A&E » Music

The Strumbellas in good 'Spirits'

The band performs a free concert at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 6



Juno Award-winning indie band The Strumbellas has now reached the level of fame where people are performing and posting video covers of the band's music on YouTube.

Not surprisingly, the song selected for homage by (at least) three fans, is "Spirits," the band's biggest hit to date, which was released late last year.

"The band has slowly grown from something that we just did for the love of it, to something we're taking very seriously," says vocalist and keyboardist David Ritter.

"Of course we still love it, but there's a professionalism behind it now. We're taking it all seriously in a good way.

"You're never finished working on your craft, I think. We're all taking whatever steps we need, whether it's changing up our gear or getting more serious about warm-ups. We're doing whatever we can to keep this rolling."

"Spirits" went to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs chart and No. 2 on both the U.S. Billboard Rock Airplay chart and Billboard's Canada Rock chart. It also charted in Austria, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy.

The single is off the band's 2016 album Hope.

"We have had different amounts and kinds of successes. 'Spirits' went double platinum in Italy, which is amazing. It did quite well in France, Germany and the States. This is very different for us, beyond our wildest dreams kind of stuff," Ritter says.

People have responded to it as an anthem.

"I read a message this morning... we get messages from people who identify with the song. Maybe they've gone through a hard time; we occasionally hear from soldiers and also people who are depressed or maybe lost someone.

"They identify with it. There's not much you can ask for beyond someone writing to you and telling you that the music helped them through a difficult time — that is an amazing thing."

Ritter says the band — with Simon Ward (vocals and guitars), Jon Hembrey (lead guitar), Isabel Ritchie (violin), Darryl James (bass) and Jeremy Drury (drums) — didn't plan the album out.

"We didn't have a concept or a theme; we just picked the best songs we had and we listened to them and realized the word 'hope' came up a lot in the lyrics," says Ritter.

"Even when it didn't come up, it seemed to fit.

"I think 'Spirits' is a hopeful song, so having 'hope' as the title made sense."

Things seem pretty dark in the world right now, what with war, environmental degradation and the likes of Donald Trump in the ascendency, but the album is hopeful in a more unconscious way, says Ritter.

"Jon, as our principal song writer, tends to write intuitively. He's not intellectually trying to work through these things, but they may filter through in an emotional way. I see a lot of connection between the music and what is happening out there, but it's not any one thing," he adds.

The Strumbellas were already on a good path — winning the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year Juno Award in 2014 for We Still Move on Dance Floors. This followed nomination in the same category in 2013.

The band performs a free concert at Whistler Olympic Plaza as part of the Whistler Presents Outdoor Concert Series on Saturday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 p.m.

As we talk, Ritter is somewhere in rural Ontario ahead of the long weekend.

"I'm just coming back (to Toronto) from my family cottage in Halliburton County. It was great; we don't normally have much time to go up there, but the stars aligned for a few days — I was free and got to go up with my Mom," Ritter says.

These days that must be a rare enough occurrence, I observe.

"Yeah. It's a luxury; it was great," he says.

Apart from this short break, Ritter says The Strumbellas have been very busy, with more opportunities to explore airport interiors than the Great Outdoors.

"It's very exciting. It's nice to get a couple of days at home but the road is beginning to feel more like home," he laughs.

His mother is happy for him and the whole family is supportive, he adds.

"They understand that you don't get many cracks at this and you have to take your chance when you have it," Ritter says.


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