Musicians live a lot of their lives on the road, and that goes double for Wilmington, North Carolina indie-pop duo Stray Local. Hannah Lomas and Jamie Rowen are a touring act, but they’re also avid runners, so they often find themselves hitting the pavement in more ways than one.
That side of their lives inspired them to launch the Run Wild campaign in the spring of 2019. To promote healthy living and reach new fans outside the usual channels, the recently-wed husband-and-wife duo have started linking up with local athletic clubs along their tour routes. They’ve also released their own line of Run Wild tech shirts and socks.
All of that comes in addition to the release of “Earthquake Love,” a shiny new single that tells the story of their relationship in roaring vocal drive and glockenspiel twinkle. Since tying the knot earlier this month, the two have embarked on a combination tour and honeymoon, taking them from Spain to Portugal to the UK, and all the running trails along the way.
Between hill workouts and house shows, Rowen spoke to The All Scene Eye about learning from other Wilmington artists and how the Run Wild campaign is helping turn Stray Local into a full-time gig.
First of all, congratulations are in order–you just got married.
[laughs] Yeah, we did, on June 1.
What song was the first dance at your wedding?
It was “When I Get My Hands on You,” the Bob Dylan tune by The New Basement Tapes. I think Marcus Mumford sings it, but Rhiannon Giddens plays violin on it. It’s a really cool track.
Now you’ve been in Spain and Portugal on this honeymoon tour. How did that idea come about?
Well, we’ve been traveling to Europe the last two years and playing some shows. The first year we did a festival in France and little house concerts in Germany, and then last year we were in the UK and traveled, like, 1600 miles driving around all up and down the British Isles, so this year we were deciding, “okay, we want it to be a honeymoon as well as a tour.” That’s why we came down here to Spain and Portugal, and then tomorrow we’re actually flying up back to the UK to do some shows.
What has it been like mixing that vacation and touring life?
It’s fun–right now we’re definitely on vacation mode. This week we’re staying at a resort in Portugal, doing all the fun coastal beach things they have to offer, and it’s really nice. We played a house concert in Spain with this American woman who hosted. That was fun, meeting her, and we got to know some cool Americans in Spain in a town we never would have gone to or heard of before–it’s not like Madrid or Barcelona or something. it’s cool because you don’t really pick the towns, like the big cities, when you’re going on tour. Sometimes you find random places you’ve never heard of before, and they’re little gems.
The two of you were musical collaborators before you were a couple. As your personal relationship has evolved, how has your musical relationship changed?
Definitely the musical relationship has evolved. It started out mainly just with me on guitar, and I would be playing some chords and Hannah would sing. We’d write words together, and most of our songs were guitar focused, but now Hannah is getting more into the songwriting and starting the structure. She grew up mainly being a singer, but has picked up playing the piano through college and onward, so she’s starting structures sometimes, and we’re doing more singing, harmonizing, stuff like that. We’ve gotten better and better–or I’ve gotten better because she’s the one who taught me. She’s a really good singer, and I…was not, in the beginning. [laughs]
About a year ago you released your debut EP, Passenger. What did you learn from the experience of making your debut?
Oh, we learned a whole bunch. A lot just about the recording process. We have these ideas in our head, and it’s one thing to know what sound you’re trying to emulate–what groups are your inspiration–but then to go into the studio and be like, “okay, how can I really get that grit and that bite to my guitar tone?” We worked with a really cool producer and mixing engineer, Lee Hester, at his house in Wilmington. He calls it Logan Manor Studios. He records Beta Radio, which is also a group from Wilmington. They have a big following on Spotify. He’s a great producer, so we learned a lot about the actual, physical recording process.
When did you write your latest single, “Earthquake Love”?
Let me think. We wrote that song probably in November or December of this past year, and it’s definitely a kind of emulation of our love story. [laughs] We’ve been working through that.
Is that a common theme for the two of you? Do you tend to write about yourselves and your relationship?
The positive ones, definitely. [laughs] You know, it’s interesting. I tend to write with a different perspective in mind–like, creating a character is what I tend to do. Being a married couple and being newlyweds, we’re pretty happy right now, so we’re not writing too many dystopian relationship songs or whatnot. Hopefully, we won’t, and then I’ll just have to create a new persona to write some sad songs. [laughs]
What’s an example of a song you’ve written from a different perspective than your own?
