Nora Jane Struthers

High Noon Saloon Presents

Nora Jane Struthers

Korby Lenker, Lost Lakes

Monday, August 28th 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$10 adv / $12 dos

This event is 21 and over

Nora Jane Struthers
Nora Jane Struthers
I am living in a dream when I wake

You are my bright shining star you guide the way . .

Wake. The evocative one-word title speaks volumes about what’s happening on Nora Jane Struthers’ latest album. For the thirty-year old singer-songwriter, it’s “wake” in several senses of the word. There’s the trail of a life and career behind her, the slipstream of lessons learned. There’s the quiet observance and letting go of who she has been up until now as both an artist and a person. And most of all, there’s the stirring of something new, an opening of a door and wide-eyed rush forward into a place of discovery and dizzying possibilities. And it’s all set to a soundtrack that resonates with the warm uplift of the first day of spring.

In short, Nora Jane Struthers has fallen in love.

“The whole album is about strength through vulnerability,” she says. “That’s what I’ve come to as an artist, and a human being, and I think it’s the most powerful force in my life. I feel so much more like my childhood self now than I did over the past five years, than I have in my whole adult life. In my twenties, I had a tendency to compartmentalize pieces of my musical identity. For instance, how could I reconcile my love of both bluegrass and Pearl Jam? I did the same thing in my personal life, where I had this sort of idea of who I wanted to be, and ignored all these other pieces of myself, because I didn’t think they fit into some imagined big picture.

“But this experience of falling in love blew that whole thing apart,” she continues. “Looking back, my previous two albums feel so safe. They had literary merit, contributing to the traditional canon in a way that I was proud of. But it all felt masked by these narratives that were not directly my own. These new songs are autobiographical. I’m looking inward, allowing that to be what my art is. To take away the narrative safety net and then the sonic safety net and just give myself over to my own story and my own feelings, was scary but exhilarating.”

That exhilaration courses through the whole album, with an unmoored feeling that reminds us that the gravitational direction of finding love is as much about rising as it is falling. Opener “The Same Road” percolates along with percussive banjo and side-stick then lifts into a panoramic chorus, while “Dreamin,’” soaked in classic Bakersfield good vibes, threads its infectious charm through with chugging train rhythms, twangy guitar and pedal steel. “When I Wake” is pure harmony bliss, with Struthers and Joe Overton echoing early ’70s Gram & Emmylou. “The Wire” shimmers with poetic reflection (“The truth is I didn’t see the wire until I saw the bird”) and the radio-ready “Lovin’ You” pulls off the three-and-a-half minute miracle, with Struthers’ warm, engaging alto finding fresh imagery like, “If I was a crocus lovin’ you would be the spring / If I was an eagle lovin’ you would be my wings . .” Other highlights include the fiery slide-guitar powered “I Ain’t Holdin’ Back,” the call-and-response, southern-fried “Don’t Care” and the hushed, split-rail tenderness of “The South.” The whole record, a 53-minute celebration of that heart-to-heart, flesh-to-flesh connection that reminds us we’re alive, also feels like a major artistic arrival.

Struthers’ ascent to this new plateau has been a steady one. Born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, she began playing as a pre-teen. attending festivals and fiddlers’ conventions around the south with her banjo-playing father. “These were pretty much just a group of musicians camping in a muddy field for a week, playing tunes and singing songs,” she recalls. “But these traditional music communities greatly influenced me and informed my decision later to move to Nashville and try to become a professional musician.” After graduating from NYU with an education degree, she taught high school English in Brooklyn and put her music career on the back burner. But a visit to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in the early 2000s changed that. Watching one of her heroes, Tim O’Brien, she stood in front of the stage, glanced back at the crowd and the mountains and thought, “This is what I want to do.” There followed that move to Nashville, much woodshedding as a writer and touring, with Bearfoot, and her first solo-fronted group, the Bootleggers (who won the 2008 Telluride band competition). Along the way, she worked with bluegrass stars like O’Brien, Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton, and released two critically-acclaimed albums. But it was in 2012, when Struthers formed the Party Line, that everything started to come into sharper focus.

She says, “With the Party Line, I found the people I want to be with. And what instruments they play are what my band became. So I didn’t find a fiddle player. I found a great electric guitar player who I love hanging around with, and who wants to commit to my music. What I love about our instrumentation is the balance between rock ‘n’ roll vibe and old time acoustic feeling. Those two specifically are the balance between my guitarist Josh Vana and Joe Overton. Josh plays with more of a rock feeling. Joe runs what I call the roots utility. He plays open backed banjo, resonator banjo, fiddle and pedal steel guitar. It’s a really interesting balance between roots and rock. I don’t know a lot of other female-fronted bands that are doing quite what we’re doing, so I feel like maybe we have something unique, which is always a good thing.”

