“I honestly believe five out of the six songs on this EP will make listeners go, ‘Wow, this is Stray Local?’” one-third of the trio, Hannah Lomas, observes of their upcoming release, “Passenger.” With the exception of the gently finger-picked “Watch it Grow” (an older acoustic tune), Stray Local fans hardly will recognize the band as they flex musical muscles on their latest project.
“And you know what? We’re OK with that!” Lomas adds.
Joined by Lomas’ fiancé, Jamie Rowen (guitar, banjo), and Jessica Landes (fiddle)—Lomas typically plays mandolin and keyboard—for their album-release party at Bourgie Nights on Friday, July 13, Stray Local will perform as a six-piece: Hannah Stomski will sit in on keys, Jen Mueske will be on various percussion, and Ross Page will play drums. Local musicians Sean Thomas Gerard and Justin Lacy will open.
While “Passenger” CDs will be for sale at the party, as well as at Gravity Records and during any live show thereafter, the album will be available on iTunes and various streaming services also on Friday.
The album cover alone reflects an edgier, “louder” Stray Local; a sunset-lit backdrop of clouds in the sky, pierced by a beam layered in textures and colors. “My wonderful and talented older sister, Kayce Lomas, is a badass graphic designer and created the artwork,” Lomas boasts.
Beaming with texture and color is one way to describe the sounds in “Passenger,” too. The band takes a departure from strict bluegrass and Americana and moves toward an indie sound, with rock, pop and folk elements. No longer revolving around a rhythmic acoustic guitar like previous albums, it’s traditional Stray Local with a twist.
“Although acoustic guitar, violin, banjo, and mandolin can be heard throughout the six-song EP, they play a different role,” Lomas clarifies. “Violin and viola tracks are orchestrated to create atmospheric swells and rich chordal structures rather than old-dime fiddle melodies from albums past. Plucked violin melodies are layered with vocals to create an entirely new timbre. A finger-picked banjo appears in combination with an identical electric guitar melody or alone with a traditional pattern but distorted, like in the final track, ‘You Won’t Believe Me.’”
Stray Local traditionally has played toward Lomas and Rowen’s personal strengths, styles and preferences. Nevertheless, they constantly seek out ways to improve as musicians and songwriters.
“We know on many levels we are opposites,” Lomas concedes, “which is what we attribute to our strong partnership. We are very reflective and communicate well, which keeps us from getting stuck treading water.”
Stray Local’s most recent releases have been recorded live, either at their home (“Lonesome Road”) or favorite local venue, Ted’s Fun on the River (“Live at Ted’s”). This time around they wanted to invest in a studio album to make them more competitive sonically when they pitch their music for radio, festivals or higher-profile shows. Thus they needed access to better equipment, quality microphones, and a talented mixing engineer.
Enter: Lee Hester of Logan Manor Studio.
The band knew of Hester through a friend and his work with Beta Radio. They had faith he could help elevate and evolve their sound.
“Lee was there to make suggestions and record in a manner that would have never occurred to us,” Lomas says. “As a vocalist himself, Lee had interesting suggestions for building a powerful sound, which is evident throughout the EP.”
Heavy on harmonies, Lomas likes the fact she was able to access multiple recordings of lead vocals, as opposed to one-shot cuts from live albums. It allowed her to blend layers (sometimes close to the mic, sometimes far away) to create new depth.
“Harmonies were treated similarly and can be heard and felt as vocals envelop an entire track,” she explains. “Lee’s expertise in mixing helped to finish ‘Escape’ in a really special way, which can be heard in his sampling of a later vocal track, which was manipulated and placed in the instrumental intro.”
Stray Local brought in the catchy electric-guitar riffs, keyboard and hard-hitting drums of Christian Black, too. The songs were mostly fleshed out with Lomas on piano and Rowen’s telecaster, all evident in the title track at the beginning of the record. It was the first song Lomas and Rowen wrote since getting engaged during Christmas 2017.
“‘Passenger’ was written during the snow day we had in January,” she says, “when roads were icy and school was canceled for several days. The song opens with a wintry melancholy vibe, before outing itself as a love song.”
The two musicians grew fond of the song and considered “passenger” an appropriate word to represent their latest collaboration—as well as their life.“We love to travel and explore the world with our music,” she says.
“We are asking listeners to take a journey with us and be passengers as we head down this new musical path.”
The two have come to terms with the possibility that some fans may not like their detachment from acoustic guitar and sounds often categorizing them as “folk.” Yet, they felt compelled to explore creatively, authentically, and let their style evolve beyond the bounds of genre—which, in the end, isn’t a far stretch from how they’ve worked in the past.
“I think some listeners will realize, we have never been settled on one style or one genre,” Lomas iterates. “I am very proud of this new project but . . . I know ‘Passenger’ is not the resting place for Stray Local as far as style. It is a stepping stone. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year we release another album that again has people asking, [‘This is Stray Local?’]”