Part Time Believer

Part Time Believer

The fifth album from The Strumbellas proves that old adage of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Since releasing 2019’s Rattlesnake, the Southern Ontario roots-rock ensemble experienced a series of major shake-ups. There was, of course, the pandemic, which gave them time to do nothing but write a whole bunch of new songs—nearly 50 of them. Then the band’s lead singer, Simon Ward, announced he was ceding his frontperson duties to new vocalist Jimmy Chauveau, while still remaining in the group as a behind-the-scenes songwriter. And when it came time to enter the studio and whittle down their overflowing song stash into a proper album, they enlisted producer Ben H. Allen, the Atlanta alt-rock/rap wiz who worked on breakout records for Gnarls Barkley and Animal Collective—i.e., not exactly someone synonymous with rustic stomp ’n’ clap anthems. And yet, when you hit play on Part Time Believer, there’s never any doubt about who you’re listening to. All of the signatures that made 2016’s “Spirits” a rock-radio smash are still in full effect: that uncanny balance of campfire intimacy and stadium-sized ecstasy, lyrics that teeter on the edge of joy and melancholy, and huge vocal harmonies that light up and soar like a fireworks display. But with Allen behind the boards, the songs pack an even bigger pop wallop than before. “We had been interested in some records Ben had done,” keyboardist Dave Ritter tells Apple Music, “and we just dug his whole chilled-out Atlanta vibe. There’s a lot of us in the band, and we’re a fairly democratic organization, for good or for ill. And so, we’re often looking for a uniter—someone who can listen to all the different voices in the room and say, ‘Cool, I’ve heard from all you let’s go and do this.’ And Ben just seemed so decisive.” Here, Ritter and guitarist Jon Hembrey explain how Part Time Believer came together, track by track. “Hold Me” Dave Ritter: “On this song, we’re thinking about what we need from each other when we’re down or when you’re having a tough moment, and what it can mean to have someone there with you and what it can mean to be there for someone. It’s not always easy out there, so what can we do to help each other?” Jon Hembrey: “The demo was a bit poppier, and there was some tinkly piano and galloping drums, but this was one where Ben really had a vision of a War on Drugs-style drumbeat that’s just a little more uniform and really meshes with the vibe of the song.” “Holster” JH: “With ‘Holster,’ we weren’t thinking about the connection to ‘Spirits’ [and its famous ‘guns in my head’ lyric] ahead of time, but it was something that we worried about after!” DR: “But ultimately, we stuck to our guns—no pun intended. I think the song just stood on its own.” “Steal My Soul” JH: “The lyric ‘part-time believer’ is a phrase that encapsulates a lot about how we’re feeling—trying to sort of believe in certain things and trying to keep going. Sometimes, just trying to get out of bed in the morning is an active state. So, when we were thinking about album titles, we realized a lot of the songs are about the spaces in between things: between hope and despair or feeling like you could do it and feeling like there’s no way you can do it. So, it just felt like Part Time Believer was kind of a good name for this album about being in the middle of things.” DR: “There’s always been a flirtation with religious imagery in our music—I mean, we had a single called ‘Salvation.’ But I wouldn’t say there’s any strict programmatic dogma there. It’s just something that’s been interesting to us. The closest we would ever get [to religion] would be as part-time believers, but I’m not even sure we get that close most of the time.” “Running Out of Time” JH: “I don’t think this actually started as a piano song; it just grew into that as we started working with Keith Varon, who was a co-writer. The original demo started with an intro and a verse, and then Dave and Jimmy just kind of flipped it on its head and started with the chorus and then into the big piano drop.” “Let Down” JH: “This started as a voice memo that Jimmy had—he essentially just had the words of what was meant to be the main chorus line. It’s inspired by fighting with the person you love—like saying things we don’t mean but coming back together again. Jimmy just had the words and a different melody. And then, we worked with [songwriter] Kayla Diamond, and we took that idea and just went off from there.” “The Hurt” JH: ”This one’s about that feeling when you have no motivation and no desire to get out of bed—even that’s a chore. I don’t think it was inspired by a particular breakup, but it’s that type of feeling that you have where you're just like, ‘Man, it’s gonna be a long journey back to feeling sort of normal again.’” “Echoes” JH: “I think the chorus of this came from a Simon demo from many years ago and took a long time to work into what it was. We got Jimmy on it, and then we were sort of like, ‘What’s a key that works for it in the best way?’ And Dave and I were trying to put some production on it—like the bass riff and staccato electric guitar—and we were like, ‘Hey, that’s a pretty cool groove.’ We really threw stuff at the wall to see what stuck until we ended up with a pretty rockin’ tune.” “My Home Is You” JH: “This is a love song about missing someone back at home. We actually recorded it early on during the pandemic, and then it just kicked around. Once we got Jimmy involved, we just put his vocals on top, and now it’s on the record.” DR: “That sort of kick-drum/acoustic-guitar sound can maybe get a little relentless, so we wanted to shake it up a little bit. So, [producer] Dave Schiffman suggested that change [to a disco groove] in the second chorus.” “Hurricane” JH: “[Multi-instrumentalist] Darryl James went down to a songwriting session in LA, and he wrote this with Keith Varon and McKay Stevens. It wasn’t intended to be like a Strumbellas song, but he showed it to us, and we loved it right away. It has a great chorus, and I think you get what the song is about immediately.” “Great Unknown” DR: “This song definitely has a ‘I’m finished with this—what’s next?’ feel to it. For a long time, the line was, ‘I’ll be ready to meet my maker’ instead of ‘catch the great unknown,’ but that felt perhaps a little too religious for how we were feeling about the song in general, and where we wanted to see it go.” “Florence” JH: “During the pandemic, Dave and I were sitting in his tiny, illegal basement studio that we had on the west end of Toronto, with no running water and nothing else to do but write songs. This started as just a little voice memo with the four chords, and we built up a track. I was definitely thinking about Lord Huron and really reverbed-out guitars in a big sort of soundscape. And then, we sent that to Simon, and he massaged those lyrics into place, and everyone else added their parts on. And it just felt right the way it was, in the acoustic lane. And then, late in the session, we turned Jimmy loose on the outro chorus—we were just like, ‘Man, sing your heart out on this one! Just leave it all on the floor!’ I think it really shows his range as a vocalist.” “Wreckage” JH: “It definitely wouldn’t be a Strumbellas record without a sad acoustic song about dying! I was driving my car to that little studio and a radio programme was on, and this artist was talking about the inspiration for his work. And reportedly, this guy’s last words were something along the lines of you leave so many things behind when you die, like memories and feelings and physical things, and you can always find that person in those things. And that idea just really struck me.”

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