Having the right band also led Struthers to realize that she wanted to change her approach to record-making. “My last album Carnival took a step away from certain aspects of the digital, highly-produced approach. There’s no auto-tuning. I made it with the band, not session players. But the songs weren’t road-tested, so we put the arrangements together in the studio. After touring that record and seeing how the songs evolved as a result of playing them for audiences, I just knew that I wanted to make the next record after road-testing the material and allowing it to grow.”

Inspired by what she calls the “grit and vibe” of recent favorite albums by Hayes Carll and Jason Isbell, she and the band hunkered down in the Bomb Shelter studio in Nashville, with Struthers taking on the daunting first-time challenge of self-producing.

“Oh my gosh, it was exhausting, and I’m never doing it again” she says with a laugh. “I’ve made several albums so I have a basic knowledge of how to work with people in the studio. I really wanted to capture performances. And the biggest challenge as producer was getting everybody, including myself, to step out from their individual parts and listen to the whole. And say, “Maybe you didn’t play that drum fill the way you wanted to play it. But listen to the whole song, and isn’t it great?” That’s what we kept coming back to. We could zoom in as much as we want, but when you really zoom out, isn’t this great?’ That being said, it ending up being harder than I imagined to be the artist and producer at the same time. If only because when you’re trying to save your voice for singing, talking to your band members can just be vocally taxing.”

The end result was worth it. And the Party Line comes across as a classic example of the model supporting band, a la the Heartbreakers or the Cardinals. Nobody overplays. The pieces always fit. Overton, Vana and bassist Brian Duncan Miller and drummer Drew Lawhorn all get their moments to shine, but their tasteful parts are first and foremost in service of the song.

Struthers affirms, “When I got the test pressing and listened to it, I just cried and laughed my way through the record. It was the most beautiful experience to see that black vinyl spinning and think, ‘Wow, so much went into the making of this record, and we did it!’ That’s a beautiful place to be living before a record comes out.”

As she looks ahead to a busy 2015 of touring and promoting Wake, Struthers says she’s “ready to go for it.” With a strong team around her, both business and street (she’s been very successful with Kickstarter fan-funding), she pauses to reflect on what she hopes this record might mean to her listeners. “I try to put myself out there and be vulnerable and trust that what people give me back is loving. I hope that people listen to these songs and are given some courage to take a risk, be vulnerable and brave, allow themselves to embrace imperfection. And I hope that that has a positive influence on the way that they are able to lead their lives and interact with people that they love.”
Korby Lenker
Korby Lenker
Korby Lenker is a sneaky-good songwriter. And singer. And multi-instrumentalist.

An abbreviated list of Lenker’s achievements so far includes: a significant amount of airplay on the legendary Seattle indie rock station KEXP; a BBC 2 interview with Bob Harris, which is only about the highest honor a rootsy singer-songwriter touring the U.K. can get; opening slots for acts ranging from Willie Nelson to Ray LaMontagne, Nickel Creek, Keith Urban, Susan Tedeschi and Tristan Prettyman; a successful run with one of the hottest young West Coast bluegrass bands of the aughts; and wins in the Merlefest folk songwriting contest as well as the Kerrville Folk Festival’s elite New Folk songwriting competition.

Lenker’s composition “My Little Life” brought him the Kerrville honors this year. It doesn’t seem possible that one song could work so well in such disparate worlds, but it also proved its powers as a galvanizing piece of indie-pop, drawing a small army of likeminded, rising Nashville artists and personalities—Jeremy Lister and Katie Herzig to name two—to make lip-syncing, ukulele-strumming cameos in Lenker’s music video.

The song—which is on the Heart of Gold EP he co-produced with A-list keyboardist Tim Lauer this year—itself points to the uncommon mixture of abilities Lenker has honed. It’s imminently accessible and effortlessly tuneful, plus the lyrics express a familiar idea in playfully unexpected ways while pointing to thoughtfulness just beneath the surface. You can tell the guy’s well-read, but he never comes off as too clever for his own good.

“I like it simple,” says Lenker. “I just do. As soon as there’s a weird chord, I’m like, ‘Why? That’s all been done. Who cares?’ What’s really hard is to hit people in the heart and to reach them. That’s what I’m trying to do: make music that’s easily likeable, but with a kind of secret sophistication. I’m always trying to write a song that you can hum along with on the first listen. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I’d like to hear that again.’ Then maybe you hear it 20 times and you’re like, ‘Damn, that’s actually something I’m going to think about now.’”

But there’s a lot more than that to his instinctual, unorthodox journey from being brought up as a mortician’s son in rural Idaho to being recognized as one of the more innovative voices in Nashville’s current music scene.

Back in high school, Lenker had a cover band that enabled him to try on various alt-rock identities. “We covered ‘Under the Bridge,’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he says, “and I didn’t know this at the time, but I listened to it recently and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s Korby trying to sing like Anthony Keidis. And this is Korby trying to sing like Trent Reznor.’”

