Kira Leyden (Piano / Vocals), Jeff Andrea (Guitar), Frank Freeman (Bass), Nicholas Sainato (Drums)
In the video for “Being Me,” the first single from The Strange Familiar’s new album, Chasing Shadows, lead singer and pianist Kira Leyden does a strip tease…of a sort. She appears on screen in an outfit that shows off several decades’ worth of rock ’n’ roll excess, including neon wigs, fake nails and tattoos. Peeling off the layers of jackets, dresses, ties and make-up, she reveals the low-key, small town girl she is, while singing, “Don’t have a single tattoo; Always got straight A’s in school; And yeah, I sing in the choir; Never made a good liar…” The song is a declaration of independence, more confident than self-effacing, with a smoky acoustic groove leading up to a jubilant chorus that shows off her soulful upper register. It demonstrates their affinity for penning poptastic tunes, but also has a more serious message about being true to oneself.
"Being Me" was written to lyrically interpret the idea of peeling away the layers of who you are not. “The clothes I wear in the video are all costumes I’ve actually worn on stage,” Leyden explains. “After years of trying to get a reaction out of an audience with outrageous clothes I finally realized I’m much more interesting just being myself.”
Leyden and guitarist Jeff Andrea, the husband and wife songwriting team behind Strange Familiar, make the kind of timeless music that long careers are built on. They have been writing and performing together since they met in grammar school in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “I was in seventh grade when I saw Jeff’s band playing (Pearl Jam’s) ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ at our school dance,” Leyden recalls. “The singer forgot the words and walked off the stage, and I remember thinking, ‘I could do better than that!’”. A life long partnership sprang from that serendipitous beginning, forged by their mutual love of music and each other. By the time they were in high school, their band had morphed into Jaded Era, one of the top indie groups in the Akron, Ohio area.
When Jaded Era splintered, Kira and Jeff headed to the Leyden family basement, where they set up a studio and started writing songs that would become the foundation of The Strange Familiar. After months of performing around town and experimenting with new sounds, The Strange Familiar decided to make the move to Los Angeles. “We wanted to get as far away from of our comfort zone as possible and see if we could make things happen in a new city,” Andrea explains. With the addition of fellow Ohio-bred musicians Frank Freeman (bass) and Nicholas Sainato (drums), the band was finally complete. They began recording and playing live in the LA area, winning rave reviews for the band’s sincere songwriting and Leyden’s soaring, winsome vocals.
Two weeks after releasing, You Can’t Go Back (their first EP as The Strange Familiar), they began to experience considerable success with their simmering, heartfelt approach to music making. ABC Family TV used their song “Courage Is…” as the promo theme on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a new show starring Molly Ringwald. The song’s positive, uplifting message quickly became a beacon of light to many listeners and sparked a very unique, personal relationship between the band and their fans. “One minute, nobody knew us,” says Andrea. “The next, we were in the Top 10 on iTunes, right next to John Mayer. It was surreal.”
“Courage Is…” was not the first song Andrea and Leyden had placed on the charts. In 2006, Ashlee Simpson had a Top 40 pop hit with “Invisible,” a song they wrote and recorded when they were only 17 years old. The song is still Simpson’s highest charting debut single, to date.
“We write songs about the emotions people feel,” Leyden says. “It’s important for us to connect with our audience. We do our best writing when we stay true to ourselves and write from the heart.”
That honesty is evident on Chasing Shadows, their first effort for Krian Music Group. The band reconnected with producer Brian Malouf (Dave Matthews, Madonna, Everclear, Lisa Loeb), the man behind the boards on You Can’t Go Back. Working at a feverish pace, they cut ten sparkling tracks in a two-week blitz of creativity. “The first time we worked with Brian, our songs were all over the map,” Leyden says. “This time, we brought in demos and almost every song we played for him ended up on the album. We recorded at his home studio and played most of the songs live, together as a band. We kept a lot of the first takes and scratch vocals. Those takes capture the most organic and unfiltered emotion.”
Strange Familiar’s melodious pop tunes benefit from Andrea’s guitar, supplying a hint of rock to the arrangements. Leyden’s vocals can slip from a whisper to a growl, infusing the songs with the kind of range that’s rare in these days of over singing, where volume often substitutes for feeling. Leyden’s strong vocals and classic good looks may make her the focal point of the band, but at the heart of it all, The Strange Familiar is a true partnership.
Chasing Shadows is a lyrical declaration of renewed hope. Underneath the deftly orchestrated music is a story of struggle and searching to find true happiness in the midst of false dreams. Leyden reflects, "After moving to LA, living on my own for the first time and focusing all of my attention on my craft as a recording artist and performer, I started to feel all of this pressure and fear of failure. It took a toll on me and I ended up closing myself off from everybody, stopped writing songs and didn't even want to leave my apartment. It took a long time for me to find my way back to myself, but the result is this album and songs that express a sense of hope."
Leyden’s expressive piano playing and soulful vocals make “Redemption” one of the record’s most powerful tracks. Directly on the heels of their full-length debut album release, The Strange Familiar were featured on the CW's hit show, The Vampire Diaries. Now in its 3rd season, the supernatural drama will feature the track "Redemption" off Chasing Shadows, on its April 19 episode. The song, much like the rest of Chasing Shadows, shows off the band's ability to write timeless music that connects with their audience on a deep emotional level. “It’s a message song,” Andrea says. “No matter how dark it is, there’s always hope.” No strangers to TV, The Strange Familiar have also been featured on ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager Jane by Design and Switched at Birth, ABC's Brothers and Sisters, NBC's The Biggest Loser, Teen Nick's Degrassi, and the Lifetime Movie Network's The 19th Wife to name a few.
“It's Easier To Walk Away” is a playful tune full of understated emotion. The song embodies the push-and-pull struggle of a difficult relationship, where it would be much easier to throw in the towel. But, at its core it is about finding the will to work things out. Leyden accents her vocal lines with wordless cries that convey the feelings that are often impossible to express. Andrea’s guitar alternates between crystalline arpeggios and crunchy power chords that compliment an infectious percussive groove provided by Sainato on the drums.
“Echoes,” is a touching mid-tempo ballad, inspired by a fan’s letter to the band. Kira’s wrenching vocal conveys the pain of a military wife waiting for her husband to return from the war in Iraq and her struggle to get through each day living in the echoes he left behind. Leyden delivers another impressive vocal on “Shelter,” a track about the strength of love overcoming a dark period, which uses unexpected tempo changes to build up to a passionate climax.
The band are looking forward to their first national tour in support of the record, including a stop at SXSW. “We’d like to move the band to Nashville at some point,” Leyden says. “We don’t ever want to get too comfortable. At the end of the day, we want to challenge ourselves to write music that will speak to people’s hearts and hopefully inspire them in their lives. Our fans have already done that for us, and we just hope we can return the favor. ”