Interview: Ethan Nguyen and Marquis Miranda–Minor Strut’s Major Guitar Duo
For the past six years, Minor Strut has been on a mission. The Southern California rock band has a stated goal of “inspiring the young and young at heart to learn to play music, and to keep music alive.” Especially the live part.
Playing professionally since 2014, Minor Strut’s spunky, high-energy live shows have been seen by thousands who quickly realize the band isn’t a novelty act, these talented young musicians – now all in their teens – are legit. They can ROCK!
Just ask Joe Carducci, senior product manager for Gretsch Guitars. Joe happened to be working the Lake Havasu Rockabilly Reunion in Arizona several years ago when a new band caught his ears. “I had the Gretsch tent set up next to the stage but couldn’t see the performers,” said Carducci. “When I heard Minor Strut playing, I went around to see the stage expecting to see older guys, but they were just kids, eleven, maybe twelve years old. But they sounded great, looked great, had the right posturing onstage and everything. Their natural, raw talent made me a fan and led to a Gretsch endorsement.”
Fifteen-year-old Ethan Nguyen (his friends call him “E”), started taking guitar lessons when he was seven and is the band’s guitar player, handling both rhythm and lead roles. When Marquis Miranda was also seven, he discovered his favorite instrument: the bass guitar. In addition to their guitar duties, Ethan and Marquis also contribute backup vocals onstage and in the studio. Both are endorsed Gretsch guitar artists and were recently featured on the cover of the Gretsch House Telegram newsletter.
Rounding out the band is Minor Strut’s rock-steady drummer, 15-year-old Aiden Kunhardt (who Ethan and Marquis say is “an animal” on the drums), and 17-year-old Coryn Cahill, the band’s high-energy lead singer and newest member, who began singing at the age of three.
Minor Strut has played the Whisky A Go-Go and other legendary venues around their native California and have shared the stage with Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, drummer Greg Bissonette, Everlast, Guns N’ Roses Bassist Duff McKagan, and other rock luminaries.
In addition to their deep passion for music, the four teenage friends also share another connection: they’re all students at the Rockstars of Tomorrow Musicians Academy. Started a decade ago by musician Michael Anderson, whose goal is to reinvent the way up-and-coming musicians learn and perform music, the school provides a cool, creative environment for young musicians wanting to learn how to play an instrument, sing, or write a song. The school also offers a professional recording studio and even a well-equipped concert room with a stage, sound system, and lights where students can learn how to perform live and with other musicians.
The year is already off to a busy start. Minor Strut was asked to play at the NAMM Show in Anaheim for the third straight year, played at The Cave in Big Bear Lake, California, and will be featured in an upcoming issue of ION Indie Magazine. We recently caught up with Ethan and Marquis (they had just gotten home from school and were hanging out at Ethan’s) to talk by phone about the band’s mission, their biggest influences, their most memorable moments in the band, and, of course, Gretsch guitars.
Ethan, what’s the story behind the mission of Minor Strut: Inspiring the young and young at heart to learn to play music, and to keep music alive?
I was actually inspired by a friend’s older brother. I went over to his house and saw his brother playing guitar and I said, “That’s what I want to do,” I want to keep THAT alive. I see bands today that don’t play live, it’s all pre-recorded, so I think the live aspect of our music, that’s what’s important to me, that’s what I want to keep alive.
Does the musical gene run in your families?
Ethan: No, not really. We don’t come from musical families; we were just raised in families that really like music. There’s always been music in my house as long as I can remember. Rock, alternative, and classic rock.
Marquis: I feel like I was exposed to a lot of musical genres by my family. I mean, from Elvis to Beastie Boys. I listened to all of that, but I stuck with playing rock, but I still listen to everything else, though.
Who are your favorite musicians? Your main influences?
Ethan: I’d say Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, David Gilmour, Slash, and the Foo Fighters.
Marquis: As of right now, my two favorite musicians are Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s crazy. And Joe Dart, the bass player in Vulfpeck. They have a funky vibe to their music and I really enjoy that.
