There are bands that toil for years in obscurity, and then there’s The Strumbellas.
The success the Toronto folk-pop group is experiencing makes a case for good timing — occasionally a band’s music will line up almost exactly with popular taste and lightning will strike.
The Juno Award-winning band’s singer/songwriter Simon Ward said he happened to be writing in the pop-folk-country vein for some time, then thanks to the popularity of groups like The Lumineers, the genre suddenly got hot.
“Maybe half of it is coincidence, in that I started out playing (folk-pop), but some of that music also probably influenced me as well,” he admitted — so it’s a chicken and egg thing.
In any case, The Strumbellas, performing on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at Fratter’s Speakeasy in Red Deer, have had one heck of a 2014, so far. The band won a Juno as well as a SiriusXM Indie Award for its second album, We Still Move on Dance Floors, and is also long-listed for a Polaris Music Prize.
When the six musicians haven’t been collecting hardware, they’ve been touring the continent. Among the “cool places” that Ward lists having performed is Yellowknife, N.W.T., as well as New York, Boston and Los Angeles.
He said he always looks forward to playing where the band’s never played before, such as Red Deer.
What the Lindsay, Ont., native tried to do during this hectic year is embrace change, including new foods that have come with touring to new places. Ward has continued to write songs whenever the mood strikes, learned more about the business side of the music industry, and even developed a tolerance for road trips.
“I’ve had to learn how to sit in a van for 12 hours without going crazy.”
If he could give any advice to up-and-coming musicians it would be to keep following their dreams.
“It’s a tricky thing to do this,” admitted Ward. “You don’t see your family for very long periods of time. … It can be a hard lifestyle, but if you need to create music, you’ve got to do it, because you’ll be mad at yourself if you don’t.”
Ward learned this lesson from his late father, who died of an illness when Ward was 16.
“My dad was a lawyer but he always used to say, ‘I should have been a rock star,’ ” he recalled.
Whenever Ward wonders if he should just find a steady job and settle down, he thinks about his dad’s unfulfilled ambition and decides to stick with his love of music.
The singer and guitarist, who made a whole album of songs inspired by memories of his dad, My Father and the Hunter (2012), is already planning his band’s next release in 2015 along with his fellow Strumbellas. They are: keyboardist David Ritter, lead guitarist Jon Hembrey, violinist Isabel Ritchie, bassist Darryl James and drummer Jeremy Drury.
Ward doesn’t usually think of themes for his songwriting, but is drawn to “simple, straightforward lyrics.” He insists the band wasn’t trying to be upbeat and happy on We Still Move on Dance Floors, but “that’s how it came to be.”
One of the album’s songs, End of an Era, illustrates the randomness of the process.
Ward said the tune was initially inspired by a huge tome he had collecting dust on his bookshelf — Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. “I hadn’t read the book, so I thought I might as well write a song about it.”
Unfortunately, he wrote the lyrics’ rhyme scheme based on a mispronunciation of the word cholera, putting stress on the middle instead of the first syllable. “I didn’t know how to pronounce it,” Ward admitted.
Everyone else in the band thought it was dumb to have a whole song based on a word that wasn’t proper English, so “time of cholera” was changed to “end of an era” — end of story.
Tickets to the show are $10 from Fratters. For more information, call 403-356-0033.