Hollywood would probably turn down the tale of The Strange Familiar, saying that no one would believe it. But the story of the band formed by childhood friends Jeff Andrea and Kira Leyden is true, and it’s a good one.
“We went to school together all the way from pre-school on up,” said vocalist / pianist Leyden, who met Andrea in grammar school, and later married and started a family with him, with daughter Rayne arriving midway through recording of their latest album The Day The Light Went Out.
Oh yeah, did I mention they’ve also been playing music together all this time? They have, with their new album being the next step in a journey that took them from the clubs of Ohio to the America’s Got Talent show (they made the Top 48) and to the nation’s living rooms as the provider of tunes for hit shows like Pretty Little Liars and the Vampire Diaries. It’s been quite a trip so far.
“It’s definitely busier than it’s ever been for us right now with the baby and everything, but when we do have a moment to sit there and reflect, we say ‘how did we end up doing this with our lives?’” laughs Leyden. “But I think it’s really cool that we can share this. We understand each other and we have the same goals and same passion for music, so it’s really great to have that and share it.”
Joined by drummer Nick Sainato and bassist Frank Freeman, the group has hit its stride with a pop-rock sound made unique by solid songwriting and Leyden’s standout vocals, but this was no overnight thing, as it took the lead duo time to eventually find their sound.
“When we were starting out in bands, for a long time we were trying to fit in with the scene in Akron and Cleveland, and it was kind of darker,” said Leyden. “There was a lot of metal-influenced music and heavier rock going on a lot at the time, so we tried to be harder rocking for a while, and I think after a while we just realized this is not who we are. We were trying to be something we’re not. We moved to LA for five years and being out there was really good for us in the fact that we grew a lot as writers and as people as well. I think we were able to finally realize that we can write songs that have an uplifting message and be true to who we are at the same time. With this album, it’s darker in a lot of ways than a lot of our previous work, but at the same time there always is that ray of hope at the end.”
Getting The Day The Light Went Out done wasn’t particularly smooth either, considering that it was done in two halves – BR and AR (before Rayne and after Rayne).
“The process of this album was so different from our last one,” said guitarist Andrea. “It was such a journey. We recorded the first half when Kira was pregnant and the second half after we had our baby, so it was one obstacle after another trying to get it done, but it was a labor of love for sure, and we’re really excited for our fans to finally hear it.”
“Recording the second half, that was rough,” adds Leyden. “The first half we had songs for a while and that’s what we recorded when I was still pregnant. But then when I had the baby, there were a few songs that we liked, but we needed to get a few more, so we were digging, and I remember right before we left for LA, the night before at two in the morning we were recording a demo a brand new song which ended up being the title track of the record. It was definitely more off the cuff and we had to get it done and make it happen. But I think it’s a good thing sometimes to be put in pressure situations like that because you have to do it. And now with the writing process, we realize that the few precious moments we have, we need to use them to write.”
Like life though, they’ve made their musical career work. So what’s the secret?
“We work together, we’re in a band together, we’re together all the time, but it works,” said Andrea. “I don’t know how else to say it. We make it work and have a great time doing it. Everybody in the band is very musical and I think the love of music is what keeps us all together.”
The world of dramatic television is particularly fond of The Strange Familiar, and in today’s music business, hearing one of your songs on TV is the equivalent to driving around and hearing your song on the radio. And for Andrea, it’s no less exciting.
“It definitely has that effect,” he said. “And watching it too, I feel like our music fits really well with dramatic storylines, which is why I think Pretty Little Liars used so many of our songs. It’s just so rewarding to see a piece of work that you did fit in with another artistic piece of work so well. It’s definitely exciting.”
“It really translates to a lot of downloads and our fans finding our music,” adds Leyden. “People who didn’t know about us before are searching for ‘that song from that episode,’ and it’s amazing how many people find you. It absolutely blows my mind the amount of people who are now fans because they heard our music on TV. It’s one of the best things that could ever happen.”
New baby, new tour, new album. Sounds like life is good for The Strange Familiar, and even though there are some tough topics broached on The Day The Light Went Out, Leyden wants listeners take a positive message out of it.
“I hope people can relate to the songs and to the overall message of the whole album that you can face some of the darkest times in your life but the sun will rise again, the light is still there, and you can have that day when the light goes out, but it doesn’t have to go out forever, and you can learn and you can grow from all those experiences.”