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Music/Interviews

New City are all in

May 9, 2018

The Toronto-based pop trio had to teach themselves how to trust their gut. They’re also challenging our limited definition of whatever the hell “cool” means.

The most fascinating part of New City’s origin story is how familiar it is. After meeting through mutual friends at a hotel party in downtown Toronto, the trio of Adrian Mitchell, Jed Webster and Nathan Brown found themselves making music together less than 24 hours later. The “studio” (which they now lovingly refer to as the “grove”) was the basement apartment Webster and Brown shared. On that first day, Mitchell remembers rolling up in a full suit. It was there, sitting on a mattress less than a foot off the ground where they decided to abandon their individual projects (including the 10k investment Mitchell had put into his solo project) and form New City.

Fast forward to today, and after capturing the attention of Timbaland and signing a deal with a major label, they’re about to embark on their first North American tour. Their most recent video for “Getting Closer” is already a runaway hit with no signs of slowing down. But New City are not exceptions to the rule that most rising artists abide by, and the road to their success is at the spirit of “Getting Closer.” Like everyone else, they share the same wholly unglamorous experience of living in a city where surging rental prices and an ever-higher cost of living has taken its toll on even the most innovative of artists.

“We were broke as shit,” Webster states bluntly about their earliest days as a band. Despite the looming challenges ahead (Mitchell dropped out of his marketing program at Ryerson University), the three buried themselves in their music: “We would be doing more than a song a day, for a year or two straight. With nobody paying us, nobody telling us they’re good, just getting better and better,” Webster continues.

Now basking in the vigor of their imminent rise, their hard work is starting to pay  off. Taking on the oft-tackled task of delivering a new spin on contemporary electronic music with guitars and drums as artillery, their songs are pristinely mixed; comfortably sitting in the prowess of their own musicianship and skill rather than relying on earth-shattering drops and or cheap thrills. While they’ve been called everything from electro party pop to “new music, for a new moment,” they sit somewhere between (and above) both genre definitions. Their string of released singles like the bleary-eyed aspirational banger “Coachella” and cheeky as hell “Dirty Secrets” borrow from house, funk and the type of unabashed pop that feel capable of bringing even the most mundane of moments to life.

When asked to describe their music, they identify three main objectives: “sexy, fun and honest.” It’s an open-ended definition which could work just as easily for an artist like Miguel as it could for  Father John Misty. In an age where dating apps have forced a massive revolution in the way we meet-up (and hook-up), the group makes music that captures the reality of the times. “I’ve been in relationships for 6 years of my life, ever since I was a 15-year-old kid,” Mitchell explains. “When you’re younger, you’re writing songs to get love, or ‘how can I find that’ or find somebody else. When you’re in your 20s, you have so many experiences you can make them into real stories.”

Cool is not doing things because other people aren’t doing them, cool is just doing you and other people resonating with that, and wanting to take pieces from you and grow with you.

Adrian Mitchell

It’s hard to ignore the fact that in a Canadian landscape, they’re a fascinating case, willing to branch out of the perpetually downcast glitz of “Weeknd-esque pop” to stand out in a crowd with music that encourages lighter spirits into existence. Similar to their breakout contemporaries like Alessia Cara or Shawn Mendes, they’ve taken their small town upbringing (Mitchell is from Oro-Mendonte, Ontario and Webster and Brown both grew up in Sussex, New Brunswick) and turned it into music that’s universally accessible.

The thing with making music that belongs to everybody is that it comes with its dissenters. It’s no secret that cities like Toronto and Montreal have a habit of cocooning their brightest voices, shielding them from outside attention in cliques that consistently toe the line of caring too much. It’s a limited place to be in and New City have decided to position themselves differently.

“If anyone, anywhere in the city, or anyone, anywhere thinks anything’s too cool for them, what’s cool? You have to make cool. You have to make your own thing,” Mitchell explains. “Cool is not doing things because other people aren’t doing them, cool is just doing you and other people resonating with that, and wanting to take pieces from you and grow with you.” For Webster, figuring out the parameters of who you are is not only creative motivator, it’s a way to constantly evolve: “I’m not the same person I was yesterday, we’re changing so fast. I think everyone should be okay to change.”

Now at a point in their career where every move ups the ante on their trajectory, the band have settled into their approach for handling the big things that come their way. Their advice for dealing with rising success: “trust your gut.” “Usually it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a long time,” describes Mitchell. “

“We play with a lot of plans in our head and don’t put it to paper. A lot of people don’t want to make the jump and do what that little voice in their head is telling them to do.” Their forthcoming with the realities of taking a big leap, which they admit doesn’t feel great at first. “It’s scary, but it’s a good scary,” Brown explains. “It feels like change is about to happen and for people that are spiritual, it’s like the full moon, it has a weird feel, like goosebumps,” finishes Webster. “I don’t know how to describe it because it could be different for everybody but you know it when you feel it.”

A.Side is co-presenting the New City  showcase at Canadian Music Week on May 10th. We’re giving away tickets to the show. Click here for more details. 

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