From the Downingtown High School West marching band to Nashville recording studios, it's been a trajectory of long odds - and long hours - for Liz Longley and Sarah Zimmermann.

The Chester County natives met in the marching band as clarinet-playing sophomores, and spent their high school years singing and playing guitar at every gig they could book in the Philadelphia region.

But both had bigger dreams after their 2006 graduation.

And in March, just days apart, each released albums with Nashville record labels.

"To have met that long ago and to have come all this way, and now our dreams are coming true at the same time, it's pretty cool," Zimmermann said.

"It is pretty cool," Longley said. "It's so weird to look back and think we both never doubted for a second that this is what we wanted to do with our lives."

Speaking on a recent conference call, the longtime friends, each now 27, said they still consider each other teammates even though their music-making days in Downingtown have ended.

"It's like having a sister," Longley said. "My dad will YouTube [search] Sarah and just stand there and cry. He's so proud of her."

Zimmermann is part of a duo, Striking Matches. She met her partner, Justin Davis, while attending Belmont University in Nashville, and they immediately connected.

Singing original songs and playing guitar around Nashville got them noticed, and they signed a publishing deal with Universal Music. The TV drama Nashville wrote several of their songs into the show.

The duo eventually signed with the label I.R.S. Nashville, and their record, Nothing But the Silence, was released on March 23. Since then, it has twice gone to No. 1 on the iTunes country chart in the United Kingdom.

Last week, the pair played at the Grand Ole Opry for the 45th time, Zimmermann said.

"We still pinch ourselves every day," she said.

Sometimes people are shocked by Zimmermann's prowess as a guitarist as she and Davis switch off playing lead, she said.

"It's so basically avant-garde for a woman to be playing an electric guitar in a screaming fashion, as she does, that it's very magnetic," said John Grady, the I.R.S. Nashville president, who signed them.

Longley, who moved to Nashville after graduating from Berklee School of Music in Boston, said she developed a fan base while touring during college.

She released three records independently over the years, and won awards for songwriting, including the John Lennon Scholarship of the BMI Foundation.

Her self-titled latest record, released on March 17, was funded through a Kickstarter campaign but has since been supported by her new label, Sugar Hill Records and Rounder Label Group.

Both women grew up with diverse musical influences - James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin - and don't classify themselves as completely country.

"I just go with 'singer-songwriter' because it's broad enough that you can't really be boxed in," Longley said.

Music is in their genes. Zimmermann's brothers play drum and bass, and her dad was Longley's clarinet teacher before the girls met.

Longley's father often acted as their own personal Simon Cowell, the American Idol judge, Longley said.

"There was a synergy that was unbelievable when you heard it coming out of 16- or 17-year-olds," said Bob Longley, who runs an insurance agency in Exton. "When they sang, it was like the same voice."

In high school, the girls performed together almost every weekend, sometimes playing three-hour-long sets. It's something they laugh about now.

"I give a lot of credit to Liz and her family for helping me realize what I wanted to do," Zimmermann said. "Playing with Liz helped me realize, 'Yeah, I really want to do this.' And it gave me the courage that I could."

They also played in the high school jazz ensemble, at school talent shows, and even at their own prom.

"They were pretty exceptional," said Doug Bennett, their band director at Downingtown West.

These days, it's rare that the two friends are in Nashville at the same time. But as they grow, they continue to celebrate their victories large and small together as they navigate the business.

"It feels like it's ever-changing, but that's good. That's what makes this feel like a dream come true every day," Zimmerman said.

Longley, who just finished touring the East Coast and Midwest, will spend May playing the West Coast. Striking Matches will headline shows in the U.K. before touring the East Coast.

"We left everything that was comfortable to take a chance on what we wanted to do," Longley said. "We're so lucky that for both of us, it's worked out."

jmcdaniel@philly.com

610-313-8205

@McDanielJustine