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Why The Strumbellas Travel for Food, Especially Brisket

The Strumbellas are obsessed with Austin barbecue. (Photo: courtesy The Strumbellas/ Universal Music Group)

The Strumbellas songs may be, admittedly, all about death and despair, but they take a decidedly joyous approach to the subject. The video for their song “Spirits” features a whimsical funeral. They approach eating on the road with the same mix of seriousness and aplomb.

I met the six-piece, Toronto-based folk-rock band – made up of singer-songwriter and guitarist Simon Ward, keyboardist David Ritter, guitarist Jon Hembrey, violinist Isabel Ritchie, bassist Darryl James and drummer Jeremy Drury – in the presidential suite at the JW Marriott Austin for SXSW, and to talk travel and food, lots of food.

What have you eaten in Austin?

Simon: Our band absolutely loves eating on the road. We find mom and pop shops all around, so when we first came to Texas we found this mom and pop barbecue and we got completely obsessed with Texas barbecue and Austin barbecue specifically. We’re having a contest right now to see who can eat the most barbecue at SXSW and I think so far it’s Dave with five…. We can’t get barbecue up north so we just take full advantage of it.

Dave: Quite specifically, brisket. We just can’t get anything like that in Canada. I don’t even know if they try. It’s just amazing.

The Strumbellas at SXSW 2016
The Strumbellas perform at the Music is Universal Showcase, hosted by Marriott Rewards and Universal Music Group, at SXSW 2016 (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Universal Music)

Do you have any guilty pleasures when you are out on the road?

Simon: My guilty pleasures are four pillows; water slide at the hotel; free continental breakfast – that’s a biggy – and waffles. Gotta have the waffle maker.

If you could have one other person travel with you, who would that be?

Simon: Muhammad Ali. Isn’t it obvious? That’s just common sense.

If you had to write a song about a place or city what would it be?

Izzy: If we had to write about a song about a city, right now, I think it should be about Austin and its amazing barbecue!

What are the top five places you’ve visited in the world?

Simon: New York, Yellow Knife, Canada, Texas, L.A., any places in Germany, especially Berlin.

What inspires you while you travel?

Simon: Honestly, it’s the food. We’re huge foodies. We bought a book with all the cool hotspots. We watch “Diners Drive-ins and Dives.”

Darryl: Hiking too. We’ve started to get into that. It’s good to find a good hike anywhere.

What’s a great hotel experience to you?

Simon: Fast elevators, plugs beside the bed, housecoats, pool or hot tub, free coffee in the morning, in the lobby or all day!

You guys eat a lot on the road, but where should you eat in Toronto?

Dave: The food in Toronto is great. It’s such a diverse city. You can basically get anything you want from all kinds of cultures. My favorite places to eat are Porchetta & Company. It’s a tiny little sandwich hole in the wall on the West Side. The Burger’s Priest is the best burger joint in Toronto and we like to go to The County General, it’s creative southern barbecue type food. It’s not as good as it is in Texas but it’s pretty good.

Where should you go to listen to live music in Toronto?

Izzy: Three places that I always go when I’m looking for something to do on a Tuesday night are The Dakota Tavern, it’s like a country-folk thing. There’s The Cameron House where we really got our roots. They have bands coming up doing their residency; those were our first shows. Then the Horseshoe Tavern; It has local acts but also people coming into town.

So, you spend a lot of time on the road together, what’s you favorite travel memory?

Simon: This one time we were in North Carolina, we went to a mom and pop fried chicken spot. The server was about a 60-year-old woman. She had a southern accent. We’re eating and, all of a sudden, half way through our meal she comes up and says “You guys like Patsy Kline?” We were like, yeah, we like Patsy Kline. And she says, “I’m gonna sing a whole song for you right now.” And so, our server sang an entire Patsy Kline song for us while we were eating and we were like, this is the best experience we’ve ever had.

Izzy: But it was awkward too. I didn’t know if it was rude to keep eating while she was like serenading us.