Putting nonsense to good use

How someone who hated playing music and couldn’t sing ended up a musician

Local singer-songwriter James Struthers takes a fashionable riverside squat. Struthers, who began playing music at an early age, will be releasing his debut EP Nadia March 25 at the Pyramid Cabaret.

Don’t let James Struthers fool you – the local songwriter may sing about Transformers and Easy-Bake Ovens, but he has a sound and style beyond his years.

Struthers, 21, began his musical journey at the ripe age of three or four years old, when his mother enrolled him in piano lessons against his will.

“I hated piano. My mom made me stay in [lessons] for a long time and at one point we made a deal: [she would] buy me an Xbox or Playstation or something like that if I continued,” said Struthers of his final days of piano lessons before entering high school.

It wasn’t long until Struthers picked up a guitar instead. Trying to sing turned out to be more of a challenge.

“I actually couldn’t sing at all. Once I got good enough to play and hum along, I started singing by myself and in the shower,” said Struthers. “I was awful. The first time I sang in front of my sister and her friend, they struggled to keep from laughing. But I stuck with it. I don’t know why but I just kept singing.”

After high school Struthers moved out to Kelowna, B.C. where he went to school at UBC Okanagan, a smaller branch of UBC Vancouver. After spending a couple years snowboarding the mountains and going to school, he started to reconnect again with his music.

“I started playing a lot of open mics in Kelowna, and I decided I wanted to take this a little more seriously. Kelowna isn’t a good city to do that in because they don’t really have much of a local music scene,” Struthers said.

He came back home to Winnipeg and began writing songs for his new album.

“I was kind of lonely when I moved back here. I left somebody behind in Kelowna. That’s kind of the inspiration of the album,” said Struthers.

His songwriting process proved to be a little unorthodox.

“I don’t normally start off with intent or with inspiration. It’s kind of a free flow exercise. When I start songwriting, I’ll say nonsense until I hear something I like, which is a very private process for me. I can’t write with other people around me or I’ll sound schizophrenic,” Struthers explained.

Struthers described this odd process stemming from frustration at looking at a blank page.

“It became more and more clear as I embarked on this album that it was subconscious things that were flowing out,” he said.

The six-song EP, which Struthers will be releasing on Thursday, March 25 at the Pyramid Cabaret, is titled Nadia.

“The summation of [Nadia] is the excitement of the beginning of a relationship. Your first childish views of love and the stuff in between falling in love and having your heart broken.”

Songs on the EP range from the upbeat You, Me and Optimus Prime to the mellow Tanqueray Blues and, ultimately, the regretful title track Nadia.

With help from his friend, local R&B songstress Flo, Struthers applied and received a demo grant through Manitoba Film and Music and began recording through Pipe and Hat. Fellow musician Arun Chaturvedi also gave Struthers a hand, and he was finally able to release the album.

“People keep asking me why [the album is called] Nadia, and I keep responding, ‘That’s a conversation we’ll have over a bottle of wine.’”

Published in Volume 64, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 18, 2010)

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