With a Juno nomination for their debut album and collaboration with Grammy-nominated producer Ryan Hadlock (Metric, The Lumineers) on their sophomore album We Still Move On Dance Floors, The Strumbellas are tucking some impressive credentials under their belts. Added to that is the use of their song Sailing for Hockey Night in Canada’s Remembrance Day tribute, a video that received 90,000 hits in one day. Rave reviews aside, for the Toronto-based alt-country band, it all began with a Craig’s List ad.
“I moved to Toronto and posted about starting a band with a link to my demo,” explained singer Simon Ward. “A bunch of people ended up at my apartment and we jammed. That first year, we had about ten people in the band, but didn’t have a drummer. Eventually, some left and things didn’t work out, but Dave (piano, organ, percussion, vocals) and Izzy (violin, viola, vocals) are from that original Craig’s List ad.”
Ward, along with the other members of the band, Jeremy Drury (drums, percussion), Jon Hembrey (electric guitar, mandolin) and Darryl James (bass), grew up in Lindsay, Ontario, but never crossed paths until the band was formed. Now with an evolving sound, The Strumbellas have noticed an increasing fan base during their ongoing tour and will be performing at Zaphod’s in the New Year.
“Canada is a big country with few cities, so it’s hard to tour,” said Ward. “We’ve done a lot of touring in the last two years after playing shows all over Toronto, at farmer’s markets, in basements, everywhere. It just takes hard work to get noticed.”
That hard work comes through in the band’s harmonies, handclaps, intricate instrumentals and Ward’s bluegrass-inspired lyrics. He says his songwriting happens in spurts, whether in the shower or after a long slump of not writing.
“Three songs off our new album I wrote in one morning,” Ward adds. “It’s non-systematic. Who knows where it comes from? It’s such a crazy mystery to me and my favorite part about it.”
The Strumbellas have played in Ottawa before, including friends’ houses, Café Dekcuf and The Tulip Festival. You can also find them now and again at the Elgin Street Diner, grabbing a plate of poutine.
“When we play here, everyone in the audience is really invested in the music,” Ward said. “They’re always really attentive and care about the music—that makes a difference.”