It’s a hometown show for Dave Ritter when the Strumbellas take the stage at the 2023 Convergence Festival in downtown Oshawa. Ritter, keyboardist and backup vocalist for the award-winning folk-rock group was born and raised on the east side of Oshawa and also discovered his love for music in this city.
"I went to Eastdale CVI, played in many different bands there, and took guitar and piano lessons when I was young. My first live shows I ever attended were at the Moon Room and the Eclipse, and later the Dungeon and the Different Drum. It felt like a scene to me at the time... maybe it always does when you're a kid. I was pretty excited when Cuff the Duke started to do well. I went to high school with a few of those guys. I played in a few bands in Oshawa, and I had my own band, but nothing much happened with them. It was fun and I was a huge music nerd but it wasn't until much later that things started to happen in music for me,” he says.
Things started to happen, it seemed, quickly for the band as well. In 2016, their album ‘Hope’ gave rise to the global charting hit single “Spirits,” an overnight success story that was ten years in the making. By then, they already had two albums and a Juno under their collective belt. The Strumbellas formed in 2008 alongside Ritter, vocalist/guitarist Simon Ward, lead guitarist Jon Hembrey, Isabel Ritchie on violin, Darryl James on bass, and Jeremy Drury on drums.
“We'd built it slowly by touring a lot and releasing music, playing to whomever would have us,” says Ritter. “But nothing much was happening outside of Canada until ‘Spirits’ came out. In the U.S. and Europe, it felt a lot more sudden. Instead of a slow build, there was not much, and then suddenly, we had people at our shows singing along. That was really fun."
Some parts were pretty surreal... I was living in a pretty crappy basement apartment in Toronto. I had just gone through a major breakup, and the band wasn't touring, so things were quiet. I was doing a lot of sitting around and moping, but I'd get an email every once in a while saying, "Spirits just climbed to #15 on the US Alternative Chart!". That was exciting, but I didn't know what it meant really since my immediate circumstances were pretty much the same. It was only when we started playing shows later in the year, saw how people were enjoying the album, and Spirits went to #1 that it started to sink in".
Appearances on late-night TV began, and tours booked worldwide: Europe, Australia, and North America, including Bonnaroo and ‘Spirits’ won them yet another Juno, ‘Single of the Year.’ It also garnered them Best New Group at the Canadian Radio Music Awards and Single and Songwriter of the Year at the Canadian Independent Music Awards.
In 2019, the band followed up with their album, ‘Rattlesnake’ and main songwriter Simon Ward made the decision to step back from performing, with Jimmy Chauveau stepping in on vocals. Ward has recently released a solo record, as has Jeremy Drury and Darryl James, aka Close Kicks. Ritter also has some other musical outlets for his own creativity.
“I play some solo shows, and I play with Dave Ritter And The Heavy Secrets, a power-pop band with J Stead, Ryan Berry, and Skye Wallace. It's been super fun to be the lead singer and guitarist in a band again, just like I used to be growing up. We'll be putting out an EP soon. Other than that, I produce a few things here and there and am writing songs with other artists when I can. But honestly, having young kids and being in The Strumbellas keeps me pretty busy. I'm super excited for people to hear our new record and to see all the things we'll be announcing soon!”
Convergence is excited too to have the Strumbellas close out the festival, and folks can also catch Dave in the afternoon as part of a panel on “Artificial Intelligence and the Music Industry” presented by the Spark Centre at the Biltmore Theatre.