How many streams does it take for a band to find some sense of accomplishment coming out of a pandemic year? For Stray Local, more than 6,000 on Spotify is a win — and in only a month, nonetheless.
It’s a benchmark already for band members Jamie Rowen and Hannah Lomas, who released their newest single “Shiver” mid-January. The track also was featured as part of AlexrainBird Music’s YouTube channel on February’s indie/rock/alternative playlist, which features 24 artists and has more than 200,000 streams to date.
Newly minted Raleighites, Stray Local started playing together in Wilmington seven years ago. During that span they had a rotating group of members, including Nick Simon, Ross Page, Jessica Landes, Hannah Stomski, and Emily Damrel.
Once Jamie and Hannah decided to become career musicians, the husband-and-wife team quit their jobs and said it made more sense to focus as a duo.
“We knew we needed to play a lot of shows to become musicians full-time,” Hannah said, “and we needed to travel. Because Jamie and I are a unit, it just made it very simple.”
While they still play with former band members and other fellow musicians occasionally, the team has accepted the challenge of working outside of their comfort zones. It steered them away from being pigeonholed as an Americana act, wherein the majority of sound was coming from string instruments, like mandolin, acoustic guitar and fiddle.
These days Hannah is tickling keys and toying with synthesizers, while Jamie is picking up the electric guitar and playing around with pedals.
“I also have a drum pad on my foot that I step on for the bass drum and a tambourine on my other foot, and sometimes I’ll have a shaker,” Hannah said. “It’s like a dance.”
On the road
Stray Local gradually began evolving their sound into more indie pop-rock over the years, while also touring madly. They had a banner year in 2019 and drove across the country to California, playing gigs and joining races along the way. Outside of being musicians, Hannah and Jamie also are avid runners, clocking upward of 40 miles a week.
The two even began playing races they signed up to participate in, and grew a niche fanbase within the running community. It’s a business model that clicked while they were touring.
“On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays, you know, in the middle of the week, when we would know we were not going to have a great venue show, in a brand new city, we thought, OK, well, why don’t we go to run clubs? So we started contacting them and saying, ‘We’re going to come run with you and then we’re gonna play a set afterwards.’”
The two embarked on an international tour in 2019 also, stopping over in Spain, Portugal and the UK. “We played house concerts, small shows and a festival they do at Stonehenge,” Jamie said.
As 2020 neared, their touring schedule was just as packed, and the duo decided to move to the Triangle. First, they weighed, it’s a bigger market; second, it’s centrally located to I-95, I-40 and I-85 — perfect for touring musicians.
Hannah and Jamie signed a lease on a house with ample space so they could set up their first home studio. Plus, there was an additional room to screenprint their merchandise.
“Having more space allowed for creativity to be a lot easier, just because we actually have our mind and our rooms cleared,” Hannah said.
They packed up their 800-square-foot home on Chestnut Street in Wilmington. Once they settled in Raleigh, they began booking shows.
Little did they know their last for a while would be March 18, 2020.
In the studio
Despite Covid-19 wrecking Stray Local’s concert schedule — aside from one drive-in they played for Wilmington’s Wilson Center last summer — Hannah and Jamie still are managing to come out of a prolific creative year. The band wrote six new songs and edited even more unreleased tunes from their catalog, while hunkering down in their home recording studio.
“The benefit of having a home studio is that it’s not like we schedule our one week in another studio and get it all out as fast as we can,” Hannah said. “We have the time to keep on going back — and working and working.”
Stray Local released “Shiver” first. They also recorded a video for it.
The couple began working on the track last April at the beginning stages of the Covid-19 shutdown.
“Think of the ‘Tiger King,’ sourdough stage when everything seemed OK,” Hannah described.
The couple was discussing relationships one day, specifically, how being locked up at home 24 hours a day with a loved one you already know can be challenging enough. But then they started wondering how people in new relationships would handle it — folks who perhaps didn’t live together and rushed to move in so they wouldn’t be apart during quarantine.
“Think back to your first relationship, when you’re still getting to know them,” Hannah explained, “when you’re really enthralled the whole time.”
Then imagine, she added, having to make a decision to move in during that honeymoon phase just to spend time together.
“You’re living together, you learn about each other’s different habits, and you need different amounts of quiet time, and all that kind of stuff,” Hannah said. “That’s really what we were thinking about when we wrote ‘Shiver.’”
The process of recording the song was very pandemic-y, too. It took many months to finesse the tune because they wanted to include Wilmington’s Christian Black on drums and Dylan Turner on bass. Yet, all the musicians couldn’t necessarily get together to create the song in person.
“We were playing with Christian before the pandemic hit,” Jamie said. “So he tracked the drums at his house, and we would send recordings back and forth.”
They would meet via Zoom to check in on progress and talk out ideas for the track.
“But you can’t play music virtually either,” Jamie said. “The audio is slightly delayed and compresses the sound. If it’s too loud, it will hold it in and distort it — so, basically, it would sound like Christian was hitting a drone.”
Though more time-consuming, the completion of “Shiver” provided a fast learning experience for Stray Local, who received help from friends like Dylan Drake, as well as Wilmingtonian Lee Hester. The band already worked with Hester on their album “Passenger.”
“Now he’s going to be mixing, probably, all of our singles this year,” Hannah said.
The band vacillates on whether to hold new work to release as an album or as singles first. The music industry is heading in a different direction nowadays, with singles continuously building fanbases faster than album releases.
“Ideally, albums as an art form is the way to go,” Hannah said, “but Jamie and I go back and forth on this. If you’re still trying to get started and get people listening, singles — in terms of how Spotify, how the algorithm is — is a release strategy that’s maybe more beneficial for us at this smaller stage. It’s like a slow drip.”
Stray Local is shooting for April to release their next track.
“We have it queued up ready to go,” Jamie said, “and we’re just tightening up everything, producing it ourselves now.”
Their goal for 2021 is to release a new song every six weeks.
“It would be ideal to drop every month,” Hannah said, “which would be significant for us because it’s usually been quite a bit longer between our releases. I mean, that’s the one silver lining of not having to worry about booking or touring and traveling: It forces you to work in your creative space.”
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