One day while strolling down Castle Street, passersby may have witnessed a trio busking outside of the antique store Urban Revival. Old-timey bluegrass mixed with softer sounds of Americana have been permeating sidewalks and events, like Riverfest and various local farmers’ markets, since Stray Local hit the Wilmington scene in 2013. Now moving from the streets to the studios, the local trio will celebrate the release of their first full-length album, “The Sun Still Shines,” at Bourgie Nights this weekend.
Comprising Jamie Rowen (vocals/guitar/banjo/fiddle), Hannah Lomas (vocals/mandolin/tenor guitar) and Nick Simon (vocals/percussion/washtub bass), the band traces its roots back to UNC Greensboro where Rowen and Lomas first met in a class on old-time ensembles. It allowed students to simply gather around and play songs like Leadbelly’s “In the Pines,” Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys’ “Nine Pound Hammer,” and Woody Guthrie’s “Goin’ Down this Road Feelin Bad.” Today folks can hear these classic refrains covered by the band.
“Old-time is very community orientedm” Rowen explains. “When you go to an old-time jam, everyone sits in a circle as equals and plays through very basic, danceable tunes. The culture of this music is still thriving at all of the fiddle festivals that go on in this state and around the South.”
After graduation Rowen remained in Greensboro and got a job as a recruiter for the university, while Lomas moved closer to Wilmington to teach students chorus. With the itch to play still running through their veins, Rowen would email Lomas guitar tracks, and she would record vocals over it before sending them back to him. They worked like this for an entire year. However, it didn’t take long before the two quit their jobs and moved to southeastern NC. Lomas grew up in Wilmington, and after realizing the potential the two had to create amazing songs, Rowen packed up and followed her to her hometown. Upon their arrival, they met Simon after seeing him play at the local farmers’ market. Today, each member teaches music lessons when their time isn’t spent in the recording studio, playing weddings, birthday parties, or just on the streets.
“From those busking sessions, people would approach us and ask us for our contact,” Lomas says. “We realized the community really liked [our music.] That helped us build confidence and practice performing. Those outside sessions have helped because so many [of those] people wouldn’t necessarily come to the bar we were playing at or the venue [to] hear us. A lot of the events we’ve gotten have come from people just wandering by.”
Rowen came up with the band’s name while rummaging through some of his old jazz assignments from UNCG. Although originally intended as the title of one of his songs, when he looked at the name years later, he realized it fit perfectly for the band. The trio had been searching for a name for weeks, going back and forth; Stray Local seemed to make sense on so many levels.
“It’s like you’re a stray, but you wandered into this music that is so unique to this area, so that’s the local part there,” Lomas says. “We’re also thinking to encompass everything. We’re all influenced by a lot of different music, and I think with the culture we can all kind of stray into a bunch of different genres, but then can incorporate it and make it ours.”
The trio feels fortunate to be surrounded by so many local bands that continue to push the boundaries of music. So many are connected to North Carolina and American music in general. Personally, Rowen is influenced by NC bluegrass darling Doc Watson on guitar.
“The North Carolina music that we are the most drawn to is old-time which is not bluegrass, even though it often gets confused as such,” Rowen determines. “It is similar songs but the musicians do not do any improvisation.”
As a whole, the band also loves Stevie Wonder for his forceful driving rhythms and immaculate singing. “We are truly influenced by so many genres and never try to shoot down an idea for a song because we think it wouldn’t fit into our genre that we have labelled for ourselves,” Rowen says.
After winning the local Hour Glass Studio’s free EP competition last year, Stray Local was awarded 10 free days in the studio—a sole influence behind their new album release. They began recording with music engineer Trent Harrison in March and finished in May.
While producing an album is no easy task, the trio went into the studio with an arrangement of solid songs, unsure of what else they would add. “We powered through it after some frustrating moments and ended up learning so much,” Rowen says. “We are super excited to get back into the studio with all the knowledge we have now.”
Until a couple weeks ago, they were still going over the songs with a more critical ear and adding edits where necessary. The process of each song often stemmed from Simon going into the studio to lay down drums for all the tracks on the album. Next was the guitar and then the mandolin, and after focusing on instrumentals the trio added in vocals. Once the initial production was finished, they listened to the tracks to decipher upon any last-minute additions, such as adding banjo or fiddle.
“We all have pretty much the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses, which works very well,” Lomas says. “Jamie has great ideas for the story, so then I’ll come in and edit. If I bring lyrics, then he’ll give me his opinion and vice versa. It’s very much a collaboration, and I don’t think we could do it ourselves and have the same outcome.”
When it comes to lyrics, they’ve written quite a few of the songs together. Although Simon recently branched out into lyric-writing, Rowen and Lomas usually guide the pen. While Rowen has a hard time writing melodies, Lomas soars at it. Seamlessly, a balance exists among the band mates.
“It’s fun to have different voices,” Rowen comments. “I love when bands have different songwriters—like the Beatles and another favorite, Dispatch,” Rowen says. “They all have their own unique songs where someone always writes with a lot of metaphors or one person’s always very literal with short lyrics.”
Although her opinion tends to change every week, Lomas currently says her favorite song off “The Sun Still Shines” is “Ain’t Missing You.” “It’s a little sassier than some of our rootsy kind of stuff—a little bluesy,” she describes. “We had some great horn players: AJ Reynolds and Aaron Lane who play with Temple5. They came in and laid down some horn tracks—saxophone and trumpet—and we added some organ. It sounds really funky. I’m really digging that one right now.”
“Hold Me Close” is a song the trio performed for an audience only once. Its inspiration came when Lomas sent Rowen a vocal track without harmony, and it slowly morphed into a very open and haunting mix that delivers some very powerful, yet simple rhythms at a very slow tempo. According to Rowen, it was produced with just three core parts: drums, banjo and vocals.
Stray Local hand-selected another folk-rock and Americana band Midatlantic to open their show at Bourgie Nights on Friday night. “They’re very talented and have a similar style,” Lomas says. “Similar—not identical in any means—but similar sensibilities and instrumentation. I just think of all the local bands in town and they were a very good fit for us.”
Made up of members Jason Andre (vocals/mandolin/guitar), Steve Schroeder (vocals/guitar), Jesse Bond (keytar/cellotar), Will Maxwell (violin/vocals), Allan Upham (bass), and Ben Sciance (drums/guitar), Midatlantic won the Hour Glass Studio Competition this year, which makes it more poignant for them to play alongside Stray Local.
Guests can expect a few special appearances throughout the concert, too. They’re hoping to team up and raise funds for a local nonprofit organization and possibly have food trucks for those after-show munchies.
“We’re brainstorming,” Lomas says. “We’re trying to make it special. We’re working on it and hoping that we can tie all the strings together.”
Likewise, they’ll be holding a listening party on Saturday, October 25, at Gravity Records starting at 1 p.m. And they’re already turning their attention to larger tours in the near future.
“We couldn’t imagine another career,” Lomas says, “so that’s definitely what we’re putting our minds to and hoping that it will come. This is just a step toward that.”
Friday, Oct. 24, 8 p.m.
Bourgie Nights, 127 Princess St.