Group vocals, band chemistry and song conflict. Those are the terms that come to mind when considering The Strumbellas. Songs from the Toronto band have a lead singer, typically Simon Ward, but have a textured enthusiasm when the other members enter with their vocal skills. That description fits “Salvation,” the most recent release. Certainly, Ward’s voice is sufficiently appealing to carry the single; still, it is easy to recognize that “Salvation” jumps to another level because of the group vocalization.
The Strumbellas at Swan Dive in Austin, Texas
Band chemistry? The Strumbellas defined the term at SXSW 2016 in Austin. By happenstance, we caught them during a Pandora Showcase on Thursday. It was so energizing and enjoyable, we made a point of seeing another performance a few days later. It was a much smaller venue (Swan Dive - love that name). During that show, they seemed apologetic in announcing that it was their 13th performance of SXSW and they were running short of fuel. But the announcement came partially through their setlist, and The Strumbellas had already pulled the attendees into the experience. Collectively, The Strumbellas have a charisma and they put it on exhibit during banter among themselves and with the crowd. As evidence, a video of The Strumbellas (“Young & Wild”) is embedded at the bottom of this post.
Song conflict? Many of the songs by The Strumbellas contain mixed messaging. “Spirits” is the single that brought the band to the surface of the Indie Ocean. It has a catchy melody and a chorus that function as a vehicle for lyrics about fighting inner demons (“I got guns in my head… Spirits in my head and they won’t go.”). “Salvation” is far less dark. While “Spirits” contained Pop sensibilities, “Salvation” is an unabashed swan dive into Pop. The lyrics are uplifting, but the lighting does dim at times, such as during the final lines –”They never said that it’d ever be so hard.”
Quoting content about the release:
“Salvation,” produced by Tim Pagnotta (Neon Trees, Walk the Moon), is a decidedly notable pivot towards pop for The Strumbellas, which describes itself as a primarily “country, folky band.” But they also explain that they’re “pop music junkies,” and that their catalog has been edging towards an increasingly accessible sound from the start. “Our whole dream has been to make cool, small-town Canadian music with just a fun, poppy feeling,” says Ward. “Every record we do, we get closer to that. ‘Salvation’ is exactly what we wanted to do, what we were hoping to get out of this song and record: fun, poppy songs that are sad and weird.”
The members of The Strumbellas are Simon Ward, (vocals, guitar), David Ritter (keys), Jeremy Drury (percussion), Isabel Ritchie (strings, keys), Jon Hembrey (guitar) and Darryl James (bass).