The Strumbellas are shown in this undated handout photo. Folk-pop band the Strumbellas return with their new single “Greatest Enemy,” over a year after sidelining their Canadian concert tour as their lead singer struggled with depression. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

The Strumbellas are shown in this undated handout photo. Folk-pop band the Strumbellas return with their new single “Greatest Enemy,” over a year after sidelining their Canadian concert tour as their lead singer struggled with depression. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

Strumbellas lead singer Simon Ward on path to healing after mental health crisis

TORONTO — A few days before the Strumbellas were set to embark on a Canadian concert tour in January 2020, they dropped a bombshell announcement: the entire 14-city run of shows was being postponed as one of the band’s own sought treatment for an unspecified illness.

The news rocked their fanbase, but lead singer Simon Wardsaid the decision to cancel came during a crucial time. He was the unnamed member spiralling into a mental health crisis. Over a year later, he’s still digging himself out of it.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s been the worst year of my life,” Ward explained in an interview from his home.

“And every day I’m just here, trying to heal and get better.”

On Friday, the Strumbellas will release Greatest Enemy, a new single that marks their first effort since Ward faced crippling depression and anxiety.

He began writing the song before the six-member band sidelined their touring plans, and the band finished it during a recording session last November.

Thematically, Greatest Enemy reflects on the overwhelming demons of the mind, but in true Strumbellas fashion, the words are paired with a soaring chorus of perseverance.

It’s a formula that did wonders for the band in 2015 when Spirits elevated them from a ragtag group of Ontario indie musicians to a Top 40 success story, driven by an unforgettable chorus: I got guns in my head and they won’t go. Spirits in my head and they won’t go.

But the struggleshinted at in Spirits became all the more real for Ward as the Strumbellas embarked on a 2019 European tour for their followup album Rattlesnake.

Looking back, Ward says there were signs something was amiss.

Sometimes it was as simple as him deciding to hide away in his hotel room when the rest of the group went to dinner together, he said.

“It’s so easy to isolate yourself when you’re having mental health issues,” he added.

“All you want to do is… not be with other people. So I would stay by myself.”

But it was after the European leg of the tour wrapped and he returned to Canada that Ward started to realize something more serious was happening.

“I started to feel so weird, like total lethargy,” he said.

“I couldn’t get out of bed, dark thoughts, negative thoughts. Thoughts that were really mean to myself. I knew something wasn’t right.”

Ward’s family paid him a visit, and he says that’s when he broke down, confessing to them that he was not doing well. He decided to check himself into a local hospital to seek professional help, receive a mental health assessment and discuss medications.

“This has just been a full-on mental health year for me,” he said.

“(I’m) still in it, still working my way through it and struggling. I’m better now. But, you know, mental health is just such a tricky game. It seems to hang around, come back and float around.”

Getting the Strumbellas back on their feet will take some time.

The band has worked on the early stages of new material in recent months, said guitarist Jon Hembrey. But a near-total shutdown of the concert industry during the COVID-19 pandemic has eased the pressure of getting back on the road.

“I wouldn’t bet any money on whether there will be shows in the summer,” Hembrey said.

“It’s just too hard to tell.”

That’s left room for the Strumbellas to interact with their fans in creative ways.

Last year, they hopped on TikTok for the first time, creating a venue to answer questions about music, and recently for Ward to lend positive encouragement to others dealing with mental health hurdles.

“A lot of people are in tough spots right now,” he said, reflecting on how the live music industry has ground to a halt.

“But everybody’s going through it, so honestly make the best of it. We’re just trying to make new music, get back in the groove of things and hang out again and see where it goes.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read