There is a short list of road-trip must-haves for James Struthers as he heads out to Penticton as part of his Canadian tour.
For the 23-year-old Winnipeg singer and songwriter the list has become condensed by necessity. He is a veteran at playing luggage Tetris, cramming things into a station wagon for the seventh time in two years for the cross-country trip.
“The most important things are the audiobooks to keep you sane, snack food, six-hour energy drinks and a good play list. You have to have good music with you. The Band, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, classics of that era. I’m also a huge hip hop fan so People Under the Stairs, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, all that gangster stuff,” he said with a chuckle.
Quite the contrast for the singer whose heartthrob looks and soulful voice have him being compared to Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Jack Johnson. It is his almost Justin Beiber-esque relentless, do-it-yourself work ethic that is getting his music noticed. Start, for example, with his Transformers-inspired, playful video called You, Me and Optimus Prime which has drawn over 200,000 YouTube views. The song was written shortly after moving away from home for the first time to Kelowna while attending post-secondary school.
“I had just moved into my first apartment and I was completely overwhelmed. I had never had that type of responsibility or freedom. I felt like I was growing up way too fast and I got this wave of anxiety and sat to think about what I had been leaving behind as I grow up and I realized that your childhood is something that never really leaves you,” said Struthers. “I tried to write a song to remind people you always have to approach life with a I’m-going-to-grow-old but not-grow-up mentality.”
Struthers said he feels lucky to find what he loves in life and that he gets to wake up every morning to do it. But, it doesn’t come easy. It means sleeping in your vehicle on tour, crashing on couches and a never-ending schedule. His tour this spring includes 50 dates, with very few days off.
“I read this tour manual by a guy named Martin Atkins who was a drummer for Nine Inch Nails for a long time. One of the things he says in the book is off days are budget killers on tour so I try and schedule as tightly as possible,” said Struthers. “My modus operandi is to get out on the road and win fans one-by-one in accompaniment to the online stuff.”
And, it has paid off. His latest tune, What Are We Waiting For, went into rotation on radio stations across the country after being selected as the Bell Media Emerging Artist for April 2012.
“Having one network picking up one of your songs makes it a lot easier for others to jump on board. It is a huge opportunity to get some airplay from commercial radio stations in Canada because it is such a difficult market to crack. I feel incredibly lucky,” said Struthers.
While What Are We Waiting For can come across as a love song, Struthers said it is not what you expect.
“It was more symbolic of my career than anything else. About trying to commit to what I as doing in life,” said Struthers, who co-wrote it with Arun Chaturvedi, the Western Canadian Music Awards 2011 Producer of the Year.
Prior to releasing that song, Struthers had a holiday-themed single, Blue Christmas. This hit the Top 10 in the national adult contemporary radio charts. Travelling with him for most of the tour, including the stop in Penticton on Friday, is pop-rocker Tyler Del Pino, also a Winnipeg-based musician.
“It is very personal when I am travelling with just my guitar and I. I tell a lot of stories about where the songs come from and it is more of a songwriters circle than just a concert,” said Struthers. “Come with open ears, an open heart and I will give you a hug and play some music.”