After that, he got really into transcribing Trey Anastasio guitar solos as part of his music theory studies at Western Washington University. He also spent a semester in West Virginia with only his Martin D-18 acoustic guitar for company.

Here’s a bit of insight into the spontaneous spirit that makes Lenker’s music so interesting: He picked up a bargain bin copy of the journalistic snake handling memoir Salvation on Sand Mountain, and, with that alone to go on, decided to drive until he found one of the mountain churches mentioned in the book.

Lenker got new perspective, and a song about a snake-handling preacher, from the experience. “I ended up going home with one of the families,” he says. “We rode home with the snake in the box in the backseat. And I got to be friends with this kid who was my age—I was 23 at the time, and he was 23. We couldn’t have had more different backgrounds. He had an 8th grade education. But we somehow also had a lot in common. We ended up trading letters back and forth for years.”

Lenker returned to the Pacific Northwest inspired by his Appalachian adventures and fully immersed himself in the region’s bluegrass scene, forming a band called The Barbed Wire Cutters that proved to be an immediate hit in those parts. And he found ways to apply his pop-honed sensibilities to that tradition.

“I like it tight,” he offers about his experience fronting the 5 piece bluegrass outfit, which SPIN magazine called “The Young Riders of the bluegrass revolt”. “I like the solos short and I like harmonies in tune…it was all song-driven for me.”

All this time, Lenker was also making solo albums, and that became his primary focus with the folk-leaning Bellingham, which went over wonderfully in the U.K. and landed him on Bob Harris’s BBC Radio 4 show. After a move to Seattle, he got the urge to plug in again, hooked up with Candlebox drummer Scott Mercado and made a nimble modern rock record called King of Hearts that got lots of spins on KEXP and a 4 star review in UK mainstay MOJO magazine.

Toward the end of the last decade, Lenker followed his muse down to his present home of Nashville where he’s not only continued to hone his own unique artistic voice, but launched a stripped-down series of performance videos dubbed Wigby, spotlighting kindred musical spirits he’s found.

“I love those videos,” he says, “because it’s just people being great. It’s not production—it’s just, ‘Can you sing? Can you write a great song? Can you play your instrument well?’”

Deep down, Lenker is drawn both to the sort of unadorned expression the discerning folkie crowd treasures and to the sort of playful pop embellishment and electronic textures that may land one of his tracks in a primetime T.V. show or film any day now.

And there’s nothing at all wrong with having it both ways musically when it comes this naturally. “I can’t abandon either one of them,” Lenker says, “because they’re both so me. One of my favorite musicians in the world, bassist and composer Edgar Meyer once said in an interview ‘The boundaries of music have been and always should be limitless.’ I couldn’t agree more.”
Lost Lakes
Lost Lakes
Lost Lakes is a collaboration between Corey Mathew Hart and Paul Mitch. The two met during a songwriting competition held by a local radio station. It wasn't until they returned for a duets portion of the follow year's competition that Corey saw Paul play bass and singing harmonies. The first time Corey and Paul played together, they clicked musically and personally. The collaboration has grown over the years, developing into a strong songwriting and production team with a focus on well-crafted tunes and tight vocal harmonies. Lost Lakes' self-titled debut record bears witness to their talents and the fact the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Recorded over a 9 month period, the recording process was a labor of love. Paul and Corey produced the record and enlisted percussionist Shane Leonard (Field Report, The Stray Birds) along with longtime bandmate Rusty Lee on keyboards to fill out the sound. The project was recorded in a shared warehouse space called the Dojo. Many of the basic tracks were recorded live in 2 separate sessions with overdubs done in small Thursday night sessions. Being fairly porous to the outside elements, the temperature in the Dojo ranged from 41 degrees to well over 100 over the course of the project, adding a sense of adventure to the sessions. Being able to take their time for this project gave Corey and Paul a lot of freedom to try different sounds and arrangements for songs they have been playing live for a couple of years. With no pressure, no deadline, and a giant warehouse space filled with eclectic gear, the two managed to create a record of the highest quality.

When it came time to mix the album, Corey and Paul called on an old acquaintance, Grammy award winning engineer Justin Guip. The two had met Guip years ago when they opened for The Amy Helm (daughter of Levon Helm) at a Barn show in Spring Green, WI. Guip also happened to have just finished a record with the Stray Birds that Shane Leonard played percussion on. The past and present collided, and the timing couldn't have been better. Corey and Paul approached Guip about mixing the record and he was very excited about the songs and tracks that were laid down at the Dojo. Guip's aesthetic greatly aligned with the vision that Paul and Corey had for the record, and the result is a compelling masterpiece.
Venue Information:
High Noon Saloon
701A E. Washington Ave
Madison, WI, 53703
http://www.high-noon.com/