Six-piece folk-pop act the Strumbellas first broke out in their home country of Canada back in 2009 with their self-titled EP. Their debut full length, My Father and the Hunter, released in 2012 and earned the group a Juno Award nod for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year. They didn’t win, but it didn’t take long before they got another chance — their 2013 follow-up, We Still Move on Dance Floors, was nominated in the same category the next year and took home the statuette.
With their eyes set on the global stage, the group recently signed with Daniel Glass’ powerhouse indie label, Glassnote Records, (home of Phoenix, CHVRCHES, and Mumford & Sons) and will release their first collection under the new deal, Hope, in April. Part of the appeal of the Glass move are the landmark records hanging on their Midtown office walls says frontman Simon Ward, sitting in one of their conference rooms. “Mumford & Sons were a huge inspiration to me,” he says. “As soon as I heard them, I was like, ‘Oh my golly, I need to find a way to make music this way.'”
The band share similarities with the pre-plugged in music of Marcus Mumford and co.: Enormous hooks, taut songcrafting, and arena rock catharsis achieved with bare-bones instrumentation. “I’m a huge pop element guy,” Ward says. “I love big drops, I love huge drums and bass. We’re trying to fuse the melodies that we make in our folk band with pop elements. That’s our goal: Make a really big sound, using all of those elements.”
Ward has been writing songs and aiming for stadiums since he was 10 years old, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he actually considered forming a group. “I was just too scared,” he says. That changed after he moved to Toronto with his girlfriend at the time, “I put an ad on Craigslist with one of my demos and just asked, ‘Does anyone want to come over and jam it out?'”
A rag-tag group of people answered. Current keyboardist, David Ritter was the first to reply. “He showed up and was like, ‘I’m here to play with you.’ I asked him what his instrument was and he was like, ‘Oh, well, I don’t really play anything,'” Ward remembers with a laugh. Violinist Izzy Ritchie was also an early-responder — but she didn’t initially have high hopes for the group. “It was just something fun to pass the time,” she says. Still in university, she remembers, “I was like, ‘Should I meet some random strangers from Craigslist or study for my exam?'”
As the lineup solidified, so did Ward’s ambition for the group — but take-off wasn’t seamless. “When we made the first record, we were so jacked because we got some money to do it. As musicians, you think you’re going to get famous every day,” he says with the same endearing frankness listeners find in his lyrics. “You think, ‘If I play this show, the head of a major label will be there and that’s going to launch us!'”
Which, of course, is how it works for almost no one. “I lost hope every morning and then found new hope every night,” he says. Ritchie echoes the sentiment: “You have these good moments — the first time people are singing along, the first time you sell out a show — that get you excited. Each time you say, ‘We made it!’ and the next morning it’s like, ‘What’s next?'”
The future though should feel exciting: Hope‘s first single, “Spirits,” has been played over 3 million times on Spotify. Its accompanying video is closing in on half a million streams. Next week, they’ll make their late night U.S. television debut playing Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Ward’s end game is simple: To offer an outlet to the outsiders. That’s what hearing Shannon Hoon and Kurt Cobain did for him years ago. “People who wrote dark s–t saved me,” he says. “I didn’t know you could do that. I didn’t know you were allowed to write lyrics that bluntly about your pain. So all I really want is some 16-year-old kid, who’s down and out to put on a song that I helped make and feel inspired to keep going and be happy.”