Just a couple weeks ago I waxed rhapsodic about Ohio’s The Strange Familiar. To many the name is probably new, so I figured what better than letting the band introduce themselves. Frontwoman Kira Layden recently took a few minutes to answer some questions about the band. Head to the jump to read up.
Hey, how are you?
Doing well, thanks.
How was Lemon Grove last night?
It was good. It was a good show and we had a good time. We had a nice turn out, too, so that’s always good.
Had you played there before?
No we hadn’t.
What did you think of it then? Did it cast a good first impression?
Yeah. I liked the venue, it was cool.
So there doesn’t appear to be much on your radar in terms of touring, is it safe to assume that ya’all are working on another album? What can you tell me about that?
Well, yeah. We’re writing, we want to get into the studio soon. We are eager to record some new music and get a release out there. We’re thinking early summer or late spring.
You worked with Brian Malouf on the last two records. Are you thinking about working with him again?
We haven’t figured that part out. We’re thinking it would be nice to work with him again, but we’re also thinking we might try Nashville. We’re kind of trying to figure out those options right now.
I’m glad you brought up Nashville. Two of my favorite Ohio musicians, Rascal Flatts and Kim Richey, have both left Ohio for Nashville. Have you ever considered that?
Yeah. We have definitely entertained the Nashville idea. But I will be honest, we are comfy here. We do go down to Nashville to write a lot and we love it every time we go. it’s a great music town. It’s definitely something that could be in our future.
Speaking of Nashville, have you ever thought about dabbling in songwriting and setting up a song shop. I know you’ve had some songs that have been recorded by other pop artists that have made it on the pop charts. What are your thoughts on that?
Well. We mostly do everything for the band. The songs we had picked up were originally for us. I think sometimes that works better. We do enjoy writing and we do like a lot of country songs. And we have songs that we’d definitely like to get out there, some songs that more than likely would not work for this band, but a lot of other artists in the country genre. I’d say its more everything is geared towards what we’re doing with this band and if something arises that is elsewhere, then great.
Have you ever thought about what country artists you’d like to record your songs. That is in a perfect world, if all could work out in your favor.
That is a great question. Oh my God. Let me think. Ummm. Well at one point there was a song we sent to Faith Hill, and she was considering recording it. That was kind of cool. Um, who else?Miranda Lambert would be good.
It’s no secret that your husband is your songwriting partner and a member of the band, and the history of your music and music in general is dotted with plenty of husband-wife couples. But each couple is different. Can you describe your dynamic at all. How does Jeff, being your husband help the process, and how does Jeff being your husband, hurt the process?
We’ve been together so long, it just fits. We started playing when we were 13. We were writing songs together at that age. And at first it was very separate. We did our own part and that was that. But it has grown over the years. Now we are very collaborative. I try to do most of lyrics, but he helps with that. He definitely challenges me more, to dig deeper. And musically, he’s more on the producing side. He definitely loves that world. And I am more about the song and formulating the song first. Sometimes we go other ways. I think we don’t try and get into each other ways. He just encourages me to write and go from there. And thats good for me because I am so picky. We are definitely not the group that writes a ton of songs and picks out the ones we like. Every song we like is important to us. If it gets finished, that’s a good thing, it means we love it.
Do other band members contribute ideas, or it just you and Jeff mostly?
