Strumbellas grow their award-winning sound organically

Juno-winning band makes a rare West Coast appearance at the Royal Theatre for Jan. 9 concert

The Strumbellas are a Toronto band with a knack for writing addictive pop hooks. In 2017 they won a Juno Award for Single of the Year with “Spirits,” a radio-friendly hit with an earworm chorus of “I got guns in my head and they won’t go, spirits in my head and they won’t go.”

The band brings its alternative, folk-inspired, high-energy show to the Royal Theatre for a Jan. 9 show.

“We don’t get out west often enough,” The Strumbellas keyboardist Dave Ritter tells me over the phone from his home in Etobicoke, Ont. “We’re really excited to be on Vancouver Island and playing a great, old venue like the Royal Theatre. It gives us a chance to really get the crowd involved, hopefully singing along to our music.”

Lead singer and principal songwriter Simon Ward launched The Strumbellas with a Craigslist request to form a band when he moved to Toronto from his home in Lindsay, Ont. a decade ago.

“I was one of the musicians who answered that message and went to the band’s first rehearsal,” Ritter continues with a chuckle. “Almost a dozen musicians turned up, including a guy on banjo and another on clarinet. We were a big folk band, almost bluegrass at first, playing in the market and at weddings. As our sound evolved and we rocked out more, we played clubs like The Dakota, Cameron House and Horseshoe Tavern. Our current lineup solidified two or three years ago.”

In addition to Ward and Ritter, The Strumbellas now includes drummer Jeremy Drury, guitarist Jon Hembrey, bassist Darryl James and Celtic-inspired fiddler and keyboardist Isabel Richie, who came to University of Toronto from her home in Wisconsin. She’s a Canadian citizen now.

“Simon brings his songs to the band. I call them bedroom folk music, and they’re pretty deep and dark,” Ritter explains. “We’ve been a band for awhile, and we all enjoy playing music together, so the band adds that joy to Simon’s lyrics.”

The juxtaposition of darkness and joy and the band’s gift for creating catchy hooks defines The Strumbellas’ music. It was just what Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party were looking for, and they picked “One Hand Up” off the band’s latest album Rattlesnake as a campaign anthem last fall.

Rattlesnake’s first two singles have unforgettable hooks. “Salvation,” which features an effervescent video of the band’s families dancing in a bowling alley; and “I’ll Wait,” one of Ward’s most sensitive and vulnerable songs before the band rocks out on the chorus, both showcase The Strumbellas singularly addictive ear candy. “Running Scared (Desert Song)” is also appealing for its contrasting painful narrative and playful pop melody.

The Strumbellas’ recordings have been winning and being nominated for Juno Awards since their first full-length LPs, My Father and the Hunter in 2013, and 2014’s We Still Move on the Dance Floor. 2017’s Hope, with its mainstream, international breakthrough single, “Spirits” put the band in front of tens of thousands of fans at festivals like Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits.

The Strumbellas will be riding that whirlwind and Rattlesnake’s high energy at what promises to be a raucous good time at the Royal Theatre on Jan. 9. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Visit rmts.bc.ca or call 250-386-6121 for ticket information.

Live music

Just Posted

Police closed McNeill Avenue after a workplace death Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Tree-pruning community gathers in Oak Bay after tragic death

Crews met in solidarity at site of Tuesday incident

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Vancouver Island First Nations back Nova Scotia’s Indigenous lobster fishermen

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls for action before lives are lost

Sails down, masks up for Ron and Sherry Pryde, who completed a 119 day journey that was supposed to be 70 days. (Zoe Ducklow)
Coast Guard towed rudderless sailors to Port Hardy hours before a powerful storm

Rudderless for a month, the couple zigzagged most the way home with “a few donuts and lazy-eights”

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a woman who allegedly threw hot coffee on a McDonald’s employee. (News Bulletin photo)
UPDATE: Nanaimo RCMP still looking for woman who threw coffee at worker after already receiving refund

Police asking for information in investigation that could lead to assault charges

The Skeena Queen, serving the Swartz Bay-Fulford Harbour route has been out of action since early Wednesday morning, forcing BC Ferries to cancel eight sailings connecting the Saanich Peninsula and Salt Spring Island. It is not clear when service will resume. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
UPDATED: BC Ferries cancels additional sailings to Salt Spring Island

With repairs to Skeena Queen underway, it is not clear when service will resume

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau says British Columbians face a choice between “false majority government” and a “more cooperative, collaborative” form of governance during a campaign stop in Saanich North and the Islands Monday (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
BC Greens leader makes pitch for minority government

Sonia Furstenau calls on British Columbians to reject ‘false majority government’

The Saanich Teachers’ Association is calling on the local provincial election candidates from all parties to commit to making schools healthier and safer for all. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich teachers call on election candidates for improved health, safety in schools

Increased funding, reduced class sizes among required changes, says association president

Skiers line up to start the Royal LePage Comox Valley Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race. Photo by Tim Penney
Popular Comox Valley adventure race cancelled for 2021

COVID forces Comox Valley Royal LePage Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race cancellation again

Chris Istace campaigning in Crofton. (Photo submitted)
Green Party’s Istace apologizes for remark about First Nations gaming grants being a ‘handout’

Island candidate determined to do better in thinking and communicating matters of reconciliation

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

Most Read