According to the band’s biography, The Strumbellas’ vocalist/guitarist and chief songwriter, Simon Ward was motivated by the juxtaposition of balancing global touring activities with commitments to his wife and three children in small-town Lindsay Ontario when he penned the lyrics to the band’s fourth recording effort “Rattlesnake”.
Certainly, based on the success of their last album “Hope” and the chart-topping achievements of “Spirits”, the band is in great demand with major domestic, U.S tours, appearances on U.S. late night television shows with Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers and a future tour of Germany in the offing.
Chatting from his home base of Lindsay before heading out to appear at Canada Day Celebrations in Ottawa with the likes of Brett Kissel, K’naan, Mary Mai and William Prince, Ward noted it is always tricky leaving his three children to head out on the road. “The eldest two don’t love it but they understand what I’m doing but my one-year-old son is like `where have you been’, it’s like I’ve spent the past three weeks in the bathroom, he doesn’t understand where I go,” Ward explained. “When you’re making music, you don’t really don’t think about anything else except for making the coolest songs possible, and then you have to tour to promote that music so there is always a conflict between being in the band and your home life.
Still, with the breakthrough success of “Hope” and “Spirits”, The Strumbellas have achieved a level of recognition they could have only dreamed about when they recorded their debut independent EP in 2009. Ward, Jeremy Drury (drums), Jon Hembrey (guitar) and Darryl James (bass) all heralding from Lindsay with violinist Isabel Ritchie and keyboardist David Ritter recruited via Craigslist.
It’s safe to say that the band’s debut EP and debut album’s “My Father And The Hunter” (2012) and “We Still Move On The Dance Floor”(2013) defied description, labelled, Folk, Roots or Alternative by the domestic music industry and even winning a Juno as “Top Roots” album for the latter release.
But when “Hope” was released in 2016, the impact of “Spirits” hit such a commercial nerve that any categorization became obsolete. “I always wanted to make Pop Music and I called all of our earlier records, poorly done pop records,” noted Ward. “I love pop music so much but we’re not that kind of band. So we made Country songs and then added pop elements, produce a huge sound and that’s what has turned into The Strumbellas! It’s kind of like pop music done wrong. But we’re cool with that”!
Ward admits that all of his pop aspirations rolled into the success of one song, “Spirits” which not only won a 2017 Juno as top single of the year but has proven to be the “money song” of any live performance.
“The most important thing is that “Spirits” has created a host of great memories for the band,” Ward allowed. “If our current record flopped and we broke up tomorrow, it is nice to say Hey! We won a Juno for a single of the year, and Hey, remember the time I got to meet Tom Hanks on the Stephen Colbert Show and Hey, remember when we played Boneroo. Just the opportunity “Spirits” created that year was so memorable.”
Ward recognizes that “Spirits” is the high point of any live performance but he also likes to watch the crowd and challenge them to react to other songs on their set list. “As a songwriter, I’m like Indiana Jones, I’m always trying to find the next relic,” allowed Ward. ” ‘Spirits’ did its job around the world but I’m always trying to write new songs that trigger the same reaction. It’s always in the back of your head that you want to go there again or even surpass your previous successes but the absolute coolest thing about music is that there is no mathematical formula to write hit songs. If ‘ Salvation’ (debut single of “Rattlesnake”) doesn’t connect the same way as ‘Spirits’, you have to say ‘cool, that’s the way the wind blows’ “.
Certainly “Salvation” continues to project the same fun elements that worked for “Spirits” with the video featuring fans inventing their own choreography to the video. It was one of two songs (the other being “Wild Sun” off their “Hope” album) which they performed before a packed crowd at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill July 1st before joining Brett Kissel, K’naan, William Prince, Mary Mai and Karim Ouellet on stage for finale performance of The Band’s “The Weight”.
Next up is a festival performance at Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Gardens on Saturday, July 6th before further festival dates in Milwaukee, Chicago, Edmonton and Calgary before a quickie European trip to Germany and Switzerland in August before returning for a more extensive tour of Germany and Austria in October.
Ward loves touring in Europe, “It’s great to hear European audiences sing songs back to you in English” and he also appreciates that after years of playing cramped venues, The Strumbellas can now perform on large festival stages.
“We are not the kind of band which says ‘let’s keep things small and folky but it costs a lot of money to put on a big show,” Ward explained. “But now we have the money, we can tour with our own lighting rig. We have always been inspired by pop music and now we want to stage the biggest pop show possible.”