The title of Silent Rival’s debut album, The Kindness of Strangers, can be interpreted quite literally.
Several years ago, vocalist Sara Coda responded to a compliment about her coat by immediately taking it off and giving it to the admirer. Then she turned the experience into music—a torch-song-cinematic-show-stopper “Take It From Me,” which deals with the idea of leaving the past behind.
Examining that past, and using it as a starting point for new beginnings, is a common theme throughout The Kindness of Strangers. However, the Los Angeles based band—Coda, guitarist Joz Ramirez, bass player Yutaka Sao, and drummer Brock Bowers—thrives on rising from the ashes. “I’ve got to die a little, to live at all!,” Coda exclaims on the first single, “Die A Little”.
“Life was never really easy for us,” Coda says. “For me, personally, it has always been very important to live an honest and full life, rather than a comfortable or easy one that has the potential for regret, failure, and sadness. The silver lining is that I now feel like I’m taking life for every experience it has to offer. That, in and of itself, made all of the experiences so far worth it. When it came time to write this album, it felt like I had already lived so many lives.”
Musically, The Kindness of Strangers also focuses on reinvention. In fact, the Matt Wallace-produced LP puts a modern twist on glam, synth-pop and classic alternative rock. “Freedom” is an exuberant ’80s pop song with gospel-influenced harmonies vocals; “Find Them Beautiful” is electro pogo-pop; and the dirty fuzz of “Paranoid” boasts jagged guitars with a razor-sharp edge.
Coda—whose blues-tinted vocals rival Lady Gaga in terms of range and power—handles these diverse styles with ease. On “I Quit the War,” she captivates with her mellow & brooding vocal tone; on “Hollywood,” she’s a passionate, yet fearless, truth-teller.
Coda has had a passion for singing since birth. (Her mom even wrote in her baby book, “The baby likes sleeping and singing.”) Ramirez, meanwhile, caught the music bug as a kid, after a family Christmas sing-along piqued his interest in guitar. At the age of eight, he started playing that instrument, as well as drums and keyboards and never looked back. “From then on, I never did anything else but music,” he says.
Years later, the duo crossed paths completely accidentally, after a teacher randomly paired them up during a college music class. Their musical chemistry was immediate. “It was really easy to work with him,” she says. “Everything always had a jump and a groove that I’d never heard before. I really believed in him and wanted to be part of what he did.”
Although Coda and Ramirez had different musical tastes—the former was influenced by a range from Gladys Knight to Steven Tyler to everything that Disney did, while the latter admired Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix—they bonded over a shared work ethic and a deep inner drive. “For both of us, we know this is simply what we have to do,” he says.
While making The Kindness of Strangers, the duo would spend 18 to 20 hours in the studio perfecting their music. Because Ramirez played nearly every instrument on the record, he was there every day. He’d work on music in one room, and send ideas to Wallace and Coda, collaborating together in another room.
Both musicians say working with the producer—who’s overseen records by Maroon 5, Sugarcult, Andy Grammer & Faith No More to name a few—boosted their confidence and coaxed out their best performances. “He made me realize how much simpler things can be, and efficient,” Ramirez says. “And how it’s important to get out of your head and go with the flow, instead of overthinking things.”
Adds Coda: “He was all about leaving a lot of humanity in the record, character flaws and musical ones. He invested so much time in trying to understand what I was about that when we got into the vocal booth to record the vocals, I was super comfortable with being myself. I felt total freedom from any insecurity.”
From a writing perspective, that freedom also had a profound effect the lyrics she wrote for The Kindness of Strangers. “I’m owning the choices that have shaped my life,” Coda says. “So there’s not a lot of resentment songs, or anger. If there’s anyone I’m angry at, its myself and there’s a lot of freedom and power that comes with that accountability. A confidence I had never felt before.”
Getting to this introspective point wasn’t necessarily easy for Coda. In fact, she says the writing process “took a chunk of my soul” as it was so intense.
“I learned a lot about myself,” she says. “Mostly what a big risk taker I am. One side of me would recklessly take any challenge that came my way and the other me was calmly asking questions and writing stories. I got this feeling that in some weird way I’ve been in control this whole time and I lead myself to this point purposefully.”
Coda’s “determination” during this whole process especially impressed Ramirez. “Both Sara and I are very driven, but she’s very connected to the universe and is super-sure of everything,” he says.
Silent Rival’s conviction right out of the gate is equally striking. The Kindness of Strangers is a self-assured debut album that’s a portent of great things to come.
“If there were one thing I would want somebody to take from this record, it’s that we put everything that we had into making it. That’s the only way that we know how to connect with people. Honestly and, when necessary, brutally. As beautiful and magical as life can be, it’s not easy. And so, if you are like us and want more from life than to simply experience your own happiness and comfort, welcome to our world.”