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Justin Davis can’t remember a time when music wasn’t an important part of his life.
“I actually have baby pictures of me holding guitars and stuff that were bigger than me,” he said. “People ask me when I started playing and I really don’t have an answer for them just because it’s always been around.
“I really didn’t have a moment where I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really know what to do with my life.’”
That lifelong love has paid off for the 2005 Forsyth Central High School graduate and his musical partner, Sarah Zimmermann.
Together, they make up the Nashville, Tenn.-based band Striking Matches, and their music, which Davis describes as “absolutely country,” has gotten a lot of attention lately.
In December, a song the duo wrote called “When the Right One Comes Along” was featured on the ABC television series “Nashville.”
After that, the actors’ performance leapt onto the iTunes country charts and Davis and Zimmermann were featured in a “Nashville” Web video featuring the show’s songwriters.
Davis said seeing their song performed on national television was “really cool and surreal.”
“I guess the coolest part has been the response afterward,” he said. “It’s just been really cool to see how [the song] connects to people. There have been so many people who have found us on the Internet … and so many of them have come to our version over the show’s version.”
Added Zimmermann: “We’ve gotten a lot of fans from it, for sure, that have found that song and then our other music.”
Striking Matches’ debut, self-titled album was put out on iTunes in October and iTunes listed it on its best of 2012 list.
The duo also got a big boost when they were invited to perform at the Ryman Theatre at the Grand Ole Opry in December.
They’ve since been invited back for a second time, and performed during Nashville’s New Year’s Eve celebration to a crowd of about 75,000 people.
Both Davis and Zimmermann said they were especially thrilled to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
“We debuted at the Ryman and that was two dreams coming true at the same time, so that was a bit overwhelming,” Davis said. “They told us on Wednesday and we were playing on Friday, so at least there wasn’t much time to get nervous or anything.
“We just showed up and we played and it was perfect, I think.”
Zimmermann said her emotions welled up near the end of the performance.
“I cried,” she said. “At the last part of my song, I looked over and just couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“That’s one of the things you dream of when you’re doing country music is to play at the Opry.”
The duo met when they were freshmen at Belmont University in Nashville, after Davis spent one year at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.
“We were in guitar class together and we were sort of thrown together as freshmen and told to get up in front of the class and make something up, just improvise something, and we had never met,” Davis said.
Despite being from totally different parts of the country — Davis called Zimmermann the “north of the Mason-Dixon half of Striking Matches” because she’s from Philadelphia — the combination worked.
“It was like a cruel hazing thing they did to the freshmen to play in front of the seniors … but we actually got applause out of the seniors when we performed together,” Davis said.
About a year and a half ago, Striking Matches was signed by Universal Publishing, cutting their college careers a little short.
“[Being signed] took me away from school in order to start writing full-time and we started playing shows so there was no time to devote to school,” Davis said. “But everybody was OK with that because it was like, ‘Well, that’s a job straight out of college and that’s what I came to town to do.’”
His parents, Bill and Vicki Davis, said they’re proud of their son’s decision.
“We feel like any other parents watching their child’s dreams coming true,” Vicki Davis said. “We’ve watched him set goals, work hard and achieve in perhaps the most difficult place in the world to succeed in the music industry.
“We’ve seen Justin stay true to himself, stay focused and work extremely hard to prepare for the time when good fortune intersects with preparation.”
Davis is excited to see what the future brings.
“From where we were at this time last year, it’s grown so exponentially that it’s hard to even imagine where we’ll be in a year or two,” he said. “But I just hope the shows get bigger and we get to connect with way more fans because that’s what drives us.”
As for his hometown crowd, the Forsyth County native said he’s appreciates all the support.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “It keeps us going and I love to get down there [to Forsyth County] as often as I can to see everybody and have them come out to the shows.”