Tell us about your Gretsch arsenal. What guitars do you like playing?
Ethan: My first Gretsch was an Electromatic that I got pinstriped. It was a bit heavy and hurt my shoulder, but I was only ten at the time. Then I got a red Streamliner in 2016 and it was, like, a whole different world. They feel great and I love the sound and the thin necks. Last year I got a Streamliner Center Block Junior. I really love the sound of semi-hollow bodies and they’re just so light.
Marquis: As soon as I joined the band, I got an orange Electromatic hollow body bass that I really like. And I plan on getting another Gretsch bass soon. A solid body.
(Gear Update: New guitars that Ethan and Marquis had picked out at Winter NAMM were delivered to their homes a few days after this interview. You’ll now see Ethan playing a Bigsby-equipped G5622T Electromatic Center Block Double-Cut in Imperial Stain, and Marquis playing a solid body G2220 Junior Jet Bass II in Torino Green!)
Marquis, what steered you to the bass guitar?
When I was four, my mom put me into a lot of different activities. I took singing lessons, piano lessons, drum lessons, guitar lessons, and then bass lessons when I was seven. And I just stuck with the instrument that I was naturally better at, which was the bass. Plus, I wasn’t seeing many famous bass players in the industry back then, so I guess that was one of the main things that kept me doing it.
How would you describe your guitar roles within Minor Strut?
Ethan: I cover both the rhythm and lead guitar parts. I enjoy it, but it’s definitely hard at times. If we’re covering a song that has multiple guitar parts, it’s a little difficult to cover all of that, but I usually pick out the necessary parts and put them all together.
Marquis: As the bass player, I see my job as staying in tune with our drummer, Aiden. I’m also there to help out, when I can, if Ethan has to play multiple guitar parts in a song.
You’ve played at some famous venues around L.A. Any memorable moments?
Ethan: I remember the first time we played at the Whisky A Go-Go, and I was, like, awestruck, because at that time Slash was my favorite guitar player. And our keyboardist’s dad took his finger and wiped it on the floor of the Whisky, put it on my face and said, “That’s Slash’s DNA right there.” I was kind of freaked out. I’ll never forget that.
Marquis: My most memorable moment was my first show with Minor Strut at The House of Blues. I was given the set’s songs to learn, but the crowd asked for an encore. And I was, like, this is really cool, but then I realized I didn’t know any other songs that Minor Strut played. So, I had to learn a song on the spot. Onstage. They just told me the chords right then and there; it’s C and D and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I learned it onstage and didn’t mess up as much as I thought I would. I did okay.
How important has being a student at Rockstars of Tomorrow Musicians Academy been to your musical journey?
Marquis: They’ve really helped me grow as a musician. It’s become less of a music school and more like a family. I don’t think of it as lessons, I think of it as an opportunity to hang out with my friends and make new music and grow musically.
Ethan: I wouldn’t be anywhere near the level I’m at right now. They’ve helped me a lot, especially the private lessons. Every year they have a Christmas program where they pull kids who have auditioned and put them into bands and have them perform different Christmas songs. That really grew my comfort as a musician to play with other musicians.
What are your plans and goals this year for Minor Strut?
Ethan: To continue growing. In the past we had always been a cover band, but we’re writing more original music and trying to find our sound, which is a cross of alternative, rock, a little bit of classic rock. It’s kind of hard to describe. We’re a bit eclectic.
Marquis: I agree with Ethan. We’re just wanting to play more gigs and eventually come out with another EP and just gain more experience.
Ethan, you’ve been with Minor Strut since day one when you were only nine. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from other musicians?
To start playing music at a young age, play as long as you can, and just stay humble.
Below, enjoy Minor Strut performing a cover of “Anna Molly” by Incubus at a recent private event in California. Video by Kunhardt Photography.
Feature photo of Ethan playing his Streamliner Center Block Junior at The Cave in Big Bear, CA in November 2019 when Minor Strut opened for The Atari’s by Kunhardt Photography.
Feature photo of Marquis performing at the Orange International Street Fair in September 2019 by Kunhardt Photography.