Interview with Nora Jane Struthers

On Her Successful Kickstarter Campaign & The Future of Crowdfunding

Nora Jane Struthers has just self-released Carnival with a new band, The Party Line, formed just prior to heading into the studio last fall. Although it’s a fresh band, Struthers is already excited about how things are coming together out on the road.

Her music has been described as Appalachian-roots-rock and has come together over the last few years in Nashville. Struthers best describes herself as a storyteller. “When you go to a carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story,” she says. “That’s why I’m trying to do with this album – craft vignettes, and in some cases more developed narratives, about imaginary people’s lives.”

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Produced by Brent Truitt (Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks) at his studio in East Nashville, Carnival is comprised of 14 fresh, original compositions.

You have been touring over the last three years with different projects; how did you put the new band together?

When I moved to Nashville I met Joe Overton and we were actually roommates for a couple of months before he moved away.  I got him to move back to Nashville to be in the band, which was really great. Aaron [Jonah Lewis], the fiddle player, I have known him for about ten years. We met at a Galax Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention in Virginia.  We spent a week camping in the mud and playing music; I go to that every August. I always wanted to have him in my band and he actually moved from Berlin back to Nashville to be in the band with me – so that was pretty cool.

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So he was actually in Berlin at the time when you guys started talking?

Yeah, totally, he had been living in Berlin for three years and he always comes back to the States for this festival that I was just telling you about. I booked him for a couple of gigs, and after playing a week together we decided that there was great chemistry and we would give it a shot playing together.

When you got together did you play out live or head into the studio?

Well, I had a pile of songs and we had a couple of weeks of just arranging and then we went into the studio.  We hadn’t played a gig before we made the record, which is totally a weird thing to do, I think, but it turned out great and it was really a fun experience. I’m really proud of what we did.

The style has changed a little from the last project.

I was trying to get more contemporary with this one. The musicians bring themselves to the music, especially our drummer. Drew [Lawhorn] is the youngest guy in the band and he never has been into any sort of bluegrass or roots music. I think what Drew brings to the [group] is something really that sets us apart, and I also really love that we have clawhammer banjo and a full drum kit. It is a unique combination and I like the way it sets up the parts more than other string bands.

nora jane struthers 01The band set up allows you to do things like going from SXSW to bluegrass festivals to the Folk Alliance. 

Yeah, we went up to the International Folk Alliance in Canada last February and that’s dead on, we are able to be pretty versatile. We are able to play acoustic instruments, but we can also play a 16-channel set on a festival stage and rock it.

Where do you seem to get the most airplay or a crowd?

For such a young band it is hard to say. I mean, I have been touring now for almost four years.  So there are lots of bands that have been touring for a lot longer than that.  But, I think our focus is in the Southeast and Northeast. I get out to the Midwest once or twice a year and California and Colorado once a year, so that is where we have been returning to now and then.

What was your favorite show so far this year?

There is a festival south of Austin and it’s held in this school that is like a hundred year old chapel with a beautiful wood mantel. They have a great lineup and really nice folks. It is my third year returning to that festival and I am really excited to go there again with the band and show them off.

As far as equipment, what is your main guitar you use for writing?

I have two acoustic guitars and I love them both.  One of them is a vintage Martin D18 and it’s just an amazing instrument; I got it from Gruhn Guitars [in Nashville]. But, I didn’t want to put a pickup or anything in that one so I also purchased a Collings.  It’s a small-bodied Collings, you know, made in Texas and that came with a pickup in it. It’s my road guitar. So, I play my Martin when I am at home just because I miss it, but I have my Collings for when I am on the road.

What are some of things that need to be taken care of on the road when you’re touring?

I have put a lot of focus on being able to keep in touch with the people who, maybe, purchased a shirt. I’m really big about signing people up on the email list and putting their zip codes down so I can let them know when we are coming back to their area.  I feel like artists get a little self-conscious about trying to get people to sign up on the email list or buy CDs, and I think I have adopted the attitude that people are getting something out of me. The music that I am playing is adding to their lives and they want to know when we are coming back.  The only way for them to know when we are coming back is for me to be in touch with them.

This was probably a big help for your successful Kickstarter campaign.

Yeah, well for my last record I did a Kickstarter campaign and I made $22,000 to make this record; that is sort of why everything happened in the order that it did.  I raised the money and I had all these songs and I found the band and then we arranged them and made the record in the studio. It is kind of a backwards way to do things, but my experience with Kickstarter was so empowering and it’s because, you know, I was able to get in touch with the people that came and saw me through the years and really cared about what I was doing. They wanted to support me in that and that’s just an amazing feeling – I’m not on a record label or anything, which I’m very happy with. I didn’t want to be on a record label at this point, really, and potentially ever because it’s easy to do it yourself if you have the support of people around the country.

NoraJSThe Kickstarter campaign was a success. Do you think it will be feasible in the future, with so many artists doing the same thing?

I think it is going to be a feasible option in the future.  I mean, one of the other good things about Kickstarter is now a couple hundred people are going to be really excited about your new record and they are going to come out to the show and they realize they are a part of why it exists. We are going to see those people while touring before we make another record and then we have whole other group of people who are excited about us. The reward process for Kickstarter has been fun, sending stuff in the mail [to donors] – like t-shirts and pressing a really awesome deluxe vinyl version of the record that I’m excited about.

Are you doing the pressing in Nashville?

I am; it is quite a process. I didn’t have any experience with vinyl. The learning curve is pretty steep, actually.

Did you make a trip over to United Record Pressing?

Yeah, they are doing the duplication and George Ingram cut the music to vinyl and made the master.

That’s great information for other people who are trying to get their music that far.  

I really am getting into merchandising because it’s fun and people like to buy stuff with the CD, so you can do package deals and I have some really cool t-shirts [made up]. I’m selling beer cozies shaped like a cowboy boot and stickers also. I have a friend who is an artist out in California that did 14 original illustrations for the title song. They could be made into a storybook and I am going to be selling those at shows. There is so much to keep up with; it’s kind of crazy!

www.norajanestruthers.com

photos by Scott Simontacchi

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