Formed in 2008 in Toronto, The Strumbellas are Simon Ward on vocals and guitar, David Ritter on vocals and keyboards, Jon Hembrey on lead guitar, Isabel Ritchie on violin, Darryl James on bass guitar, and Jeremy Drury on drums. Hembrey, James, Drury and Ward are all originally from Lindsay, ON.
The band’s self-titled EP was released in 2009, garnering critical acclaim and widespread coverage as a band to watch. An ongoing Monday night residency at Toronto’s Cameron House cemented their reputation, and in 2010 the band was invited to play landmark venues, including Yonge-Dundas Square, The Horseshoe Tavern and The Peterborough Folk Festival. Their full-length debut album, My Father and the Hunter, was released independently in 2012. The Strumbellas signed with Six Shooter Records, releasing their second album, We Still Move on Dance Floors, in 2013; it won a 2014 JUNO Award in the Roots & Traditional Album of the Year – Group category.
The band’s third studio album, Hope, was released in 2016. The first single from that album, “Spirits,” topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, and enjoyed mainstream radio airplay in Canada and a number of European countries. The band were featured performers on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, among other national, late-night, American TV network programs. They toured globally in 2016 and 2017, visiting Australia, Europe, and North America, including high-profile festivals such as Bonnaroo and The Governor’s Ball. “Spirits” won a 2017 JUNO Award as Single of the Year, and earned them a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award as well.
The band has just released “Salvation,” the first single and video from their fourth studio album, on which they’re currently working. In the Fall of 2018, Strumbellas’ chief songwriter Simon Ward gave a SOCAN Songwriting Master Class at the Folk Music Ontario (FMO) Conference in Toronto, where he was very voluble and forthcoming about his songwriting process. In addition to breaking down the bit-and-pieces assembly of The Strumbellas’ world-conquering hit song “Spirits,” here are some the highlights of what he had to say…
- “The first song I ever wrote was around age 12, for my dad’s birthday.”
- “I obsess about music. I love it.”
- “I have thousands of voice memos on my cellphone. I sing into my phone on the subway. I run out of the shower to sing a melody into my phone… I’ll put days of work into a song demo… My favourite thing is to make demos.”
- “My overall message as a songwriter is, melody, melody, melody… If you don’t have a good melody, just throw it in the garbage… Once you get 10 seconds of amazing melody, you can start to talk about lyrics, arrangement, and production… Lyrics can be a tool to get to the melody, and you can use other tools to get to the melody, but you need to get to it… I love when people pour out their souls in lyrics, but the melody has to be there… Still, once I have a great melody, I’m not very good about building around it.”
- “I have a short attention span, which usually means a short song, three minutes or so. I pour my heart and soul into it, even if I’m trying to make a big pop song.”
- “It’s crazy how much ‘Spirits’ changed my life, and the lives of all The Strumbellas band members. I always wanted to have a song that went around the world.”
- “For our current single ‘Salvation,’ it’s a 12-year-old melody, written before The Strumbellas.”
- “I have a hard time avoiding depression, but I challenged myself to be positive on our next album… But I haven’t laughed in years… I love slow, sad folk music. I might be making some in the future as Simon the Island.”