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SoundCheck: Always Out in Bars Talking to Random Strangers

Whitney Houseman

Songwriter Ryan Wallace had a band name tucked away long before he actually had a band.

“I can thank my mom for the name. I don’t remember exactly what she said. She was talking about someone that she didn’t hold in real high esteem and about how they spent their time always out in bars just talking to random strangers,” said Ryan

By the time 2010 rolled around, Ryan had written enough songs to record an EP.

“So, I went into a small studio in Nevada, Missouri, now defunct. The Armadillo Sound Studio,” he said.

Throwing together musicians from this recording session, he finally had the Random Strangers: himself on guitar and vocals, David Byerly on guitar, Nathan Rorabaugh (Roar-ah-bah) on drums, and Cody Reed on bass. Little did Ryan know, the band name would prove fitting through the years.

Ryan moved from his native Nevada to Springfield and the randomness of the Random Strangers grew. Nathan moved to Nashville and Alex Stephens replaced him on drums. Skyler Smith replaced David on guitar.

Even with the personnel changes, Ryan kept the Random Strangers name.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
Clinton Houseman, Alisha Thomas and Ryan Wallace in the KSMU studios.

“And at first, even when the lineup was steady, the name was sorta fitting because at most shows we had, there was always somebody there that we knew that played music that would, we’d come have a song or two with us,” said Ryan.

“Like me,” said Clinton Houseman. 

“Yeah,” said Ryan.

Clinton Houseman is the current guitarist for the band. According to Ryan, he’s been around long before he was in the band.

“He’s probably been to at least as many Random Strangers shows as I have,” said Ryan.

Clinton says he was always in close proximity.

“Three years ago there was another lineup change and the band had basically been reduced down to Ryan and Cody Reed,” he said.

Ryan picked up Clinton, as well as Alisha Schroeder on drums. The Random Strangers were back in business. So was a guitar that used to be with the band.

“Actually the guitar, the Les Paul that I play, I bought from the original guitar player in the Random Strangers,” said Clinton.

“So that guitar has been with the band,” said Jessica Balisle.

“For the most part, yeah, it stayed with band,” said Clinton

Another Alisha—Alisha Thomas—had been interested in the band and was looking for a way in.

“I knew about the Random Strangers for a while and I’d wanted to play with them for a while, but I didn’t really have anything to contribute – yet. And then I decided that I wanted to start trying to play fiddle. And so, I kind of have been just figuring that out,” said Alisha.

Just one year ago, Alisha picked up the fiddle and began teaching herself to play. But she’s fit right in and has even helped create a new sound for the band.

Credit Whitney Houseman
The Random Strangers (from left to right: Clinton Houseman, Alisha Thomas, Ryan Wallace, Cody Reed)

“Whenever I came in with the fiddle, Cody decided to start playing upright bass. And we lost the drummer, so then that kind of made it more of an acoustic thing,” said Alisha.

That’s the loss of Alisha Schroeder on drums. The Random Strangers picked up Seth Randolph to fill the drum void, but nowadays, he plays on an as-needed basis.

“I guess it’s just kind of a way for us to be more versatile and kind of fit whatever room we’re scheduled to play in,” said Ryan.

As the band has adapted to its randomness over the years, the sound has developed and changed and changed back again. The band had started out with a honky-tonk country vibe, but then Ryan tells me that drifted away after a while.

Then they got back to its honky-tonk roots with Alisha Thomas joining on fiddle and Cody switching to upright bass. The Random Strangers seem to effortlessly shift with whatever way the wind blows them.

Thanks for tuning into SoundCheck. I’m Jess Balisle.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.
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