Kira 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.
Here to make you more "familiar" with the "strange" is Kira Leyden.
MS: Hey, Kira, you and The Strange Familiar went to SXSW recently, correct?
KL: Yeah, we actually got back last week. It was a really good time!
MS: Cool! Was that your first time there?
KL: It was out first time there and the first time we've ever played there as well.
MS: Bear with me, I have never been to SXSW; so, what nights did you play and what was it in conjunction with?
KL: We played Thursday for a label showcase and we also played Friday afternoon for a radio station. That was really cool as well. All the people there knew our music video for "Being Me" already, so it was really fun! People would come up to me and go, "I love your video," and I would be, like, "How do you know who I am?" (laughs)
MS: The video is fun. I was listening to the lyrics and you say in them, "Oh, I'll never belt it like Janis Joplin." I don't know, I think you belt it pretty well on your own terms.
KL: Well, I'm not smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. That gives you a certain amount of grit, you know. (laughs)
MS: Since you made the reference, are you a Joplin fan?
KL: Definitely, it's one of those things. You know you are not going to be that person. I'm not that much of a badass.
MS: Yeah, Janis was a pretty big badass. Another cool lyric you sing in "Being Me" is "And I've been turned down by every big wig in town." Why do you think they finally said "yes."
KL: I think that goes along with the song. We have been working together fourteen years creating music together. After all that time I had met a lot of the top people in the industry and had meetings with them. Because we became so OK with being what we are... I think that when you are yourself you are genuine and people take notice even more. Also, this video was just so off-the-cuff, by the seat of our pants. When you totally let go, it is just amazing freedom and people can feel that.
MS: That usually works best for me, too, when it just "flies out of your butt," so to speak.
KL: (laughs) Yeah.
MS: How much of a career boost do you think having a song, "Courage Is," on "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," gave you guys?
KL: We were shocked by the response. The song was shown every few minutes as a promo on ABC Family that summer. People wrote us letters saying the song had changed their lives and really made a difference, it helped them get through really tough places. One night I got a call really late at night, and it was from our bass player telling me, "We're top ten on iTunes!" I was like, "What?!" (laughs) We had no idea it had such a reach. We checked it five times and we were like, "There we are, next to John Mayer," which was awesome!
MS: You have an album coming out, "Chasing Shadows".
KL: I'm so excited! "Chasing Shadows" is coming out on April 10th.
MS: Cool, tell me what you hope to accomplish with it?
KL: "Chasing Shadows" is the first time I feel we have been able to get into a studio as a band and do something really cohesive. The band played on all the tracks and it feels like the first time something wasn't done in pieces. It feels like the most honest we have ever been musically. I think that it is really honest and uplifting, and it will inspire people and help them through tough times.
MS: Very cool.
KL: You know, I really can't write anything that's frivolous. "Being Me" is about as frivolous as it gets. (laughs) But we are still trying to send a message, "be happy with who you are."
MS: It's more whimsical than frivolous.
KL: There you go! I'm going to use that from now on. Last year we did a mini school tour. We played a lot of high schools and grade schools. We want to put out a positive message and ended up doing a full show. I looked at those kids and thought, "Wow! That was me a few years ago, trying to fit in." Our overall message is be yourself, and I'm proud of that.
MS: With all the bullying going on right now, that's a great message to put out.
KL: It's always tough to be a teenager and finding your place anyway. But with all the media on top of that, and all the pressure... and I think kids feel all of that and I think they need as many positive messages as they can get in the media.
MS: I agree with you.
KL: Having grown up in Akron, OH, which is a hard rock town, and doing a lot of Pearl Jam covers, trying to be a hard rocker and finally saying, "That's not who I am," taking that evolutionary journey and saying it's okay, you don't have to try to rock because everyone else does, and realizing it is inauthentic, was a big thing for me.
Get with the band at: www.thestrangefamiliar.com.