Actually, our newest song that we haven’t even performed yet. It’s tentatively called “Snapshots,” and it’s about a relationship between two people. One of them is a photographer, and it’s like–you know, “you’ve captured my love,” but also, metaphorically, the picture. The love is a metaphor for the picture [laughs] so that kind of thing. We have so many photographer friends, and it’s always intrigued me, the idea of photography. Working it into a love story was pretty natural.
Recently, you put out a video for “Earthquake Love,” which has you performing the track along with two dancers. Where did the concept come from?
We love working in different types of art, mixing them all together, and this is perfect–videography, music, and dance all in one. We’re so happy to be able to do that. From Passenger, we were thinking about doing a dance music video–I think for “Escape”–but that never happened, and we thought this song would be so perfect. One of Hannah’s childhood friends’ mothers is a dancer, so she hooked us up with Cedric and Ashley, the dancers in the video, who are actually also a married couple. They were super pumped to do it because they’re local dancers in the community, but they don’t get too many opportunities to be in a music video.
That was filmed and edited by Michael Austin Daniel. What was the dynamic with him?
He’s great. He’s actually another local; film is really popular in Wilmington. A bunch of movies have been filmed here, like one of the Iron Man movies and a bunch of other ones, so the film industry is–we hope it stays and is still big. Anyway, we saw an awesome band out of the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh Triangle area called Chatham Rabbits. They’re a folk group that’s really hitting it big right now, but Michael is friends with them, and he’s done some videos for them, so we hooked up with Michael. He’s really good with capturing the different aspects of videography, kind of how Lee Hester was with our Passenger EP. We learned a lot about angles and lighting and using a fog machine to get the ambiance of the coloring, so just by watching him, we learned a lot about videography, which was really cool.
Do you have a favorite memory from that shoot?
Probably the shots we got from the quasar lights. There are three different shots: there’s the dancers, there’s us standing next to each other, and then there’s just Hannah. For the shots with just Hannah, he put two quasar lights next to her face, so in her eyes, you can see an orange x. That’s the quasar lights reflecting out, and it’s a really cool effect. I was like, “ooh, that’s super cool,” but he was just–you know, he had that vision to do that.
What’s your advice to other artists who are making their first music video?
Just have a plot and an idea of what the story is going to be. With a song, you need a verse, a chorus, and everything, and obviously the music video will be to your song, but sometimes it’s easy to be like, “oh, wow, the story doesn’t make any sense,” or, “it’s just 30 seconds of us walking. That’s a really long time to watch somebody walk.” [laughs] You don’t think about that, and you’re like, “oh, dang, we need other shots.” Cohesiveness is hard–to get it to feel like it’s a really short film that doesn’t have any words besides the words of your song. It’s something I didn’t really think about, but luckily, we had Michael to help and we edited a couple times afterward–separate little edits, like, “okay, we need a shot here, we need a shot there.” But yeah, plot out the scenes before you start on the day of the film because that’s not the time to do it. [laughs]
You’re also runners, and this March you launched the Run Wild campaign. How did that idea come about?
I think we just were–we do it, and it’s so natural to us, and we’re thinking, “oh, do we post about it on Facebook? Is it weird?” Will people be like, “why are they posting about running? They’re musicians.” But then we were just accepting, like, “this is who we are. It’s authentic.”
The running merchandise we’ve created spawned of the difficulty that some musicians have now with making money. With Spotify, no one buys music anymore. That whole aspect of your income with selling CD’s is gone, so it’s like, “alright, what can I sell as merchandise now that people stream music for free?” That’s where we were like, “hey, we’re runners. Instead of just a band t-shirt, let’s have a running tank top that’s a tech shirt, and it’ll make sense.” It piggybacked off that, and then it’s like, “oh, when we’re on tour, we can stop by run clubs that meet at different breweries where we play gigs, but then go there on a Wednesday, run with the clubs, and play music afterward.” All these people are potential new fans on a night that’s tough to book good gigs on tour sometimes–you know, Monday night, Tuesday night.
