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.