We worked hard at this for a long time. It took for awhile to form this band as it is now. We had a bass player from the beginning, he is the one that helped us pick up and move to L.A. I’ll be honest, we are slow to make decisions. We were a little wary of the LA thing, but we did it and it was great for us. To be out there, and in another city, away from the Ohio comfort zone. And then, well, we didn’t find a drummer for theband for almost two or three years. We tried different people constantly, and nothing was working, and then finally Nick, our current drummer, messaged us and said I’m going to come to L.A. to go to school there, maybe we can get together. So we asked him, do you want to audition? And his reply was whatever. So at that point we had had it with drummers. So we just decided to have him come in and play stuff with us. He played the song “Gravity.” And he played it just like the record and that blew us away. Even though he nailed it, it still took us a couple months before we committed to him. When we finally did, it was done. And with that, its developed from there. The long answer to this is everybody contributes more in the current line-up. Nick contributes more on the songwriting side. He co-wrote “Redemption” and he has a bunch of new ones. He’s very musical, he plays piano and guitar. And with his angle on things, its cool. Its a totally different perspective. And its nice to get a different idea. For example, he’ll send us a demo of a song and music, and we’ll go with that and work with that. And sometimes great stuff happens. It’s really neat. At least I think so. It adds something to what we do. And gives us another perspective I guess.
You and Jeff have been writing music and chasing the ever-elusive dream for years now. Are there ever any days you just want to quit and stop and pack it all in and pursue a life outside of music?
There are definitely days where you say ‘oh, I can’t do this any more. Oh, its just so hard.’ This past summer we did a mini-tour. We were outdoors, playing for these rock show camp things. It was for younger kids, kids in high school and stuff. And there were a couple days, that were at least over a 100 degrees. And you have to put on a show, and you just have to do it, even after driving eight hours. I mean every band has that moment, where its ‘why are we doing this.’ But for every moment like that, a fan writes to you and says your song changed my life and you inspire me. And we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of those moments in our career. And because of that we know the music is reaching people and that makes you want to go forward. But we have wanted to throw the towel in for sure, but then every time you feel miserable, you remember those letters and you remind yourself this is what you want to do with your life. One day is yuck, the next day is come on, let’s do it. That’s just the dichotomy of being a musician.
Its widely documented that your songs have been featured on various TV shows. Can you remember the first time you heard your song on a TV show and were there to witness it. Can you describe that feeling?
I think maybe we had a small couple of things that really left us going wow. “Courage Is…” was the first song we saw on TV and TV ads. It was handpicked to be on Secret Life of the American Teenager. And actually, this is so random, but it was on the Internet and the producer of the show was listening to music on-line and stumbled across it. And he just connected with it and felt it what was he needed for the launch of the show. It was just awesome. We had to wait for months for confirmation and had to go through all the different levels. The CEO, the people at the TV station, the network.
Chasing Shadows felt very autobiographical in places. Was that intentional or did it just happen? By that I mean, do you intend to write about past experiences, or do you just draw inspiration from wherever? I know some artists draw inspiration from current events, politics, sociology, and others just like to relate their own life stories and relate it to the human condition.
You know, its kind of a toss up. With us, sometimes it’s an outside influence that comes in and pushes us to write a song. Other times it’s not. Everything we write, we try to be really true. I don’t know how to say that, but I hope it makes sense. Basically, even if its someone else’s story, it has to be honest. I want to put someone else in their shoes. Cause I mean I can’t live someone else’s life. I cant do that, I cant ever fully understand. But I can try. I think with “Being Me,” that was the first single. And it was also the first time, we did something funny and tongue in cheek. At the same time it was freeing to be able to say those things, and do that video, and wear those clothes. We were in a band for 10 years before The Strange Familiar. And when you try to make it, you build up rules and do things a certain way. With this record it was the first time we were able to let go of certain things and say this is who we are. And that was refreshing. We try to write from the heart, that’s our goal. I think this time was more, I don’t know. I think it was deeper, and it came closer to home, more so than our previous efforts.
Will you try and go down that path again on this next release?
I think so. The music we are writing now is definitely is going even farther than Chasing Shadows, in that personal element so to speak. But some of it is darker, which I really like, and there’s a lot more energy than what’s on the last record. There are more beats. One song we are working on is very, I don’t know how to explain it. We play it live a lot, its kind of tribal, it always gets attention, its almost beyond the level of Chasing Shadows. There’s just a passion and letting it all out. At least on that song.
You mentioned it was tribal, is it percussive and heavy on rhythm?
