Music is a family affair.
Nora Jane Struthers’ traveling party has increased from five to seven since her last visit to town, but the plus-2 won’t be on stage Saturday at the Southgate House Revival.
Struthers and husband Joe Overton welcomed Annabell Jane in December. A child changes every parent’s life, but the arrival is especially challenging when mom and dad are in a band that makes its living driving from city to city much of the year.
“It is definitely a new logistical … I don’t know the right word,” Struthers laughs as she describes the addition of a child and her caregiver. “It’s a little crazy, but I’m an expert traveler. Regular traveling is not stressful to me. But this is a level up.
“So far we’ve been doing two minivans and it’s actually working well. I do have a Sprinter, a nice tour van, which is getting a new engine now. It’s disappointing to put a new engine in a vehicle that I’m not even going to be using for a while. Maybe we’ll sell it, maybe we’ll keep it, I don’t know.”
When Struthers says “I don’t know,” it sounds a bit jarring. She is not an ambivalent person. She wants to play music. She grew up playing with her father, Alan Struthers. After graduating from New York University in 2005, she taught school in Brooklyn for a few years, then moved to Nashville. She released her bluegrass-heavy, self-titled debut in 2010, then put together the Party Line, a group that included Overton and drummer Drew Lawhorn for “Carnival” in 2013. After adding guitarist Josh Vana and bass player Brian Duncan Miller for “Country EP No. 1” in 2014, the breakthrough came with 2015’s “Wake,” which caught the attention of influencers.
“Champion” arrived two years later. Critics who were woke with “Wake,” raved. On “Fresh Air,” Ken Tucker called it “…one of the most beautiful albums about the joys of marriage or long-term commitment that I’ve heard in a long time.” His NPR colleague, Ann Powers, said Struthers writes “… some of the quietly powerful narratives within the new wave of Americana artists.”
Then larger numbers of people flocked to larger venues to see the makers of this great music, right, and everybody lived happily ever after? Unfortunately life isn’t always fair.
“I think the Ken Tucker ‘Fresh Air’ review really did reach a lot of people. I’ve had people come to shows because of that specifically,” Struthers says. “But these days an artist is more likely to see big gains in exposure or success … are frequently featured in a hit TV show or their song is picked up for the credits of a TV show.
“(Those reviews) haven’t done what I think it would have 10 years ago. But what do I know? I just keep trying to do the thing I love and do it as much as possible.”
The fact that the household has increased by one third – but the audience hasn’t – makes the future possibilities less certain.
“It doesn’t change what I want because I want to play 10 band shows a month to rock out, and then maybe play a weekend of solo or duo (with Overton) shows,” Struthers says. “Because that makes me happy, right?
“We have an album in the can that we recorded in the fall. We’ll put it out next year, and how that album lands will be a deciding factor about how we proceed to play music or (in) what configuration I play music in the future.
Don’t mistake Struthers’ clear-eyed analysis as woe is me. Life is good (the bill for the Sprinter engine notwithstanding). She has a healthy child who took a long and winding road to the world.
“Annabell was conceived with the help of a donor egg. That was an emotional journey for me to arrive at a place where that was the option we needed to take,” she says. “It has certainly been a part of my music and my conversations with fans who have shared their struggles.
“It’s part of my story and it’s part of her story. I’ve had a pretty privileged and happy life, but I did not know the level and quality of joy that being a mother and having this sweet person in my life would bring me. And, yeah, they’re (Overton and Annabell) pals. We have just had so much fun being parents. We’re laughing more. I just feel so grateful and lucky.”
Grateful and lucky also describes Struthers’ recent collaboration with her father, “Rose of My Heart,” which will arrive as a double album (CD and vinyl) that includes their 2008 effort, “I Heard Bluebirds Sing.”
“It was a lot of fun, we’ve been doing this for a long time,” she says. “We basically set up in a room with two vocal mics, two instrumental mics and played. It’s very different from making a band record. We did a weekend of shows in Virginia, and we’re playing Red Wing Roots festival in July, then a couple more runs in the fall. It’s been a lot of fun taking my dad on tour.”
Family and music are a perfect recipe for happiness.
Nora Jane Struthers performing “Grass”.
2019 - Listen
The mother of Annabell Jane, wife of Joe (Overton) and daughter of Alan uses inspiration from her loved ones to write critically acclaimed songs.
Bill recently caught up with Nora Jane.