[attach]6903[/attach]The Strumbellas front man Simon Ward counts Feb. 19, 2013 as one of the best days of his life.
After receiving an invitation to the Juno nominations press conference he felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement to be surrounded by fellow musicians he respected.
“The band was quietly very excited about going but didn’t want to get our hopes up just in case they were inviting us to help serve drinks or something like that,” Ward says. “As the nominations started to get announced, my heart was thumping like a rabbit on heroin. As each nomination passed, I got more and more nervous and then boom I see our name come up. I was freaking out inside, so incredibly excited and happy. I just reached out and grabbed my band mates and hugged them.”
The best part of receiving the nomination for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year for My Father and The Hunter was the excitement didn’t stop for the rest of the day, Ward says, adding members of the indie-rock alt-country band celebrated over pints later that night.
“We got texts and tweets from so many friends, fans and family it was unreal,” he says. “It really showed us how awesome all our fans and friends are. Obviously we didn’t get back to them, as we are now Juno nominees.”
The group’s 2012 debut album was recorded at Blue Rodeo’s Woodshed Studio and Metalworks, and was produced by Cone McCaslin of the band Sum 41.
“I was inspired by my absolute horrible fear of death, also about religion, my dead father and my childhood,” Ward says. “The songwriting process was basically me in my apartment writing the songs and then bringing them to the band at the jam space and jamming them a million times until it was time to record the album. I write best when I’m real high or real low. I may be bipolar — no I’m not!”
Pinpointing the beginning of his musical career, Ward recalls putting on make up and singing Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You” at the top of his lungs into a mirror when he was young. By the age of 12, he’d started honing his rock roots, playing in several different bands with friends.
[attach]6902[/attach]“Our names were Limp Woodies, The Buckets and Mister Blister,” the singer, songwriter, who plays a flower covered acoustic guitar, says. “I still claim that Kurt Cobain stole ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ from us.”
Although the Annex resident initially took to Craigslist looking for musicians to form a band, only keyboardist, pianist and vocalist David Ritter and violinist and vocalist Izzy Ritchie stem from the call, as he already knew lead guitarist and mandolin player Jon Hembrey, bassist Darryl James and drummer Jeremy Drury from his hometown of Lindsay. Everyone now resides in Toronto, predominantly in the midtown area, although Ward claims he’d like to buy a trailer and move out into the woods.
“I was driving one day, full gas tank, half a pack of cigarette’s in the glove box, thinking about band names and I liked the name Umbrellas,” Ward says. “However, it didn’t seem quite right so tout-a-coup the band-name God’s implanted Strumbellas into my head and it stuck.”
The band held a residency at the Dakota Tavern in January and were featured on CMT Canada’s the Dakota Sessions. Describing their sound as indie-country or folk-pop-grass, Ward hopes to change people’s emotions during their live show.
“High or low, I want to make people sad and then happy and then mad and then loving and then alone,” he says. “I want to give them an experience that they’ll only get with The Strumbellas and even I don’t know what that is yet.”
In March, the band performed in a rather unique setting: Caplansky’s Deli for an event called bandwich. Armed with jokes of smoked meat and mustard, they took the stage in the intimate venue while the Thunderin’ Thelma food truck served treats ranging from maple-bacon donuts to a special one night only sandwich called The Strumbella.
“We don’t do much before shows, no chants or rituals or anything,” Ward says, admitting they once played a pant-less show and he frequently hits the stage barefoot. “No sacrificing of live chickens.”
In addition to their Juno nomination, the band can also boast about having their own video game, which is the brainchild of Ritter, whose girlfriend co-created company Dames Making Games and showed him the ropes, Ward says.
“Apparently, according to Dave, Jon’s is the best character,” he says. “This is just one of Dave’s wonderful and crazy ideas. Let’s just say it took a lot of convincing that it’s not a financially good idea to play a show on horseback.”
In the coming year he hopes to see the band release the four tracks they recently recorded in Seattle and hopes to embark on US and European tour dates.
“Other than that, we just want to keep playing shows and making new music,” he says. “I like when people tell me our music is good. It makes me feel warm inside and reminds me why I do this. I don’t like when people tell me our music sucks and then throw little pickles at us.”
As for memorable stories from the road, Ward reveals everyone in the band once piled into an RCMP car outside of a bar they played in B.C. and they’ve had the chance to meet some great musicians along the way like The Trews, The Wooden Sky, Elliot Brood, One Hundred Dollars and Ron Sexsmith.
“I always like meeting other musicians who are more successful than me. It drives me crazy,” he says. “Oh and most importantly, one time Jon ate two Baconators at once — a true high point for the band on both a creative and business level.”