It’s just driving beats that go through the song and it just goes really well. It goes in waves, it’s really neat. Its one I’m really excited about. I think we are going to try and add more harmonies, and layer the vocals a little more. I think that would be really cool. We also still have ballads and stuff that we will do. I feel like they are even more, more honest. Ugh. I don’t know how to say it. Its nice to feel like you’re free to write.
From start to finish Chasing Shadows felt very cohesive, almost as if, it took awhile to come together and you guys were all very methodical about how you put it together. Is this true? Or was it more natural, relaxed and organic?
We actually started the record and recorded half of it at one time. The first half was actually funded through Kickstarter. That was before we started with the label. The fans helped us and that was a cool process. During the recording, we could update fans and they were able to help us with the record. But, that meant we only had six. Thankfully the label loved it and agreed to do a deal and finish all of it. Those other five came from that need to finish it. All of it was done very quickly. The first six were done in a very short period of time. We were in LA and our drummer was in Ohio, so he had to fly out. When we went back out there the second time to finish the last five, we all flew out together and finished at Christmas of 2011. It was really a good experience, even though it was fast. Some of the songs we had to write at the last minute and bring them in. And that was crazy. It’s hard to record a song you just finished, we worried maybe we hadn’t tested it out enough. There were some we had played live, so we juts said let’s do it, and that was really off the cuff. I like how we recorded Chasing Shadows. We all played together, all of us in the room, it just worked. We were all recording at the same time. And then I think we were very methodical about what this album meant with all the songs together as one whole unit. What was the overall message? What did the songs and the record mean? And we were really happy how it all fit together. We really thought a lot about that. We made it quickly, but it still felt methodical. I hope that makes sense.
How did Brian help shape that process?
We love working with Brian. He’s really great and we like how he works. The best thing is that he didn’t ever kind of say, oh totally change this. I don’t like what you’re doing. He just enhanced the songs that we had there. And I like that. If he didn’t like it, he’d tell us and say okay, let’s not mess with it., lt.’s not totally go in there and re-route and change things. Thats what we like about Brian. He’s all about making us the best that we can, but doing so in a way that is refreshing.
You mentioned the band was based in Los Angeles? When was this, and for how long? Can you describe the differences in the two music scenes?
We spent four years in LA. The scene out there was more eclectic, and definitely had so much different stuff. But I think it was kind of hard for us. We were so mainstream, pop-rock. In some ways, we were pretty music and that was kind of hard. We definitely weren’t cool or trendy. We just wanted to write timeless music, from the heart. And sometimes that works. We had our niches though. I think back here in Ohio the scene is way more rock. We left it though, because we felt like we had played every club in our area. Cleveland, Akron. And we just felt we were trying really hard to fit into that rock scene and to be harder rocking and all about the rock show and not really the substance. And obviously, the Black Keys are from here in Akron and they have their thing going on. Did we play with them at one point? I don’t remember. I remember Peabody’s in Cleveland. Gosh that was so hardcore. We were playing in between metal bands. That was in our old band. We felt a lot of pressure to fit into that. When we moved to LA, we felt we had to do what was real for us and what was true to us. I think the scene here now in Ohio, we are fine fitting into it, and there are not as many places to play in Akron. A lot of the venues we started with in Akron are closed now. So its definitely something that can take a toll. We play fewer shows. Right now, we will split it up between Youngstown and Akron and not play the same places. We try and spread it out. Sometimes that doesn’t always work, but we do try.
If you can, list three CDs that are at the top of your list right now?
