How Adam Haagen and Grady Lee Formed The Up-and-Coming Group
Written By: Rebecca Grazier
Photographed By: Travis McCoy Strangers You Know
Musical duo Adam Haagen and Grady Lee of Strangers You Know show no signs of slowing down with their ever-evolving sound.
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2013 was packed when Lee snuck in and tried to introduce himself to a pretty girl in Haagen’s group. It was there that he met Haagen by happenstance—Lee didn’t even notice Haagen, but he latched onto their group. They stayed for the performance of a band called Two Door Cinema Club, and after the show had ended, they started talking.
“He told me he had a small band up in Santa Barbara, a little trio,” said Haagen. “I had just finished the studio we’re in now, like a week before that, and I told him to come right down and that I’d record him. About eight months later he took me up on the offer.”
The studio Haagen refers to is posh and was restored from a detached garage behind his house. A tan, sectional sofa sits on a corner across from the front door inside Haagen’s studio in West LA, and dark floors are accented with a red area rug.
The walls are a mix of dark red and gray. Eighteen guitars line up side-by-side on stands. In the other corner of the room are some amps, a keyboard, drums, and a microphone.
The style of music these two guys create is a mix of indie/folk and indie/pop with a tinge of electro. Their song “Used” from their EP Loosen Up the Leash has over 1 million downloads on Spotify, and is about casual relationships and the consequences that ensue. They write their own lyrics to their songs and use some of their personal experiences.
“Sometimes I’ll experience something that I’ll write down, and I’ll say, ‘What is the music side of that?’” said Lee. “Then go ‘Adam, gotta figure out the music to the this thing,’ and then other times, it’ll start from the other side where we’re making the music, and then we go ‘Okay, what emotion is this eliciting?’ Because obviously instrumental music can be vastly emotional and bring you to a very emotional place, and it’s got to complement that lyrically.”
Haagen and Lee made their debut for the first time last year at Coachella. The guys performed at six other major music festivals like the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville, the Hangout Music Festival in Alabama, BottleRock in Napa, Bumbershoot in Seattle, Summerfest in Milwaukee and Firefly Music Festival in Delaware.
“It was an amazing experience seeing the country and going show to show. It was the most diverse thing we’d ever done,” said Haagen. “We’d go and play an indie show with the Cold War Kids in Kentucky, and then we’d fly up, and play an almost all electronic show back in Portland or Seattle. We’d start to mix the cities after a while. It was really just interesting to see the whole United States, and to see the different sub-genres that come alive in every city. Every city has its own flavor, its own sound, and its own feel.”
Last summer, the duo traveled all around the states while playing in cities such as Portland, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta. They would wake up in a new state every two to three days, and most of the time they wouldn’t know where they were because they’d have no reception on their cell phones.
“I don’t think that our experience this last summer was the typical summer tour. It was probably the most rapid and expansive experience that people could have together in two months. We both pulled as far apart from each other we’d ever been, and got closer than we’d ever been, and you have to. You have to be able to have that elasticity, and now that it’s been six months since we’ve been out, it’s crazy,” said Lee. “We just watched our tour video for the first time this last week, and it was like a completely different life. We’re both different people than we were at that stage, and it took having that and then having the time to concrete exactly what that experience did for us.”
Eventually, while passing through New Mexico, the guys bought fireworks and took them to California where they’re illegal. So, after driving for thirty hours, they stood on top of their bus at 5:30 a.m. and shot off mortars.
The tour wasn’t all fun and games, though. During their tour, the guys discovered an opossum with a broken leg. So they did what all good guys do—put it in a box, and dropped it off with veterinarians.
“We signed a good samaritan form, and that was it, but I think they [veterinarians] thought it was an inconvenience. They like dealing with cats, not dirty opossums,” said Lee.
After taking six months off, the duo is now heading back to the studio focused on creating the best versions of themselves, while also creating the best music they’ve ever made. They plan on doing more summer festivals and probably another American tour. In the meantime, you can give them a listen on Spotify.
Blowin’ Up: The duo has two songs on Spotify with over 1 million views—“Used” with 1.1 million, and “Smoke and Mirrors” with 1.6 million.
Talent Show: Adam Haagen plays the keyboard, drums, bass, and guitar while performing their songs, while Grady Lee sings on the microphone.