A couple months into the project, how has that unfolded for you?
It’s actually been really, really cool. We’ve done it kind of in beta testing in the different big cities in North Carolina, and we’re going to hit that pretty hard when we get home. When we contact different venues and run clubs, they either love it and are like, “yeah, let’s do it! Can’t wait!” or they’re like, “I don’t get it.” [laughs] I think that’s hopefully a sign that it’s a good idea because it’s different, but we’ve met some really cool people. We get to communicate with these runners and they’re not really expecting us to be there sometimes. They’re like, “oh, this is cool, I didn’t realize you were coming,” and we’ll talk to them about our music, and that’s fun.
Tell me about the running experiences you’ve had on tour. Where have been the best places to run?
Oh, man, we try and run all these towns. Lisbon was pretty awesome. They’ve got a lot of hills that we didn’t expect. Wilmington is the coast; there’s one hill in town where everybody does hill workouts, and that’s it, but Lisbon has got some hills. [laughs] They were really good vantage points for looking out at the city, so that was awesome. We’re going to be touring out west this fall, so the altitude and the hills are going to be gnarly, I’m sure. I didn’t grow up in Wilmington, but Hannah did–she does not like hills, so she’s going to have a rude awakening when we get out west.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so it’s like, Amish country, a lot of rolling hills. Running in high school and stuff, I was more used to it than Hannah. [laughs]
Do you listen to music when you run?
Hannah definitely does. She’s 100%, like, Beyonce all the time–she uses the pump-up music. I do on longer training runs, but it’s not really pump-up music. It’s just kind of chill. Sometimes I think about lyrics and stuff when I’m running. It just depends on what kind of mood. But on race days, she does and I don’t because it’s like every time a song ends, it’s that much longer. Three minutes, 30 seconds, and then you–it’s just–I don’t like it. [laughs]
So outside of race days, who are the artists you can listen to when you run?
I love listening to Bahamas. I really like Local Natives right now–they’ve got a cool new album. Both Hannah and I love Feist. Like I said, she listens to pump-up music like Foster The People, Passion Pit, Beyonce, that kind of stuff. I like that stuff, it’s just a little more chill.
If you could tour with any artist, who would you choose, and if you could tour with any runner, who would you choose?
Honestly, one of the coolest acts would be Sylvan Esso. She’s a cool artist from Durham, but Bahamas, that guy is really cool too. One of those, probably.
The runner I would love to meet the most is a guy named Paul Chelimo. He got second place in the 5k at the Rio Olympics, I believe, and he went to UNCG, the same university we went to; he ran for us, but he has no idea we exist. He’s a professional runner who’s just killing it right now, so I’d love to meet him.
Is “Earthquake Love” a standalone single or part of a larger project?
That is to be determined. It worked really well with the honeymoon–us getting married, and it’s our love song, so it made sense to get it out there now. We have that “Snapshots” song and four other songs that are all done and need to be recorded, so we’ll see if “Earthquake Love” gets put on that or not. We’re not sure.
What’s next for you after this tour?
We were teaching private music lessons for the last five years, and after the honeymoon, we’re not doing it anymore. We’re going to be hitting the road, doing Stray Local and Run Wild stuff full-time. We’re going to be getting home, demoing all these new songs at our house, and then either recording on our own or working with Sean Gerard, who mixed “Earthquake Love.” He’s a Wilmington guy, again. But yeah, it’s going to be a busy time. Before we go on the Run Wild tour in the Fall, we’re going to be writing and recording new music, and by the time we go on the tour in September, we’re definitely going to have at least one more single out.
How did you decide to take the plunge and make this your full-time gig?
I think it’s just that we have to. We love doing the lessons, but you have to be back every single week–they call it weekend warrior, you know. We’re in Wilmington, so we can go out to Raleigh and play there, and then Charlotte, but then you’ve got to go home and teach. You can’t go all the way out to California because you’d miss so many lessons, so it’s like we’ve got to go out and really do it because you’ve got to be all in. You can’t just do it halfway. I think it’s helping us to feel better that we’ve got the Run Wild campaign, so we’re not, like, scared shitless. It’s like, “hey, we have this little thing to try out as well,” so we’ll see.