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The Strumbellas at the Fillmore, 5 Things To Know

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Simon Ward refers to his band, the Strumbellas, as "small town Canadians."

But the sextet from Lindsay, Ont., is accomplishing some big things these days.

with its third album, "Hope," the made it not only onto the charts -- No. 3 in its homeland -- but also launched buzz-generating hit in "Spirits," which topped the Billboard Alternative Songs list. By incorporating some contemporary flavors, particularly synthesizers, into its acoustic, folky approach, the Strumbellas are hot on the festival and concert circuit and, after eight years together, the band is a bona fide player in the pop and rock mainstreams.

That success has given Ward plenty to reflect on as he heads to the grocery store during a rare day off at home...

"Spirit" was not a song the Strumbellas expected would be the group's breakthrough. "We were very happy with it, but we didn't necessarily thing, 'It's over, boom, we nailed it," Ward recalls. "In the studio it was like one day we'd be, 'Oh, guys, I think we wrote a really cool song here' and the next day we'd be like, 'Guys, I don't know if this song's any good. Maybe we're the worst band of all time. We should quit.' So it was a huge roller coaster of emotions making this record and not knowing if it was any good or not. We thought ('Spirits') was a cool song, but we never thought, 'this song could put us on the map.'"

Ward shoulders some of the blame for it taking a full three albums before the Strumbellas caught on with a mass, mainstream audience. "Every record before this I'm proud of, and I'm proud of everyone who's on the team," he says. "But I was also a little unhappy with myself because I knew that I had to make better songs if we ere going to take our band to a worldwide level. So for 'Hope,' honestly, I sat down wtih myself end said, 'This isn't good enough. I need to step up my game as a writer. So I spent a lot of time on it and I wrote a bit differently and I did a lot of work, like, on computer as opposed to in a jam room. It was definitely planned to have a record that was more popular-sounding and easy to listen to."

That led Ward to refine his approach to songwriting -- and particularly to simplify things for the new album. "What I learned was to bring it way back," he explains. "Melody is everything. If you don't have a melody that grooves to people when they're sitting in their car, it doesn't work. So as soon as I had that in place I knew that was the direction of the songs, just keep it super simple, keep it super straight. Don't get over complicated -- Just basically write kids' songs with synthesizers."

And though it seems like the last thing a band like the Strumbellas would embrace, Ward and company warmed to those synthesizers over the course of making "Hope." "It was the most fun part about this record," he says, "because our last two records were very acoustic and folky and vibey. So to open the door to synthesizers, it wasn't intimidating at all. It was super fun. We didn't get too complicated. We hired a guy to come in and explain stuff to us. And our keyboard player Dave (Ritter) took a big lead and went and bought some synthesizers that were really great. We used this one called a Roland Juno 106, I believe, and we all just fell in love with it. We all just went, 'Holy crap! Well, that's gonna be all over our record 'cause it sounds like Van Halen, and everybody wants to sound like Van Halen!' It was just so fun experimenting and just learning about the synthesizers. They're truly a magical instrument."

Ward, by the way, is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan -- and isn't shy about letting fans know it, even in rival cities. "I seem to havea problem with that," he confesses. "Actually one of my favorite thigns to do is to try to make the audience mad at me with sports teams. I can't say I'll ever stop that -- but I'll do my best to be better. Maybe."

93.9 The River Icebreaker with Band of Horses, The Head and The Heart and the Strumbellas

Thursday, Dec. 1. Doors open at 7 p.m.

The Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave.

Tickets are $35-$65.

Call 313-961-5451 or visit thefillmoredetroit.com.

Not: The Strumbellas will also headline the 93.9 The River Icebreaker Encore with Joseph and Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers on Dec. 18 at Saint Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $19.39. Call 313-961-6358 or visit saintandrewsdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.thefillmoredetroit.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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