Oh gosh, what are we listening to. I think when we were going to SXSW, Nick introduced us to new stuff. Before the whole explosion of Fun onto radio and stuff, Nick had introduced us to them. They were at South-By, and he was playing their record. So yeah, we definitely like them. There’s a band from Cincinnati called Walk the Moon and I really dig them. So that’s definitely another one. Nick is really into the Lumineers right now. I’ll admit I like their songs but I haven’t dived into the record. I guess I need to do that. Ugh, what else? I was into Adele. Gosh, I hope she puts out a new record, that would be cool. We are really weird though, We don’t listen to the radio. If its anything its our own iPods. I also think we’ve been at times, closed off to what’s in the music world and I sort of like that. I don’t want to feel influenced by something else and become obsessed with what and who we sound like, and worry if this takes someone else’s idea. I think its cool to be exposed to that. And sometimes it filters into what we’re doing. I think last year it was fun to be at South By and the whole gamut of SX. It was pretty amazing.
Was that your first time at SXSW?
Yeah, it was. I don’t even know if we’re the kind of band that would go there. We are definitely not in the indie crazy underground thing. It’s hard being this kind of band. I think we definitely are very mainstream, and that’s who we are, its just what we do.
I still feel like if Chasing Shadows was released in the late 90s, it would be a huge commercial success. But music has sort of slid away from the late 90s model for radio rock. Have you often felt the same way about the record. I feel like the late 90s was far more accepting of mainstream pop-rock. What are your thoughts on that?
We definitely feel that way. I think we spent so much time trying to fit into a scene here in Cleveland, and even in LA. When we were doing our own thing, we kept saying ‘Oh gosh, what are we doing? We don’t belong here in LA or the Midwest.’ I think we grew up listening to those records in the 90s that you spoke about. Back when songs were all about lyrical-driven pop music with a meaning and a purpose. And we kind of were totally grossed out by the whole N-Sync, Britney Spears thing. So I think its definitely something I wish was going on right now and was more recognized. The closest thing I can think of is Coldplay and bands like that. They are just writing really good music that is mainstream music. And I know they have had their departures here and there, but you have to keep challenging yourself. We were watching the Grammys the other night and Katy Perry was introducing someone. And she said something to the likes of ‘We all want to write a timeless song.’ And at the end of the day that’s whats most important. It’s true. I think that’s the approach we’ve always taken, just write a good song and don’t worry about the rest. The song is the king. Maybe that means we aren’t the artist doing the song, but whatever, so be it. I think its so important to write something good, something real and something that can go out into the world and be something positive, as oppose to oh how do I catch the latest thing. Our lawyer always reminds us we’re not a dangerous band. We’re not controversial. We’re safe. And I always tell him, I can’t do that. This is who we are and it would go against everything I am. I don’t want to put on an act. We did that for many years. I think it would be nice if people were to embrace that. Us as how we are now. There are some bands that are doing that, that are not super dark or super indie, but are not afraid to be themselves. The only thing that pops into my head at the moment is Adele. She is so refreshing. She writes some great music, and it is heartfelt. And to top it off, she didn’t do anything but go up on stage and sing. Cause at the end of the days, its about the song. I don’t know where that will take us. Honestly, I just hope we keep doing what we do and hope it all works outs.
It’s no secret that being a musician is not an easy lifestyle. What do you do to balance the insanity of it all? Yoga? Soccer? Hiking?
For us, we’re very much committed to this. Our lawyer calls us apple pie, from apple pie town. We’re just great people. I mean, I work with a lot of people who are not very nice. I think for us we are. I mean, it’s so nice to be home. When we are on the road, we miss our families. We are total family people. Jeff and I are the babies of the family. We have older siblings, so we have always been about that, being with our siblings and families. Our down time is hanging with the family. Other than that, for me, I teach dance on the side, so dancing is really nice. Its a totally different creative art form. You use music and work with it, but you create in a totally different way. That gives me a nice break from just writing music and doing that. And Jeff. I don’t know, what you do? He just gave me this face. He works on web sites. Yeah, its good to be back in Ohio. You spend so much money traveling from LA to come home for every holiday. Now we spend that money to travel to Nashville or New York or LA
Well, Kira I really appreciate the time. Thanks so much for taking a few minutes.
You too, thanks so much for taking an interest.