Nora Jane Struthers' 2017 release Champion solidified the reputation that the Nashville-based singer-songwriter had built on a series of prior releases under her own name that stretches back to her 2010 self-titled release. Struthers and her band will perform at the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine on Sunday, July 1.
What was the early path in your career? Did you start off doing open mic nights and graduate to touring and recording?
My path to being a musician is a long and twisting one, as I think most peoples' are. I grew up playing bluegrass music with my dad. I went to college, I got my degree in English education, I taught high school English for three years in Brooklyn. During that time I was playing some music out with my dad in our little father/daughter bluegrass-y duo. I was just realizing that even though I loved teaching, and I really did, there was a part of me that was deeply unsatisfied and I need to pursue music while I was young and unattached or I just wasn't going to be able to forgive myself for not trying. I moved to Nashville and within three months started making my first album. From there I have just been figuring it out. Got a manager, got an agent, found a band and then learned many, many lessons along the way.
Do you feel like teaching helped with your performance or vice-versa?
I think performing and teaching are very similar. More than anything I think my experiences as a teacher helped prepare me to manage a band.
[Laughs.] Do you want to say more about that?
I don't mean the humans so much. I mean the logistics. A little bit of the inter-personal management for sure. But more all the logistics.
Let me ask you about the album Champion. It seems that this record has been really kind to you in terms of getting critical praise. Did you have an idea that would happen as you were making it?
You can never know. I believed, when I made it, it was the best thing I'd ever made. My previous albums have gotten me some support from media outlets like NPR and Rolling Stone. I was hopeful, I suppose.
One of the things that happened with this record was that Ken Tucker reviewed it on Fresh Air. When something like that happens do you see an uptick in sales?
Before streaming that was very much what used to happen. These days, yeah, we had an uptick in sales. But it's not thousands. It's 50 or 150 if you're lucky.
You have had the same band together for four years. That's not always easy to do. How have you pulled it off as a bandleader?
I don't even know! I always treat people the best that I can and sometimes better than I can, financially. But I think we just found the right group of humans. We're all best friends and love traveling around together. The band may not stay together forever. Peoples' lives go in different directions and that's totally something that one has to understand and expect and support but I'm just cherishing every gig we get to play together because it's really fun.
Summertime is such a rich period for people to be on tour and performing live. I've always wondered, as a musician, do you feel like you're losing the summer by doing all that traveling or do you feel like it's the best possible way to spend your time?
It's really a wonderful way to spend the summer because you get to experience different climates and see different friends and, obviously, we're doing our favorite thing, which is to play music. So summertime is the best time to be a musician.