Stray Local’s folksy and indie elements have always threaded seamlessly with the now married Jamie and Hannah Rowen singing-songwriting duo. In these last few years, the couple has continued to float around stages as a trio and even full-band iterations with more electric indie-rock sounds. Stray Local’s upcoming song and music video release, “Faint Glow,” is dropping Wednesday, July 15, and continues on that trajectory with Wilmington-based Christian Black (drums), Jessica Landes (violin) and Carrboro’s Dylan Turner on bass.
Fans can expect to hear more layers in their music to come, too, according to Hannah. “For the past couple years and with the addition of keyboards, synths and electric guitar within the Rowen household, our sound has been shifting,” she says, “and we are excited for the songs to come!”
“Faint Glow” also marks their first collaboration with Charlotte-based indie-pop producer Mark Eckert and owner of That Pitch. Completely tracked remotely—ya know, because the world is a burning hot mess and it’s best to stay home—the Rowens contacted Eckert in early spring. After a few conversations about Stray Local’s music and vision for a forthcoming project, he agreed to work on production and development.
“It’s funny we’ve communicated so much these past few months over the phone and on FaceTime but still have not met in person,” Jamie notes. “It’s just so great that technology allows us to do that these days! Especially because of COVID.”
Like nearly all Stray Local songs, “Faint Glow” was co-written both lyrically and musically by Jamie and Hannah. It started with melodic instrumentals, which ultimately didn’t make it into the song but inspired the chorus chord progression we hear in the final cut. As the lyrics came to be, Hannah says they settled into a continuous metaphor of burning and rising from the ashes from the opening “you’ve been carving away at me” (“as if the singer was a dried piece of wood, whittled down to an image she couldn’t recognize as herself”), to the proclamation “I’m sending up a smoke signal, no mending when there’s nothing but embers,” to the chorus “You’ll stay in the ashes and I will rise, no more running back to you, you’re just a faint glow.”
While Hannah describes pulling some of these emotions from a past relationship that was verbally and emotionally abusive, she describes tapping into the broader idea of “toxic relationships” we share as a society and culture. “The beauty about songwriting is that you can pull from real emotions and craft it into a song that can touch many people and their personal experiences and emotions without being biographical,” she explains. “We thought about women who had suffered at the hands of abusers. We thought about the Me Too movement and the empowerment of women’s voices.”
It also became apparent “Faint Glow” may also resonate with the current climate surrounding racial injustice, of rising up and empowering voices to stand against oppression, which is what they want to evoke with the accompanying music video. Produced by Wilmington-based Honey Head Films, who also shot Stray Local’s “Roamer” (2019), there are five vignettes featuring different people and narratives. Each is followed and emphasized with explosions of smoke bombs of different colors.
“Honey Head Films is the dream team,” Hannah praises. “Erika Edwards and Kristi Ray are such a special part of the Wilmington film community. They are incredibly skilled, organized, and kind, but what really sets them apart is their willingness to fully pour their hearts and creativity into a project. It is not just another job for them but a chance for them to flex their creative muscles.”
Stray Local will premiere their music video for “Faint Glow” on Youtube at 8 p.m on Wednesday, July 15 (visit their FB Watch Party event page). Folks also can find “Faint Glow” on Spotify starting July 15. While there are no shows in the foreseeable future, Stray Local plans to continue writing and releasing new music as we progress through 2020. Follow them on Spotify, Youtube, Instagram or Facebook to keep up with the latest news.
In the meantime, read our extended Q&A from Jamie and Hannah as they discuss “Faint Glow” and more.
encore (e): Is this the first time you had to work so remotely on a recording? Meaning did you have to record the song and music parts separately and then send it off for mixing in Charlotte? How did all of that work for you and did you ultimately like doing it this way?
Hannah Rowen (HR)This is the first time that 100% of the recording and mixing process has been remote. Luckily, pre-COVID [closures and cancelations], we made the decision to invest in home studio equipment like the Apollo UA interface and a few good microphones. We had been chatting with Ben and Brent of Beta Radio before COVID, to hear their thoughts of tracking remotely and what gear to prioritize. In hindsight, it was a great decision as we are using it now more than ever to demo new songs and ideas. These few pieces of gear are what we have used to track all the guitars, vocals, and synths for “Faint Glow”. Jessica Landes recorded her violin parts from our house (pre-COVID) and Christian Black and Dylan Turner tracked drums and bass, respectively from their own homes. Much of this began out of convenience but turned to necessity as COVID restrictions spread across the state. Some of the parts may have come together more quickly had we been able to flush out drum grooves and bass lines together instead of emailing tracks back and forth and waiting on feedback but Christian and Dylan are such talented players that the process really worked well and we are thrilled with the final product!
