Band of the Week: The Strumbellas
Listening to The Strumbellas is like driving over a rickety old bridge between the present and the past. While a lot of their country-tinged contemporaries use banjos and fiddles to replicate the musical traditions of years gone by, the Strumbellas use similar elements to craft something vibrant and new while still paying homage to the past.
Precious melodies are woven underneath lead vocalist Simon Ward’s esoteric lyrics and simple, everyman vocal style. Throw in a healthy dose of chorus vocals and it can feel like you’re listening to the happiest chain gang that ever threw off the shackles of the day.
The band recently wrapped up recording a three-song demo with Jason “Cone” McCaslin, bassist for Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41, and are now preparing to lay down a proper full-length in time for a February release date. Currently, the group is holding down a residency at Toronto’s The Cameron House, where they perform every Wednesday night. We caught up with Ward to get the lowdown on The Strumbellas.
So what is it you like most about playing a residency?
I like that it’s weekly, so we get the same people back every week. It’s comfortable. Almost like a family environment … it’s the same place every Wednesday. It’s fun, everybody comes out and it’s just a good time. It’s different than the normal shows because we play for longer than we normally do, we try out music we don’t normally try and we get to drink for free, which is great. And on top of that we love The Cameron House and we’re super excited to go back.
You guys just finished recording, didn’t you?
We just finished recording a little bit. Our album’s taking forever, and we recorded three songs on our own money, and then we applied for FACTOR and got it, so now we’re going to go into the Bathurst studio in September to finish the album. We’re just doing some loose pre-production on it right now.
Are you shopping that around to a label now?
Well, we’re just getting to the stage where we have a couple demos from it. So now our managers are going to start shopping it around and hopefully we get some people on board. We have a distribution deal signed with Fontana North [http://www.fontananorth.com/], so hopefully we can get a good label on board.
Any plans to tour?
Absolutely. But it’s so far away, it’s one of those things we just kind of have to wait and see what happens. Y’know, if people pick us up to go on tour with them, that’s unexpected, and we’ll go. It’s just one of those things that we don’t know [when that will be] yet. We’re definitely going to tour. Our end goal is just to be a mad festival band and just do as many festivals as we can in a year.
So, you guys worked with Cone.
SW: Yeah, we did the three songs with Cone. But he’s on tour for the entire year now, so that’s why we’re not working with him.
So he’s not coming back into the picture anytime soon?
SM: No. He really wanted to and we really wanted to work with him but it just didn’t work out because of his schedule.
Let’s talk a little about how the band got started.
Well I moved to Toronto from Lindsay [Ontario] and I wanted to start a band, so I put an ad on Craigslist and the band literally formed off that. We eventually got down to five of us all from Lindsay. Two of us are still the people left from [the Craigslist ad], but everyone else left or got fired and now it’s five of us from Lindsay.
And what’s the song writing process like for you guys?
Up till now I write it and get it pretty far. I bring it to the table and everyone kind of adds their parts and then it goes collectively from there. So this album is a lot of my songs with the band coming in and adding their parts, which has made them amazing and totally new songs. We’re really hoping to start writing [the next album] together, but this album’s been just a song coming to the band then we add our parts and get a producer on it. That’s what this album is.
Are you finding it difficult managing the new family and work with the band [Simon recently became a father]?
It’s kind of hard to say for sure because right now we’re kind of staying local, but get back to me when we start touring. I can’t say what’s going to happen then, but all of our goals are huge. We’re going to do everything we can to try and get as far as we can as a band. We all want to do this as a living. Right now it’s not so bad, but two years from now the answer to that question could be totally different.
The Strumbellas are:
Simon Ward on vocals and guitar
Jon Hembrey on electric guitar and mandolin
James Oliver on banjo and vocals
Darryl James on piano, autoharp and vocals
Dave Ritter on bass
Jeremy Drury on drums
Izzy Ritchie on fiddle