Travel is the religion of the soul. Contrary to popular belief, one doesn’t need to be hours away from home in order to be treated to clandestine scenery. It’s a peculiar feeling—the one of being lost in a familiar area, a place you know like the back of your hand. In relation to those who live on the street, the melancholy is fueled by total desolation. There is nowhere to go, no true home. They’re called “stray locals.” But you don’t have to be homeless to feel homeless; stray locals are scattered ubiquitously. And an Americana band from NC has found a way to represent these drifters through music.
Stray Local is an acoustic roots trio made up of Jamie Rowen (vocals/guitar/banjo/fiddle), Hannah Lomas (vocals/mandolin/tenor guitar) and Nick Simon (percussion/washtub bass/vocals). The band came together when Rowen made the decision to move from Greensboro to Wilmington in May of 2013. Lomas and Rowen first started playing old-time music together while at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) as part of a music ensemble. Yet, they did not play any personal gigs until after graduating. Post UNCG, Lomas and Rowen composed their first piece in 2012.
“Writing our first song was easy,” Rowen admits. “It came to us pretty quickly, but we didn’t consider starting a band at that point ‘cause Hannah was moving.”
Rowen considered this Stray Local’s first session. “At that practice, yes, there was a pure connection and there continues to be when we are writing new material,” he explains.
Even though Lomas relocated, the band worked out a way to write songs remotely via email. “Pretty Little Setback,” a short but sweet blues ballad with elegant harmonies, was put together in such a way. Rowen wrote the guitar riffs and sent it to his partner who then recorded vocals over the track and returned the piece.
“We got together again in the beginning of 2013 while Hannah was still in Greensboro, and we played those few songs we’d written for the first time together,” Rowen says. And that’s when he knew. Following the session he realized their real potential. “It was something special,” Rowen confirms. So he packed his bags and moved to Wilmington.
When it comes to the sub-cultures that surround modern music, there are bands that take on multiple genres from different areas across America. These groups, like the aforementioned drifters, are also defined as stray locals. Rowen explains that the group was driven by various sounds scattered, and virtually hidden in cities and towns throughout the country. It’s how they got their name. While the genera are spread out, some are secluded to one particular region (e.g., Seattle’s grunge scene in the early ‘90s.) Without the Internet or the radio, the world would not be able to hear these fresh spades of music. Stray Local takes advantage of the technological end of their field.
“Our songs pull from all different types of American music,” Rowen notes, “so in a sense we find ourselves astray from one specific genre, yet still creating something that is, and can be, locally American.”
Rowen appreciates how it was through these resources that Stray Local was able to become so expansive. “It’s exciting for us because we can learn so much about a type of music we would otherwise not hear about,” he continues.
However, it isn’t just the smaller bands that breathe Stray Local to life. They induce inspiration from the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Decemberists, and Doc Watson. This wide-range of inventiveness makes it difficult to pin a specific genre to this band.
“As most musicians will tell you, it’s not easy to label your own music,” Rowen says. “We have struggled with this since we started describing it to others.”
Stray Local settled with the term “Americana,” to take on the all-American incorporation of blues, old-time, bluegrass, folk, jazz, and gospel. More recent categories have since emerged: funk, rock n’ roll and R&B. All have left their mark on the band.
As soon as Stray Local started in the spring of 2013, Rowen and Lomas began to search for another member to round out the sound and add some rhythm. In late June they met Nick Simon and started jamming with him a month later—and then there were three.
“Nick fit the bill perfectly because of his ability to play multiple instruments as well as his open-mindedness,” Rowen says. “We needed a drummer who wasn’t afraid to get off the throne of a full drum set and strap on a washboard.”
Simon took care of the percussion, as well as the bass lines. Even though they had their first gig at Ted’s Fun on the River, they played it again in August with their new drummer/bassist, solidifying the true trio as heard today. Actually, Ted’s has served as a landmark venue for the band.
“Because Ted’s was so important to us, we even had our CD release party there,” Rowen says. The band recorded a live self-titled EP with Jeff Reid last October. Five out of the six songs can be found on their Reverb Nation page, and the full EP is on sale at Gravity Records.
After placing first at the Hourglass Studios’ EP competition, winning 10 days of free recording, Stray Local now aims to transcend their limitations. They head back into the studio at the end of March. The group will have the opportunity to experiment with different instruments—piano, horns, drums, and electric guitars. “We’ll be playing with instruments that we haven’t been able to use in a live setting as a trio,” Rowen explains
A raw sound is captured on their EP, which lends itself to countless emotions, from being entranced by a slow waltz to stomping furiously through a crowd singalong. Songs like “Let You Go” and “All In” express an old-time storytelling experience; the void between the audience and artist is filled with the element of folktale.
“‘All In’ is one of our favorites to play live,” Rowen admits. “It’s an extravagant story and really gets the crowd clapping and singing along with the poor, hopeless romantic.”
There’s something about that original charm the listener can feel for and invest in. On the other hand, “Let You Go,” remains very intimate and heartfelt, regarding the growth and movement from a past lover.
“Invisible Man” contains the quintessential ballad dedicated to a nomadic traveler who roams the streets. Based off of a homeless man who dwelled in downtown Wilmington, Lomas wrote the lyrics.
“She wanted to put the listener into the shoes of the homeless,” Rowen explains. “We often pass right by a homeless person, essentially pretending they are invisible. She was interested in bringing the homeless man’s life to the forefront of the song.”
Yet to many passerby, they blend into the concrete and brick of the buildings they sleep against. They can hold wisdom, but no one wants anything to do with them. “He has seen many things come and go in the city,” Rowen says of the homeless man. “He is a stray local and we sympathize with him.”
March 7th, Gibby’s Dock & Dine,
315 Canal Dr., Carolina Beach • Free
March 8th, Duck & Dive
114 Dock St. • Free