As I’m sure all of us are familiar with as we fumble our way through Google Hangs, Soom calls, livestream concerts, Instacart orders, and virtual events, with the advancement of some amazing technology, many things are still possible.
e: Is there a specific aspect of this song that wouldn’t have been otherwise if it wasn’t for Mark Eckert’s perspective or input?
Jamie Rowen (JR): One really cool element added by Mark that we weren’t expecting was his manipulation of Jessica’s pizzicato violin part. The track was reversed and placed in the intro, second verse, and bridge. These parts, originally just recorded as extra, potentially useful parts, now are an interesting feature in the soundscape of Faint Glow.
e: Planning on working with him again? Is this song a part of a larger project you can tell us more about?
JR: Mark is a go-getter. Part of his mission is to help develop indie artists to a point where they can produce on their own. We have been searching for a producer and feel like production requires a skill set we have not yet developed. We have been thrilled with Mark’s skill, organization, ambition, and most importantly, what he adds to our sound. Perhaps we will learn to fully produce ourselves in the future, but in the meantime, we are excited to have Mark on board to help us with future single releases in 2020.
e: Was the video concept from Honey Head Films or was it something you had in mind? What was it like working with their team on this?
HR: We had a few conversations with Erika and Kristi about aesthetics, vibe, and a few details like using colorful smoke bombs, the casting of our friend Kevin, captured here snapping photos, a real hobby of his, and the casting of Cedric Kopa, the talented dancer who also appears in our “Earthquake Love” music video. The rest of the details and storytelling were left up to their creative expression. When I saw the first cut of “Faint Glow,” I was floored. To have someone care about your own project as much as you do is very rare. To have this team elevate it to something so beautiful and moving left me in tears. The smoke bombs each glowing a different color for Joy, Kevin, Alex, Danny, and Cedric seem to symbolize the glow of an otherwise invisible individuality, creativity and uniqueness of each person and their talents. I love the authenticity of each of the five vignettes within this film. Joy James, portraying a poet (she is a poet that goes by the name Livity the Poet), Kevin, portraying a photographer (he collects cameras and loves photography), Alex, the ballet dancer, elegantly dancing atop her actual apartment building in Denver, Danny, a visual artist, in his happy place on a skateboard, and Cedric, who recently took up construction work in the time of COVID seen in the video breakdancing in his actual construction uniform all feel so raw and real.
e: Tell us more about the notion of empowering marginalized voices with work like this. How can artists like yourselves and others be better allies and advocates for POC communities?
JR: It is so important to be aware of privilege and to learn about the racial injustices that have occurred in this country since its founding. As white citizens, we need to recognize our biases and fix our prejudices if we truly want to live in a country that is fair and equal for all. As artists, I feel like it’s important for all of us to spend time listening to POC communities and artists to learn their stories and hear what we can do to help right the wrongs of the past and move forward. Now is the time for lasting change and not just pacify the problems. Specifically, we’ve been interested in learning about local issues and the dark history of the massacre and the insurrection of 1898 in Wilmington. The city needs to recognize this history and acknowledge that parts of that incident still stain our community and we need to fix this.
We’ve donated to the Equal Justice Initiative, which works to end mass incarceration and racial inequality. We encourage other artists to research and donate to organizations like EJI, support black-owned businesses, call out racism when you see it in the community and elect leaders all across the country that will fight for equal justice. It’s really important to stay vigilant and support these causes even after the fast-paced news cycle attempts to pull our focus elsewhere.
e: Many artists have experienced challenges in the music community since March, however, everyone’s experience is unique—what are some hurdles you have faced these past several months? Were any projects pushed back/replaced with new plans?
HR: It seems laughable now but we intentionally kept our tour schedule a bit lighter this winter, sticking primarily to North Carolina, in order to focus on writing and recording. The plan was to gear up our spring and summer with new releases and lots of touring. As runners and musicians, we went on our first nationwide tour last year that we called our “Run Wild Tour,” incorporating running events, run clubs and races sprinkled within our house concerts, venue shows, and Sofar Shows.
We were going to kick off a big year of running collaborations in the beginning of April, and had some pretty awesome events on the schedule, including running and performing at the scenic 3-day half-marathon festival in Utah, The Grand Circle Trail Fest, and Boulderthon in Colorado. We had booked a New England tour, finally landing shows in Philly, Boston and NYC, and were set to embark on a midwestern tour in July, booking four shows in the Chicago area. These have all hurt to lose. As I am sure is the case with many independent artists, many hours were spent researching and reaching out to venues. I felt like 2020 was finally the year we were hearing the word “yes” and then, of course, that all came crashing down. I tend to keep my calendar closed and hidden from view because it is sad to catch a glimpse of where we would have been if things were different. We have learned to adapt and have chosen to view 2020 as a year of reflection—a chance to hone our craft and focus on songwriting and brand building.