Even though they have been indefinitely separated from their loyal fans, The Strumbellas can’t help but feel some enthusiasm these days. The Toronto-based band just released their newest single “Greatest Enemy” in February, their first proper release since they issued their fourth studio album, Rattlesnake, in 2019.
Anthemic in nature, “Greatest Enemy” is about surviving challenges, particularly the one that’s posed to you by yourself. The song is about facing that one fight that you can’t just walk away from, and it was inspired by some of the setbacks they faced last year, which included the pandemic, cancelled touring plans, and some mental health issues. During the touring cycle in support of Rattlesnake, lead singer Simon Ward came to the realization that the depression he had been dealing with for the better part of 15 years was no longer something he could deal with by himself. With The Strumbellas on hiatus for 2020, it afforded Ward the time to not only get his mind straight but refocus his attention on writing and recording with his bandmates.
It took until November 2020 for the guys to actually reconnect in person when they recorded “Greatest Enemy,” a song that Ward wrote with widely respected songwriter Stevie Aiello (Thirty Seconds to Mars, Lana Del Rey). In an effort to raise awareness of the importance of mental health, the band worked with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto to release the single.
There’s no denying that the members of The Strumbellas are rock n’ roll aficionados, so it shouldn’t surprise you to know that these guys love collecting records. For our newest Vinyl Variety feature, The Strumbellas’ drummer Jeremy Drury covered for us some of his favourite record and music stores in the Steel Town of Hamilton, Ontario, filling us in on the coolest shops he frequents around town.
1. Into The Abyss
Address: 119 Locke St. S., Unit A, Hamilton, ON L8P 4A7
Phone: (905) 518-7609
When Hamilton, Ontario’s Into The Abyss opened its doors in 2017, Brad and Jenni Germain had no idea of the curveball they’d be thrown within a few short years. A city plan to replace the water main that sits beneath the up-and-coming section of Locke St. that their modest shop fronts, meant a road closure and a substantial drop in traffic. Their plight became the topic of local social media feeds, and as word got out, I remember my girlfriend and I making a point of stopping by. While we were still relatively new to Hamilton at that point, the city’s spirit of supporting local was an ethos we were more than happy to champion.
Brad considers Into The Abyss to be “a place for all tastes, a place for everyone!,” so I decided to test this, doing my best Jack Black in High Fidelity impression. “Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, God Fodder,” I asked as I bellied up to the counter; (smugly aware this vinyl never had North American distribution…). Without flinching, he shoots straight, “I don’t have it.” Brad has no need to double check, he takes pride in his memory and the knowledge of his inventory. Frankly, I’m impressed. While his collection may be modest when compared to what you might find in a so-called “superstore,” I’ve been to enough shops across North America, whose inventory pales in comparison to Into The Abyss’, where shopkeepers begrudgingly answer my query by taking the lead on the way to a bin marked “N.” With a healthy mix of new and used, where offerings from local acts such as The Dirty Nil and Arkells are proudly displayed, there’s no issue getting my fix for early ‘90s alternative.
2. Dr. Disc
Address: 20 Wilson St, Hamilton, ON L8R 1C5
Phone: (905) 523-1010
Mark Furukawa, owner of Dr. Disc is quoted as saying, “Hamilton’s greatest asset is its Resiliency.” Having recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, Dr. Disc has been a mainstay in the downtown core and seen its own fair share of adversity over the years. Shifting markets in an ever-evolving landscape have kept this purveyor-by-day, DJ-by-night on his toes. I can’t help but feel Mark’s ability to move quickly and adapt is where the somewhat extraordinary sense of community surrounding Dr. Disc was born. In addition to serving the needs of music consumers, Mark’s support for all things music actually saw him recruit fellow record shop owner, Scott Bell of Revolution Records, to help organize a benefit concert to raise money for Brad and Jenni, to help bridge the gap while sales at Into The Abyss struggled through that aforementioned construction.
Seriously. When the “competition” was down, these folks banded together to extend a helping hand. If I were even half as confident with my screenwriting abilities as I am with my drumming, I’d be down at Hallmark pitching the feel-good movie of the year.
The sense of community Dr. Disc exudes in an outward motion can also be found within, (or sometimes literally on top of), its walls. From hosting in-store and rooftop concerts, to taking part in community events run in the adjacent parking lot, or proudly focusing displays on local artists, as a member of Hamilton’s Music Advisory Team, Mark is living proof that the cultural hub record shops often strive to be is not only a possibility, but a reality.
3. Revolution Records
Address: 166 Ottawa St. N., Hamilton, ON L8H 3Z3
Phone: (289) 389-7746
Formerly holding the title of “Hamilton’s Oldest Record Shop,” Cheapies Records and Tapes closed its doors in 2020 after 42 years in business. But in a way, the legacy carries on, not only in the memories of its customers, but through Scott and Rebecca Bell, who opened Revolution Records in 2015. Scott spent almost 20 years working at Cheapies before taking command of his own ship, so he’s very familiar with the importance of community and culture to Hamilton’s music fans.
Revolution Records is described as, “A cartoonishly friendly record store with a bright inviting 1960s aesthetic. With our huge selection, from electronic to country, rock to jazz, blues to hip hop, and beyond, we keep our prices low to make not only your ears, but your wallets happy!” To me, this spells the perfect candidate for a bin diving adventure. The mix of old and new, spread across a wide variety of genres, means there’s never any issue finding something to fit the bill, even if the bill is simply defined as, “acquire more vinyl.”
When Chad Silva’s girlfriend joked he had collected enough music, movies and games to open his own shop, that’s exactly what he did in December of 2019 at the age of 21. Flashbacks, located on the elevated portion of the escarpment that splits through the city, (affectionately referred to as “The Mountain”), aimed to help bring the buzz and culture of the downtown scene to his own neighbourhood; a part of the city that hadn’t seen a local record shop since the downtown boom relegated the once bustling streets to a virtual wasteland, where big-box stores and strip malls dominated. With his mother’s original copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as the centerpiece of his collection, (although strictly for display purposes only, its value contained in the love letter written to his mother on the back), Chad’s ambitions aren’t limited to running a successful business, but also include becoming a catalyst for growing a sense of community, not only within the music scene, but in his entire backyard… sound familiar?
Address: 411 Concession St., Unit 1, Hamilton, ON L9A 1B8
Phone: (905) 440-0225
“The Home of the Flash Sale” is a mantra echoed on Flashbacks’ social media feed. An ever-revolving inventory takes the spotlight and showcases the sometimes odd and obscure offerings that maybe you didn’t think you needed, but at a price you can’t pass up… Like, how’s Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots’ Disco Duck Part 2, Instrumental on 45 for 1.25 sound? With the pandemic pushing back some of his loftier ambitions, Chad has been putting his efforts into these Flash sales, which have been providing his customers with a widely diverse selection of music to dig into and discover. No, he didn’t have the God Fodder I asked about, but it did spur a conversation about Inspiral Carpets, Noel Gallagher, and the early ‘90s English scene that we both wished got more attention this side of the pond.
While Hamilton’s greatest asset might be its resiliency, I think it’s the love and support for its own that provides the strength required to bounce back like the city always seems to. A community effort, and a love of music, keeps these shops thriving despite challenges. I’m proud to play my own small role in it all and feel privileged to live in a town with such great support, not just for my passion and chosen profession, but for each other.