Show Alert: An interview with Simon Ward from The Strumbellas

Sun., Feb. 2 ~ PJ's Lager House, Detroit

Photo credit: Heather Pollock
Strumbellas’ singer-songwriter Simon Ward had no idea their Detroit date at PJ’s Lager House was on Super Bowl Sunday. And we could give no idea what kind of audience there’d be for their show. “That’s okay,” said Ward. “We’re used to playing in bars with hockey on the TV. We’ll hear cheers and think they’re for us, until we realize it’s because someone scored a goal.”

Since forming in 2009, more and more of those cheers have been for The Strumbellas: Ward (guitar, vocals), David Ritter (keyboard, vocals, percussion), Izzy Ritchie (violin, viola, vocals), Darryl James (bass), Jon Hembrey (electric guitar) and drummer Jeremy Drury. A meld of small town (Lindsay, Ont.) and big city (Toronto), their frequently anthemic, chorale-laden alt folk/new country keeps getting noticed.

“…The Strumbellas’ collection of polished and, at its best, inspired tracks is poised for much attention.”

“As one of Canada’s finest country roots bands, Ontario’s Strumbellas do not disappoint with their sophomore record, We Still Move On Dance Floors… the future looks incredibly bright for The Strumbellas.”

“In fact, it's not much of a stretch to suggest that they may be the best band in Canada at the moment.”

Their first full-length album, the independently released My Father and The Hunter, earned them a 2013 Juno nomination for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year. Although they didn’t win, “We had a blast,” Ward recalled. “We flew out (for the awards), went to a lot of parties and met a lot of people.”

In November, the track “Sailing” from We Still Move On Dance Floors (October 2013, Six Shooter Records), was prominently featured on Hockey Night in Canada’s Remembrance Day show. “We knew we were going to be on, but thought it would just be a background song,” Ward explained. “We were in Calgary in a bar and honest, the band members got choked up. It was emotional.”

We Still Move On Dance Floors is emotional too, a dichotomy between beginnings and endings, stillness and movement, home and travel. “That album was written when we were doing a lot of touring,” Ward explained. “We hadn’t done a lot before. We were amazed the first time we saw mountains, which is why we wanted to get one on the album.”

The album title, however, is more mysterious. “It’s a line from a song we really liked that was cut from the album,” said Ward. “On our first album, we told everything about ourselves. So on this one we’re keeping a secret. It’s not about dancing or dance floors.”

With the wind in their sails, The Strumbellas set a course for more touring that began Jan. 21 in Massachusetts. “We want to start breaking into the States, so we began with the Northeast,” said Ward, including their first ever stop in Detroit. “Growing up in Canada, Detroit was a big city for us. It’s awesome that we’re stopping in the Motor City. We’re a little nervous, but excited as well. We’re still new, babies in the industry. A big thanks to anyone who listens.”

Our Top Shows of 2013

If we'd listened to other people-- and yes, if we'd listened to ourselves-- we wouldn't have seen some of this year's top shows. That's because we heard things like "They were terrible when I saw them."
But one person's yuck is another person's "Fuck, that was great." And they were-- to us. So here they are, in chronological order: our top shows of 2013.

Little Foot Long Foot with The Blue Stones (Phog Lounge): Two bands doing no-holds-barred blues rock right.

Joan Smith of Little Foot Long Foot

The Blue Stones: Justin Tessier and Tariq Jafar

By Divine Right and Shotgun Jimmie (Phog Lounge): From By Divine Right's transcendent alt rock to Shotgun Jimmie's homegrown bites of punk-inflected pop, this show was a wonderful combination of heaven and earth. (Click the link for the full show review.)

Jose Contreras of By Divine Right

Shotgun Jimmie

Boats with Imaginary Cities and Foam Lake (Phog Lounge): The tags on their Bandcamp page say "pop awful crap noise songs Winnipeg," but Boats' A Fairway Full of Miners was one of our top albums for 2013. (Click the link for the full show review.)

Rusty Matayas and Marti Sarbit of Imaginary Cities

Foam Lake
Ashley Roch and Mat Klachefsky of Boats

Rory Ellis and Ashley Roch of Boats

Rory Ellis of Boats

Shout Out Out Out Out (Magic Stick Lounge): One of those shows we can't believe we were lucky enough to see and hear. Not only did this amazing dual-drummer band from Edmonton play like we were an audience of 200-- instead of 20 or so-- they closed with "In The End It's Your Friends." Guys, you should think of coming back to Detroit for a little thing called Movement.



Suuns with The Darcys (Phog Lounge): We wondered how Suuns' dark and dreamy electronic explorations would translate live. The answer: superbly (especially in a nearly pitch-black Capitol Theatre a few months later at Phog Phest 5). We knew and already liked The Darcys, but didn't know how much we loved them until this show.

The Darcys

The Darcys
The Darcys





Colin Stetson (The Blind Pig): You haven't experienced the possibilities of music if you haven't seen Colin Stetson. Life-altering.




Shooting Guns (Phog Lounge): These super nice guys from Saskatoon won't win any fashion awards, but they deserve an award for their unabashedly vintage psych rock.



We Are Wolves, The Danks, Hot Panda (NXNE): Our mini top show list from NXNE 2013. "We couldn't take our ears off (We Are Wolves') pop-punk... We couldn't take our eyes off them either." The Danks' flawless set proved our don't judge a band by one show theory. And Hot Panda left our jaws on the floor (not from moshing, fortunately). (Click on the links for the full show reviews.)

Mac DeMarco (The Blind Pig): He's had a reputation for freaking out the neighbourhood with some racy and bizarre on- (and off) stage antics, but we didn't see any and he doesn't need any. His slightly off-kilter take on alt pop with lots of personality plus Peter Sagar's great guitar work are more than enough. Watch for a new album from Mac soon.


Mac DeMarco


Peter Sagar

Aidan Knight (The Garden Bowl): You know how some bands don't translate very well live? For us, Aidan Knight was just the opposite. We find their albums a little too introverted. Hearing them live literally brought the songs to life, and we were absolutely sold by their musicianship.

Aidan Knight

Julia Wakal

David Barry of Aidan Knight

The Highest Order with Zula (PJ's Lager House): What made this show so great was (1) Zula was the best opening band we heard all year and (2) watching everyone at PJ's discover what we already know: Simone Schmidt and the Highest Order are, well, talent of the highest order.




Simone Schmidt of The Highest Order

Paul Mortimer of The Highest Order

Simone Schmidt and Simone TB of The Highest Order

Simone Schmidt and Kyle Porter of The Highest Order

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images

Event Alert: Happy New Year and Happy Birthday Phog!

Thurs., Jan. 2
Phog Lounge ~ Windsor

Age is just a number... unless you're a 60-person capacity bar in Windsor booking live music. Then it's a tribute to commitment, passion and yes, a little insanity, when you achieve 10 years in business. The official day is Jan. 2-- when Phog first opened-- and it's just the first of monthly celebrations in store. So stop by and show your appreciation for all the amazing music they've brought to Windsor, along with some pretty tasty beer and poutine.

Congratulations to Tom and Frank on being ahead by a tenth of a century. Here's to another 10 great years.

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images