The Strumbellas string me along

A one-on-one with lead singer Simon Ward

By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor

In February of this year, the Toronto-based six-piece band the Strumbellas released their debut album, My Father and the Hunter. The group embarked on a tour to promote the album earlier this month, and now this Friday, November 23, they’ll be stopping in Vancouver over at the Electric Owl. In anticipation for the upcoming show, I spoke with lead singer and proud daddy Simon Ward just after the tour began.

Since this was a special case, I chose to start off basic, what with there being six different members of the band. As cool as Ward is, I wanted to know about the group.

“Well they’re crazy, each and every one of them,” Ward states. “And we all got weird stuff going on, like I’m an elementary school teacher, our bassist [Darryl James] worked for a golf course company, another is a Ph.D. student—it’s kind of all over the map. We all just got jobs where we could take off any time we needed to.”

Something as hectic as a touring band can create a very tight knit relationship for a group, especially a seemingly as normal batch of folks as the Strumbellas. One of the perks of having such an eclectic band of pals is that they each bring something different to the table. I mean, sure, five of them play multiple instruments on the album, but I’m referring to something very specific: this is the only band I’ve ever heard of that created a video game as a means of promoting themselves!

“Our keyboardist Dave [Ritter], his girlfriend makes video games for a living, so Dave decided he’d learn how to make one. He spent a good 100 hours learning how to decode, but he made it.”

The game for those wondering is a delightful musical platformer, with graphics ranging somewhere between 8- and 16-bit. Each character is a little cartoon version of the six in the Strumbellas, paired with their musical instrument as a weapon. Using recordings of their own voices for sound effects and with chiptune versions of every song on their very folksy album for each level, I can’t stress enough how awesome this game (and band) is. And as an added bonus, Ward gave players a little tidbit:

“According to Dave, Jon [Hembrey, our guitaraist] is the best character, statistically speaking.”

I stated that the album was “folksy,” because I do feel that is the best category for the band. But you’ll find from just about every other source that the band is considered country—something I disagree with.

“I think most call it country because with this album especially, there is a lot of G, C, and D. It’s very under-toned like a lot of country music. But when people ask what we are, I just say, ‘I don’t know.’ We just say we’re not jazz.”

Ward seems to always be the optimist, so when I asked him what the album was about, to say I was shocked by his answer is an understatement.

“It’s kind of a concept album, and it’s dedicated to my dad—that’s him on the cover. He died when I was younger, so it’s mostly a tribute album to him, and it’s about how I’m scared of facing the things he faced in life. You know how everyone is worried about becoming their parents. It’s basically about me as ‘the Hunter,’ and how I’m scared to follow the same path my father went.”

But, again, Ward being the cool guy he is, is always the optimist.

“It’s weird, it’s a super dark album; death and my dad, that’s the whole album. I’m just going to tell people to put it on at parties.”

Don’t let the subject matter bum you out though. It’s very obvious from the first song, “The Sheriff,” that the group is having a great time. The music is immensely upbeat, and Ward’s beautiful vocals, regardless of what he’s singing about, are bound to put a smile on your face.

Once again, the Strumbellas will be playing the Electric Owl this Friday night with the Tom Fun Orchestra. Get in on the fun, have a few drinks, and be sure to enjoy this very cool band from Toronto.

If you can’t make the show, check out the game here: