Interview: The Strumbellas

The Strumbellas

For Valentine’s Day, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with 3 of the 7 members of The Strumbellas – Simon Ward, Izzy Ritchie and Darryl James. While most of the band’s roots are based out of Lindsay, Ontario, 5 of 7 to be specific, the band was actually formed in Toronto out of an unlikely situation.

Simon says, “It started with a Craigslist ad and I had 15 people come out to my apartment on Jarvis and Church to play. In about a month, half of them left and eventually it just go to the point when we just needed new key members and so we were like, ‘Well, we have a friend we know from Lindsay,’ so we’d just call them. And the only ones who survived from the original Craigslist ad are Izzy and Dave. We met them as strangers.”

Darryl indicates that it’s been 3 years since that Craigslist ad, so they’ve been working with band members Izzy, from Wisconsin, and Dave Ritter, from Oshawa, for a few years now.

The end product of their 7-piece band is a sound that is difficult to peg. Izzy says that alt country is probably the best description. Simon follows up by saying, “I’m honoured to be called alt-country because that’s my favourite music genre. So when somebody says we’re alt country, I say, ‘Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. We’re alt country.’ At this point, Simon is giving a thumbs up.

Darryl then says, “We were really bluegrassy to start. We were a 9-piece when it really settled out from Craigslist. No drummer. There was a clarinet and mandolin and banjo and it was very instrument-based and we’ve kind of evolved from there.”

The band doesn’t shy away from people describing their sound in different ways, though. In fact, they enjoy hearing what other people describe their sound to be, whether it’s bluegrass, alt country or pop.

Their sound for this album started with Simon. He says, “This album was me bringing a skeleton to the jam room and then everybody kind of just implemented their own parts. We’ve grown since then, so it’s become more collaborative in the later songs on the album. The next album, I’m sure, will be way more collaborative.”

The album, My Father and the Hunter, was produced by Jason “Cone” McCaslin (Sum 41). About working with Cone, Izzy says, “I think we were all just excited because Cone was so excited in the music. He worked incredibly hard for us and put in so much time. He had lots of great ideas, but also he was flexible, so he’d bring something and if we were like, ‘Oh, we’re not sure,’ he’d work with the band so we could reach somewhere that we were all happy with.”

Simon adds, “We kind of just hit it off with Cone. He’s a young producer, we’re a young band and it was our first album. He’s done a couple other albums, but he’s still young.”

Darryl also throws in some praise. “He’s very close to our age too, so we had a lot in common with him. He’s just the best. And he’s just an awesome guy. And his musical knowledge of all genres is incredible. He’s not just a punk guy. He respects all good music and we could talk about all music and sounds. When you really get to know him, you just appreciate how knowledgeable the guy is.”

The album will be out on February 21st, with a release on February 17th at The Rivoli. Now comes a time when the band is called upon to make their album translate live. With 7 members on stage, Izzy indicates that the different personalities and musical abilities lend well to their live show.

Darryl adds, “There’s a lot of group vocals too. We’re a very interactive band. We all sing, even if it’s off-mike. We love that live. It’s always been encouraged from day one that every member participates in singing. I can truthfully admit that to start my singing was pretty shaky…”

Simon interrupts, “I’ll be doing the lead singing, but I’ll be able to hear Jon and Darryl singing all the words, yelling all the words in my ears, which is cool. I like it. I like hearing a bunch of people singing.”

Izzy then says, “It also just kind of makes us feel more relaxed, kind of like you’re just with a bunch of friends singing, having fun, having a good time.”

Darryl smiles and say, “And we’re seeing that a bit more where some of the fans are starting to know some of the words.”

Simon continues, “We want them to participate. We’re shy, like we really want them to sing along, but we don’t have the confidence to say, “Okay guys, sing this part with me.” We’re really hoping that after the album comes out, people start knowing the songs better. We really hope people start singing along. We just don’t want to have to ask them. We’re so shy.”

With the album release coming up, the band is looking to tour Ontario and hopefully beyond to build a fan base. On top of that, the band also recently filmed a video for “The Sheriff”, which will be out soon. Possibly the coolest news is that the band is going to be releasing a Strumbellas video game. No information about the game was really revealed, but it’s certainly something I’m looking forward too.

Darryl also says, “We’re trying to be more active on social media too. We’re trying to come out with a competition now – not a competition, but the idea of all of us sort of facebooking or tweeting one day of the week because we’re 7 members, so each member will get one a day week.”

While it’s for the fans, the bands have decided to turn social media into a way to gain favourites and see who can get more responses. It’s a way for new fans to get to know the band, while sparking an internal competition.

Even though the band is competitive, they don’t sell each other out. When pressed for a drunken story, Simon says, “Let me just say there has been a whiskey bottle thrown at another member. I won’t put a name on it, but let’s just say there has been a whiskey bottle thrown.”

Other than that, they can’t think of a story. Darryl says, “We’re pretty active partiers, but overall I don’t think we’ve been too crazy. I think a little different personality of all of us comes out. I turn maybe a little bit happy and slurry. Dave gets maybe a little more belligerent. And so does Jon. Izzy gets a little more revealing with personal knowledge. James and Simon tend to just jet out. They leave without telling anybody.”

But essentially, Simon and Izzy agree that drinking leads to poutine and then bed.

While the band isn’t too big on shots, preferring beer or sipping on scotch, their shot of choice is probably whiskey.

As we wrap up the conversation, Simon decides to part on this note: “One thing I will say about the band is that you need to have really thick skin in our band because everybody gets very hard on each other in terms of making fun of each other. It’s all-out verbal abuse. It’s very competitive. You need to hold your own. You need to stand up for yourself because you will get harassed, literally day in and day out, in this band. You show weakness, you will get pounced. It’s sort of a mix. We have fun, but it’s very serious in a way.”


Categories: Interviews


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: