paul always gave me the more country songs. He’d give me a song like “Traveling Riverside Blues,” a Zeppelin tune [originally recorded by Robert Johnson]… and he gave me a lot of southern rock (and) country-rock songs. I feel like he definitely realized early on what I liked about country music… (and) I think (that) definitely came out in this record… We used a lot of influences that we grew up with, and so my time at School of Rock definitely helped shape that in this record too, I think.”
In a phone interview from his new locale Woodstock, N.Y., Green added that even though Zimmermann gravitated toward country music “whatever kind of music I gave her, whether it was Zappa or King Crimson or Joni Mitchell she played it with the same verve, and that’s the perfect student. I always knew she’d go far in music because she was a true professional that way.”
He added: “She was always one of my favorites.”
So now Zimmermann gets to return to World Cafe Live, a stage that she remembers fondly.
“We played (World Cafe Live)… 2 or three years ago, and we played [Upstairs Live] acoustic. I’m so excited to get to play back downstairs because I think the last time I played there I was 18 and it was my (Paul Green School of Rock) graduation show. I’m really excited to get to play that room again. I’ve always loved it. It has always been one of my favorite places to play, so I’m really pumped that we get to go back and bring the band and do it again.”
IF YOU GO
What: Striking Matches and The Secret Sisters
When: Saturday, May 30. Showtime 8 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA
Ages: all ages
Contact: Check www.philly.worldcafelive.com or call (215) 222-1400
Artist’s Website: www.strikingmatches.com