Interview with Port Cities
There is a scene in a movie called Hearts Beat Loud where Nick Offerman hears the song he created with his daughter in the neighbourhood café. He bursts with excitement as he tries to tell everyone that this is his band. It’s a cute moment, and I felt the same way, the day after interviewing Port Cities when I heard “Montreal” play on the radio while at my client’s establishment. “I just interviewed them!”
It doesn’t surprise me, the song is catchy from the get go and who doesn’t love a song about Montreal, when you are in Montreal!
Before reading the interview, listen to the song. We will speak about the actual house party that inspired the song, what song you learn when you are given a guitar at 4 years old and techniques to capture the audience at your next gig.
Don’t miss this upcoming show at La Vitriola with What If Elephants and Vikki Gilmore on February 8th, 2019. Details at the end of the article.
Montreal Rocks: Where are we calling from today?
Breagh: We’re calling from Dylan’s home studio, just outside of Halifax in Hammonds Plains.
MR: I’ve been to Halifax twice and I loved it. The city with the nicest and friendliest people in Canada, I would assume.
Right: That’s nice.
MR: So you guys are coming to Montreal soon.
Right: Yes. Friday February 8th.
MR: At La Vitrola (4602 Boul. St-Laurent, Montreal, QC H2T 1R3)
Carleton: I’m glad you pronounced it, so we didn’t have to. (laughs)
MR: First, I wanted to introduce you as a band from Halifax. Are all of you from Cape Breton or just a few of you?
Carleton: Yeah, we are all originally from Cape Breton, but Halifax based now.
MR: Definitely a great place to visit, the most breathtaking views. It’s like visiting Ireland or something, but in Canada.
Each of you performed solo before being in Port Cities. I would say that each of you have a different superpower. You are all masters of something. What are the benefits of you joining together? How did that help you as a band?
Carleton: We met at a song writing camp in Cape Breton called the Gordie Sampson Songcamp as solo artists and writers. We just kind of hit it off as friends. Started working more together over the next few years, playing in each other’s bands. I think one of the reasons we started working together so much is because our strengths complimented each other. You know, collaborating and songwriting, your trying to find people that are better than you at things that you might not be so good at. That was the core of what led us to start working together and then start Port Cities years later.
MR: Speaking of these events, you also attended the Juno Masterclass. I assume you are trained on the business side of things. How do those events help you? What do you get out of them, apart from meeting awesome people?
Breagh: The Juno Masterclass was really an amazing week. We went into it, not really sure what we would get out of it or what to expect. They kind of change the program every year. We went in and had some really amazing sessions learning as you said, about the music industry, making sure you are really on top of the business side of things. Also, we did live performance coaching with a man named Luther Mallory. That was just amazing and made us rethink the way we put on a show and the way we perform on stage in front of an audience. Just meeting the other acts from around Canada, expanding our network, meeting these amazing musicians that we might not have crossed paths with otherwise. The same goes with the music industry contacts, we got to meet the whos who of the Canadian music industry and it was a really incredible experience.
MR: Probably something every band should experience, tweaking all the different parts of being in a band. There is the writing, which is very important. You guys write amazing songs. There is the performance, which is something that will attract people to the shows. That’s the way to make music these days, because you are no longer selling pieces of plastic.
Port Cities: Yeah.
MR: You have a self-titled album that was out in 2017. Most of it was recorded in Nashville. What inspiration did you bring from that city to the record? Each town has its flavor, right? Montreal has a flavor, and I’m going to talk about that soon. What were you able to extract from Nashville to put into your music?
Dylan: We are really lucky to have our good friend Gordie Sampson who lives there. He’s the reason we all met, his songwriting camp. He’s been there for ten plus year, getting to know everybody in that city. When we went down to do our record, he was producing the record, he had handpicked his favorite players. Players that he thought would work really well with the songs we were sending him. It didn’t really come out as the country sound, that a lot of the records do down there because Gordie picked otherwise. I think, just the musicianship and the professionalism of the players and writers down there is just the best in the world. It just made sense for us to go there and see what that was all about and take it home with us. I think it was a great choice, we want to do that again.
MR: Definitely a mecca for artists, especially the writers. A lot of them come from Nashville. It was almost like a little machine, like how New York had Tin Pan Alley where they would do all their writing for the bands back in the day. Now you guys get to do your own writing, which is even better because you get to perform your own songs.
I touched on Montreal and you are coming here soon. You also have a single out called “Montreal”. In that song, you mention a house party. What’s the story behind this house party?
