Strangers You Know. Photo by: Strangers You Know
Strangers You Know. Photo by: Strangers You Know

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Interview with Adam Haagen
Written by: Matthew McGuire

The 2016 Hangout Music Festival hosts several breakthrough acts each year. We help identify and spotlight those acts with interviews and features to support the emerging artists. To kick off this year’s preview coverage, we are showcasing the depth behind Strangers You Know from Los Angeles.


Adam Haagen, pianist, guitarist, and vocalist for Strangers You Know, spoke with us about the band’s evolution in Southern California. The band is set to perform on the Gulf Coast this upcoming May 20-22.

Read through an interview with Haagen. Scope out how the band is giving away a pair of tickets to the festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama with Twitter online. Browse our Google+ collection for additional coverage on Strangers You Know.

How long has the band been together? How did the band form, and has there been any changes in the group?

As far as playing music, we each gravitated towards instruments early on in life. I couldn’t have been more then seven or eight when I began playing piano, trying to pick apart Coldplay’s new album at the time, “Rush of Blood to the Head,” and I believe Grady picked up the guitar when he was 12 or 13. When first began playing together, I was originally only set up to produce a short record for Grady and his longtime friends and band mates from Santa Barbra. Over the first weekend we actually met however, we all got along swimmingly with myself helping them to branch out from the guitar/bass/drums trio sound they had going. After playing guitar and keys on a few of there tracks, we had one of those special moments when everything made sense. After cutting the basics to an upbeat dance track called “More Than We Have,” I went into an impromptu, much slower reprise of the piece, and everybody picked up on the jam and seamlessly came in. It was at that moment we realized we should be playing together and by weekends end, we were a band with the name Reprise, paying homage to that founding moment. Soon after we changed our name to Strangers You Know and have since lost the original bassist and drummer. All in all Grady and I have been writing and playing together for three years, in one incarnation of this group or another.

When you play live shows, what is your primary goal behind your work?

Being that we are such a “studio,” orientated band in the moment, we’re putting a lot of attention into crafting our live shows. Since our music is fundamentally a composite of so many different styles, we are afforded certain liberties when bringing it to the stage. We’re more interested in creating a certain mood, and doing the songs justice. I feel each genre draws on different aspects of live entertainment, and we are hoping to fully encapsulate the feelings you’d have at an Indie rock show, a Country hoe-down and a deep house club. From Banjos to Drum machines, we’re looking to blur the line between traditional instrumentation and modern DJ set ups to create a show that is just as fun to watch as it will sound.

What are your thoughts on performing at the Hangout Music Festival?

Nearly half a year out, and we are already chomping at the bit for Hangout Festival to roll around. I’ve frequented a number of festivals over the years, but I can’t even begin to fathom how awesome Hangout’s set up is. There is absolutely nowhere else where you could catch a set, go take a dip in the ocean, then wash up back on the beach for your next favorite band! We’re getting our board shorts ready, and we’re just as excited to explore the festival as we are to play it. Growing up in Los Angeles and Santa Barbra, we’re ready to bring our beach culture to the south, get ready!

Will performing on a beach feel like a second home with the band’s home base being in Southern California?

We actually play this annual beach festival every Fourth of July down in Playa Del Rey, so we’re no strangers to playing out on the beach. I don’t know if the beach will provide a sense of comfort, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like to hold onto my unease and worries, because you never have more true conviction then when you have something to prove. That’s how we are looking at our festival shows for the next year; we want to announce ourselves to the world, saying here we are, enjoy!

Is there new music on the horizon for Strangers You Know?

Ohhhh just you wait. I can’t say much, but you can expect new music coming very soon. This year has mostly been about reinvention for us, and we are excited to finally leave the laboratory and show the world what Frankenstein-like creations we’ve been working on. The horizon is closer then you think…

How did you come up with the name for the band? What is the backstory?

To this day we still argue over who said the band name first, but we can trace it back to New Years Eve about two years back. Grady and I were at my place in Ketchum Idaho, getting ready to walk up into town to join the festivities. While I was inside, probably switching pocket squares or jackets, Grady had ventured out to the public ice rink across from my house to talk to two girls that looked around our age. I walked out, joined the conversation, and after a few minutes the tall blonde went silent and said my screamed my full name, as if she was having some grand epiphany. Right then it really hit both of us, she was my ex-girlfriend’s best friend! We laughed about how we’d been trying to get to know someone we actually knew, and at some point that night one of us referred to the girls as Strangers we know. We work up feeling, lets say groggy, on January 1st, already set changing our name from Reprise, and after seeing Strangers You Know written in my phone’s notes, there wasn’t much more thought put into it. It was the perfect title for the two us; somewhat ironic, came about naturally, and allowed us to bring in other artists as featured, “strangers,” in the future.

Has the band experimented with any outside musicians?

Since our music is so rooted in studio production, we have been lucky enough to work with a plethora of artists, both in making our record and simply collaborating just for the sake of creation. We have a number of super talented string and horn players, as well as guest singers that are featured on our coming EP, but with that said this project is mostly used as an avenue to explore our ideas alone, independent from others. I produced and played everything on the record in solitude, with Grady programming drums and synths for a few tunes, but most of it created out of per experimentation. Instruments are my toys, so when I can take a house groove from Grady, then start laying Banjos, Pedalsteel guitars and violins, I feel like a kid playing with legos. When other artists are brought ing to collaborate with us, my primary goal is making sure they can make their mark artistically on the canvas I’ve created. On a sort of Folkish House track coming out soon, there is this amazing outro of intertwining violin melodies our lovely friend Camille (head of the UCLA philharmonic nonetheless) provided, bringing about this classical sense to the project that we just never would have thought of. Hopefully we’ll have countless, “strangers,” featured on our tracks in the future.

Also if you weren’t talking about collaborating in a studio setting we each have stumbled into pretty amazing jam sessions. After FYF in downtown LA, Grady found his way into an artist trailer and ended up singing around a small keyboard with Lorde and Flume. I actually somehow ended up on the drums at this one party, and I look up to see Queen’s keyboardist and Guns and Roses bassist! That was a quite a memory, playing with these legends on the one instrument I’m always unsure of, and the crazy thing was it wouldn’t stop, we must have played for well over an hour.

What is the impression you want to leave on live music fans after a live performance?

Playing live brings about a whole new dimension to music, and the best record won’t always lend themselves to a great performance. While I’d like to be the purist who says I’d go listen a band perform behind a curtain and have the same experience, I know as a music fan that the entertainment value of a show can be just as important, if not more so then the sonic component. We want to bring the energy and entertainment associated with live playing, but also feature our music in the best, most honest way possibly. There will be a lot of instrument switching, a lot of running around, a lot of crowd participation; in short we bring energy to the live show.

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Matthew McGuire is the founder and editor of Crescent Vale News. In 2014, he acquired a master's degree in Professional Media and Media Management from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.