Canadian Musician - November/December 2021 - Page 59

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The Strumbellas ’ Dave Ritter on Addressing Flaws & Diversifying His Skills

CM : The Strumbellas ’ latest single from earlier in 2021 , “ Greatest Enemy ,” is a little more synth-forward than many of the band ’ s other songs . How did you go about figuring out your part for this tune , and was it typical of how you usually go about it ?
Ritter : For this , it was nice to work with Steve Aiello – remotely , because he wasn ’ t in the studio with us – because he has a real ear for synths . I often find that producers who come from the rock world have an ear for guitars and have a lot to say about what amp we should use for this part , but that the synths are like , “ I don ’ t know ; what do you think ?” But Steve brought a lot of beautiful arrangements and powerful synth sounds , even in just making the demo . So , a lot was already there and it was up to me to just refine and add some things . So , it was nice working with a core that was already energetic and interesting .
CM : Over the course of your music career and your time playing keys – keyboard , synth , and piano – what was your most persistent flaw and how did you address it ?
Ritter : Oh , that ’ s an interesting question . I ’ m going to attack the question in this way , which is to say , the flaw is that I am not a natural keyboard player . When we started this band , it was a much folkier band and I played autoharp , of all things . I had taken some piano lessons but not too many , and so , I brought in a keyboard a year or two into playing in the band — just brought one in one day and started playing . So , I guess the flaw I was trying to address is just not really having a lot of natural skill or technical ability . I solved that by just working in the band . So , originally it was just piano and maybe a little bit of organ , and then for our third record I started working with synths because I became interested in them . But it ’ s been something that I ’ ve built in the band rather than something that was already there that I was working on or trying to refine .
CM : When you listen back to The Strumbellas ’ four albums , are there signposts along the way where you hear , for instance , “ Oh , there ’ s a turning point for me ” or a song where you really found your place in the band ’ s sound ?
Ritter : Yeah there are , but they ’ re less technical in terms of things I ’ m doing with my fingers on the keyboard and more about innovations I am bringing to the band . So , there will be a signpost like , “ For this record I learned how to program synthesizers and I designed the synth patches to bring new sounds into the band and then I started having a synthesizer on stage .” For the latest record , we started doing more MIDI programming and I was sort of in charge of that . So , it ’ s more about a creative area than a keyboard skill that you would practice with your fingers .
CM : During the downtime of the pandemic , were you making a conscious effort to improve in any areas or learn new things ?
Ritter : I have been working on mixing and production during the pandemic , and we ’ re doing a lot more refined demo work together . A lot of our demos for previous albums were more just Simon [ Ward , lead singer and songwriter ,] and a guitar and then we ’ d bring that into the jam space and flesh it out . Now , the six of us are sending back and forth more sophisticated productions with more instruments and I am quite interested in programming drums and working with the band that way . So , I am definitely interested in improving my skills , but it ’ s more in the laptop world than the keyboard world .
CM : Are you someone who approaches practice in a regimented way ? Or is just playing with the band is your practice ?
Ritter : I will practice for a need . So , it ’ s not something where I do a certain number of hours per week , but more if we have a big gig coming up , or we have an album that we ’ re ready to record and there are some challenging parts that I need to work on . But mostly , I practice in the band . Again , I am not a great technician of the piano , such that I am working on technique a lot . I am more of a jack-of-all-trades , where I ’ ll play some guitar , do some singing , and I play the keys . So , it ’ s not a regimented practice setup . It ’ s more around the needs that I have in the band .
Dave Ritter plays keyboard , piano , and synths in chart-topping , Junowinning folk-pop band The Strumbellas . www . thestrumbellas . ca .
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 59