The Hello Strangers will be performing Saturday night as part of the Weinberg Center’s Americana Fest (remember, you can enter to win tickets here). Hailing from just across the border in Pennsylvania, the band had a breakout year in 2014, releasing a self-titled set produced by Steve Ivey, working with Jim Lauderdale, and touring the country. We caught up with them right before their very busy trip to South By Southwest last week and talked about what to expect from their Americana Fest set, what it was like to record in Nashville, and what’s next for the Sisters Chace.
You ladies have had a hell of a year, it seems. Can you talk a little about what you’ve been up to and how well the record has been doing?
2014 was indeed a banner year for us, with the release of the album and subsequent PR and radio promotions, and touring to support it. This is our debut national release, with a great team of promoters behind it, so it’s been a dream come true to see our album and name as fledgling artists start to gain some traction in the industry at large. The album has gained a great response from the press (CMT Edge, Billboard, No Depression) as well as radio, remaining in the top 40 on the Americana chart for 8 weeks, and No. 17 on the Roots Music Report for 2014. Thanks to these successes, we have started to see higher profile gigs coming our way, such as the Bluebird Cafe and Music City Roots (performing onstage with Jim Lauderdale) in Nashville. Now we’re headed down to Austin for nine shows during South By Southwest. We’ve always wanted to build a sustainable music career with this project, and thanks to this album, we are finally seeing a path to that success. It’s been so rewarding.
What was it like to record in Nashville and subsequently get to play with so many amazing musicians in the process?
There is a certain aura and awe around the idea of recording in Nashville. We won a record deal contest through AirPlay Direct in 2012, which teamed us up with producer Steve Ivey at Sound Kitchen Studios in Nashville. We had no idea what to expect and had only talked with Steve over the phone before we went down there for three days in the studio with him. The experience far exceeded our expectations, and was a dream come true. From learning about the other musicians Steve had playing on the album and their vast array of experience in the music industry, to having Jim Lauderdale come in and sing on his (and John Leventhal’s) song, “What You Don’t Know,” it was all so amazing for us starry-eyed sisters. Steve was such an amazing producer, and really pushed us and directed us to do our very best. We consider him a dear friend now. It’s been such a great experience, and has opened up so many doors for us. Coming from a small town and working to see progress with our music for many years, we feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to truly galvanize our music career. It’s definitely been a domino effect, and we hope it continues along that trajectory.
You guys are heading to SXSW this year. Is this your first time? If so, how did you guys get the gig? What are you looking forward to the most in Austin and why?
This will be our second time playing during SXSW. We are playing the same series of gigs we played before through 3rd Coast Music. Those gigs make up a majority of the nine shows we are playing. Thanks to our management team, who work in both radio and PR, and our album’s success on the charts, we also have quite a few radio performances and events that are going on during the week, as well as quite a few networking parties. We have so many more contacts these days than we did the last time we played there in 2011, so we are excited to see that we have progressed in that way since then. We used to live in Austin from 2003-07, so going back is always very special for us. We are excited to catch up with good friends and to have so many great performance and networking opportunities.
For each sister, which is your favorite song on the latest record and why?
Both of us have the same favorite: “What You Don’t Know.” It’s not one of our originals, and there are certainly plenty of other favorites for us, but this is, hands down, our favorite. Having the opportunity to arrange Jim Lauderdale and John Leventhal’s song in our own way was very special for us. Having Jim sing on the recording with us was amazing, and performing it on stage with him at Music City Roots back in January brought everything full circle for us. Additionally, we love Steve Ivey’s production on this song. He truly captured our essence and sound, while still paying homage to the original version that Jim recorded in the early 1990s. We’re very proud of it.
What are some of your career’s favorite, most accomplished memories so far?
Listening to the final cuts of our album with Steve and seeing everything come to fruition through PR and radio promotions were career favorites so far. Also, in terms of live performances, the sold out show we played at the Birchmere in D.C. with the Bumper Jacksons and the Seldom Scene on New Years Eve, and performing with Jim Lauderdale at Music City Roots in January were dreams come true. We hope to continue to have more great opportunities like these.
Who were some of your biggest influences and why?
Neko Case has been one of our biggest influences, as well as Texas balladeers such as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. The Fabulous Ginn Sisters out of Austin were one of our first inspirations to start a sister band. And dancing in the Austin honky-tonks like The Broken Spoke, and the Austin scene in general, have been very influential on our music and sound.
Through all your travels so far, can you give us some names of some musicians/artists who we might not already know of, who we should keep an eye on?
The Honey Dewdrops, The Bumper Jacksons, Caleb Stine, Arty Hill and the Long Gone Daddy’s, No Good Sister, Drymill Road, Jake Lewis and the Clergy.
What does 2015 hold for The Hello Strangers?
We are already talking about a follow-up album to our 2014 release. But we are certainly only in the preliminary stages of planning. We are also about to release a music video in celebration of Doris Day’s birthday in early April for our version of “Que Sera, Sera,” which we recorded as a tribute to our Grandfather and Doris, who sang together during their tenure with Les Brown’s Big Band back in the 1940s. Also, continued focus on touring and getting our name out there.
And finally, what can we expect from your set at Americana Fest?
We will be performing a brand new song or two, as well as our tried and true repertoire blending darker tales, cheeky humor, and sister harmonies.