Photo | Courtesy Neilson Hubbard
NPR Music says Nora Jane Struthers “has some of the most quietly powerful narratives within the new wave of Americana artists.”
Band: Nora Jane Struthers
Date: Saturday, June 23, 7 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 916 Charleston St.,
Tickets: $10 at the door
Watching the maturation of an artist can be a wonderful experience. Five years ago, Nora Jane Struthers came to the Azalea City with a retro-inspired acoustic sound pulled from country’s classic glory days. Her latest album, “Champion,” has brought her into the modern age of indie country.
Struthers’ rugged, world-wise indie country sound is a beautiful one, formed through the intimate, symbiotic relationships that define this singer-songwriter’s art and life. Lagniappe contacted Struthers for an in-depth look into her artistic growth.
Stephen Centanni: It’s been five years since we last spoke. Listening to your latest album, “Champion,” I’d say your sound has evolved, with great results. What brought about this artistic growth?
Nora Jane Struthers: That’s sort of a multipronged thing, I would say. Part of it is that my songwriting style has evolved. Five years ago, I had put out my album “Carnival.” That was the second full-length album of my original songs that I had released in which the songs were all narrative story songs. They came from a traditionally based style of songwriting.
In 2015, I put out an album called “Wake” that really transformed my songwriting style. I was falling in love with my then-bandmate, now-husband (Joe Overton). I found the experience of falling in love so profound that I had something from my own life that I wanted to convey. That record is really autobiographical and deeply personal and not narrative/story-based so much. This album, “Champion,” combines both of those styles. That’s where I’ve been heading all along. It feels like an arrival.
Starting out based in the tradition is a good thing. I think many, many artists and musicians do that. You learn a style and a way of doing things. Then, you get good at working within that style and expanding to the more personal stuff. I think there’s power in both and being able to combine them gives them maximum impact.
Centanni: What kind of reaction have you gotten from people who have been with you since the beginning?
Struthers: You know, overall, the people who are still with me are still with me, and they like it. I think I’ve lost a couple of the more traditional people along the way. I guess I’ve heard fans say that something about the way I write a song is consistent, even though it’s evolved. They say it still sounds like me.
Centanni: This is an album filled with personal and emotional release and discovery that has come from your efforts to overcome infertility. As you transferred these experiences into song, what did you learn about yourself and the world around you?
Struthers: Oh my goodness, Stephen! That’s a tough one! I learned so much. What’s interesting is that in a way I’m still sort of learning from these songs. As my experience changes and as my place in life changes, they take on new meanings for me. That’s what artists do, but I didn’t think that it would happen to me. With any luck, that would be my audience members’ experiences.
I don’t know. I think having to distill my emotions and communicate them through words forces one to be not only honest with oneself but also really specific and get to the heart of whatever it is that I’m feeling. I think that writing the songs definitely helps me process my fears and emotions.
Centanni: So, the title track/lead single really reflects the title. Who are your champions?
Struthers: Well, I feel like I have a whole lot of champions, mind you. Top of the list is my husband and bandmate, Joe Overton, and my bandmates, who are my best friends. They are just so supportive in every way. I feel really, really fortunate. I guess I want to use the word “blessed.” My parents are amazing.
Then, I have a smattering of individuals all over the country who started out as super fans and became friends. They are first-line champions for me. They’re just ready to support me in every way, whether the band needs a place to crash after a gig or funding a new recording. Whatever we might need, there are a lot of people out there who will make it happen.
Centanni: You mentioned your husband, Joe, and he co-wrote the record with you.
Struthers: Not the whole record! Just two songs, my friend.
Centanni: What was it like bringing a male perspective into those songs?
Struthers: We wrote “Each Season” together. That’s a song about being in love and being loved through time. I think it’s kind of genderless. The other song we wrote together is called “The Words.” That one is about conflict in a relationship. It’s funny, because our conflicts are pretty minor, but the song makes them sound kind of epic. It’s an epic song. Writing that song with him, form really followed content with that song.
The way it went down is that I had written a verse and chorus. I wanted him to write a new section of the song. I was like, “Hey! You want to try jumping in on this song with me? I was thinking that maybe you could give me your perspective and give it a new melody and new chord changes to have a separate little section of the song.” He said, “Yeah! I’d love to write that with you!”
Rather than doing the thing that I was hoping for, he wrote beautiful lyrics for two new choruses. It was perfect, because the song is about miscommunication [laughs]. At first, I was like, “Huh, that’s not what I wanted, but I guess that’s kind of the point. Let’s keep it!”
Centanni: This album has been getting a lot of positive attention with the critics and the public. With this being such a personal album, how does it feel to see this album get so much love?
Struthers: It feels really good. I wish it had a little more reach than it does, but that’s not really the point. The people who are listening to it, it’s really meaning something to them, and it feels so good to me.
Centanni: With such a different sound from five years ago when you came with the Party Line, what’s the live show like these days?
Struthers: We still have the Party Line. The band just asked me to drop the band name, because we’re not super famous yet. They were sick of trying to get people to remember “Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line.” I’ve had the same band for four years. So, a year after you and I talked, I got the band that I have now. It’s just the best getting to play consistently with the same people and having all that chemistry and shared experience.