ALL PORT CITIES PHOTOS: Mat Dunlap
IT is great to have the Port Cities guys on my blog.
They chat to me about their new single, Back to the Bottom, and what the tale behind it is. I ask whether there is new material coming and what tour dates they have coming; which U.K. dates (they are playing here in March) they are looking for; whether they are fans of British music – how they all got together in their home province of Novia Scotia.
The trio looks ahead and tell me their aims for 2018; the artists and albums that have made an impression on them; how all the myriad sounds and textures they project come together in their superb music; a new artist definitely worth checking out – how they all like to spend time away from music.
Hi guys, how are you? How has your week been?
We’re great. Been busy working on music and video content all week - and are now en route to Ontario for some shows this weekend.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?
Our band is called Port Cities and we are Dylan Guthro, Carleton Stone and myself, Breagh MacKinnon. We're all from Cape Breton, a little island on the East Coast of Canada, and we write Pop songs in a Roots-Rock style.
Back to the Bottom is your latest single. Can you reveal its background and inspiration?
Back to the Bottom was written about five years ago when the three of us were still solo artists who collaborated together. The song describes being in a toxic relationship-cycle with someone; realizing there are serious issues but still (always) coming back to them for better or worse.
How did Port Cities come together? Did you all know one another long before you started playing together?
We all met at a co-writing camp for young songwriters in our home province of Nova Scotia. We had all heard each other's music beforehand - but that was the first time we got to meet and collaborate. From there, the three of us really hit it off personally and creatively and, over the next few years, started playing in one another's solo projects and writing together more and more frequently.
We did that until early-2015 when we decided to put a name on the project and make it our focus.
It seems your music balances Nashville (where a lot of it is recorded) and Nova Scotia (where you are based). That seems like an eclectic mix! Do you think you take a bit from your local sounds and Nashville’s brimming scene?
Nashville was an amazing city to work on our record. Our producer, Gordie Sampson, is a Grammy award-winning songwriter from our hometown - but has lived and worked in Nashville for the past decade or so. Gordie knew us so well, individually, as solo artists: he was the perfect fit to help us find the ‘Port Cities sound’ and hand-picked some of his favourite studio musicians in Nashville to be the rhythm section on the album.
At Nova Scotia Music Week; you scooped five awards (in November). What was your reaction to winning so many awards?! Did you expect to scoop so many?!
We were definitely honored to win!
We were on the road a lot this year, so it meant a lot to be recognized by our peers and feel the love and support from home. I don't think anyone can really predict how those award things will go, so we were pleasantly surprised when the winners were being announced.
Can we expect some future material? Might there be an E.P. along the way?
Yes! Our debut album is out in the U.K. in early-March; so we really hope you like it! Meanwhile, between tours, we will probably spend every spare moment writing and recording our next album.
Your music matches Jazz-schooled timbre and R&B sounds; together with some acoustic sensibilities and calm. Does this diverse range of sounds reflect your personalities and musical upbringings?
I definitely do think our band is an interesting fusion of our musical upbringings: Dylan is a huge fan of Hip-Hop and R&B music - and has been making beats and writes in that style (his father is also a well-known Folk singer in Canada and fronts the Scottish band, Runrig). Carleton played in various Rock and Americana bands since he was a teenager - and I have a degree in Jazz Piano.
I think the common ground we all discovered when working together was our love of a well-crafted Pop song - and that "the best song wins" mantra has been our focus since we started working on this project.
IN THIS PHOTO: Leif Vollebekk/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
Leif Vollebekk is an amazing Canadian singer-songwriter. His last album, Twin Solitudes, is absolutely beautiful. We had a few of his songs on-repeat over the course of two cross-Canada tours last year.
If you each had to choose the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Breagh: Blue by Joni Mitchell
It's the first album that made me want to write songs. I think I literally wrote my first song after listening to it top to bottom in high-school.
Carleton: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
I (just) remember discovering this record when I was about twenty-years-old and it started my long love affair with The Boss' music. So many of his songs come from this very masculine point-of-view while still revealing sensitive inner-thoughts.
I'm not sure if anyone does it better than him.
Dylan: Chronic 2001 by Dr. Dre.
I’ve never stopped being so amazed by the perfect blend of organic and electronic elements that give every song its own unique feel where you can’t stop bobbing your head. The explicit songwriting may not appeal to all but I can only respect how fearless it is and it makes the album unforgettable. It opened my mind to another style of music production that I’d never really heard - and I’ve been addicted ever since.
You are coming to the U.K. to play in March. Which dates are you most looking forward to? Do you all love being over here?
This tour will be our third time in the U.K. (and we love it there). Outside of the major cities; it has a lot of similarities to Nova Scotia - so we all feel pretty at home while we're there.
We're looking forward to playing some shows in towns we haven't been before. London and Manchester are always great crowds; so we excited to play those places again.
You have compiled a Spotify playlist of your favourite new British music. Are you a big fan of our artists? Are there favourites from the playlist?
Some of our all-time favourite artists are from the U.K. so, for the playlist, we tried to mix some classics with some of the newer artists that we love. Jessie Ware, James Bay and Troy Sivan are three current artists that we're especially digging in the van right now.
Shura is someone we both have affection for. What is it about her music that captivates?
I came across her music when I saw her music video for Touch. I thought it was so cool and then, when I found out she filmed and edited the whole thing herself; I was super-intrigued.
I love the Jessie Ware Say You Love Me remix, too. I'm definitely a big fan (Breagh).
What has been your most treasured memory from your career so far?
We got to open for k.d. lang at a big arena show in Halifax - so that was a major highlight. I was a huge fan of her music growing up; it was such an honour to share the stage with such a legendary performer. Honestly, just getting the chance to travel to different parts of the world and sing songs for people is something we don't take for granted; so it's always a highlight when we travel somewhere new and we can share our music with people.
How do you all spend time away from music? Any hobbies or favourite ways to chill?
When we’re not playing music, we love spending time with our families, friends and girlfriends: trying to compensate for all the times we are away.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Breagh: Vincent by James Blake
Carleton: John Wallace by The East Pointers
Dylan: That Far by 6lack
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