Breagh: The inspiration behind it is definitely real. I spent time in Montreal when I was graduating from University. One of my best friends was graduating from McGill. I went to visit her for about a week. Towards the end of the week, I was staying with her in the Plateau. One of her friends was having a graduation house party. I think somewhere off Ste-Catherine street. We ended up going on a big walk around the city, going to this house party, meeting all these new people and walking home at the end of the night. A few months later, when I was trying to come up with a song inspiration, I was just remembering that night. How beautiful the city was. It had this magical experience to it that I’ve never felt before. I just had that phrase in my phone for a long time: “I met you at a house party in Montreal.” Also, a few imagery ideas from that night that I wanted to tap into. I just brought that into a session one day with Dylan and something king of magical happened. He had a separate idea that happened to fit perfectly with my idea.
Dylan: Yeah, it was something I had just come up with on my own in the studio one late night. It sounded kind of funny, me singing it. It was a very high part. When we got together, it just matched together with Breagh’s idea very well and we actually ended up switching parts. I sing about the house party and she sings about my weird little relationship problems. (laughs)
MR: Ok. So, we should never trust who’s singing because it might be a shadow singing, like a ghost writer. I’m sure when you come back to Montreal it will be magical again. I’ve been listening to a lot of your stuff on YouTube and iTunes and I really enjoyed it. I think it will be a great show.
I want to talk about the beginnings. When you are young, I find that a lot of people I speak to, there is a certain record, or band…something musically that will take you down this rabbit hole. Maybe away from the music your parents exposed you to. That starts you on your journey of who you are, what you like. What was your rabbit hole music journey?
Carleton: I know for me, my parents were both amateur singer songwriters. They listened to a lot of James Taylor and Carol King. Great song writers, but very clean folk music. When I started to become a teenager, hearing Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, in that folk tradition, but it had a lot more edges to it. I really didn’t like the James Taylor side of things, while I really went down this gritty rabbit hole with those two artists especially and Ryan Adams. That really influenced me as a writer and performer, liking that kind of gritty dirtiness to the music.
Breagh: The first artist that really made me want to write music or pursue music seriously was Joni Mitchell, who I listened to with my mom. I was just a little little kid. For some reason, as I got older, when I reached High School, I was hearing these Joni Mitchell songs that I was listening to since I was 8 or 9 years old…and all of a sudden the lyrics and the melodies started to have this new connection to me. Once I started to get a little older and understand: wow….she’s singing about some really deep things right now. I could finally begin to understand the emotions behind it. That’s when I became obsessed with music and thought: Oh wow…I need to start writing songs like this. Try to write my own music.
MR: Was that a gateway to other performers?
Breagh: Actually yeah, now that I think about it. Joni Mitchell, I really took a deep dive into her music which then led me in a strange way to jazz. Her later stuff, when she started working with Charles Mingus, Jaco (Pastorius) and all these people…I hadn’t really listened to a lot of jazz before…hearing her play with Wayne Shorter and famous jazz musicians kind of dipped my toe in. Then I really started to get into jazz and to go to University to study jazz piano. It’s all kind of a thread that connects the whole way through.
Dylan: My father is a full-time musician, who’s been doing this for, I don’t know, 30 years or something. His name is Bruce Guthro. Him and my mom got me a guitar when I was 4 or 5 years old for Christmas and I’d be chasing them around the house making them show me chords and whatnot. I quickly became obsessed with that. Between listening to a lot of the East coast artists that my father would be working with. I remember banging drumsticks on the back of a chair to the Backstreet Boys when I was eight years old.
MR: You are very brave to admit that. (laughs)
Dylan: Got to tell the truth, right? In my teen years I was getting more into Heavy Metal’ish music. The band Alexisonfire with the singer Dallas Green who then did City and Colour. It was his voice that made me want to start singing. That’s what brought me to singing and songwriting at that point.
MR: Four years old, new guitar…what’s the first song you learnt?
Dylan: Humm….I’m not sure, honestly, probably one of my dad’s songs called “Walk This Road.” (laughs)
MR: Somewhere along the road…who is it that got into hip hop?
Dylan: That’s me.
MR: That’s what I thought. I saw the Adidas (Dylan was wearing an Adidas shirt)…probably some RunDMC in there. That’s what makes your band interesting, you come from different backgrounds. Singer songwriters like Springsteen and Dylan…you’ve got the jazz..you’ve got the Hip Hop/Heavy Metal…Alexisonfire…that really makes a fusion that is quite interesting, and an interesting show to attend. You will get to see the fusion of all these different influences together and how it’s grown. I’m sure because of all the workshops you’ve done, you’ve become better performers.
What’s one tips that you got from the workshop about performing that you could share?
Breagh: This Luther Mallory is just amazing at what he does. He’s a performer as well, toured for years. He’s got the first-hand experience. The advice he gave to us was being present, in the moment, connecting with the music you’re making and also the audience. So, if you are up there, in your own little world, not really focusing on the music, not focusing on the audience…why are you making music? The audience can feel that. His whole approach was: Guys, when you’re up there performing…I know it’s easy to get distracted. You could be thinking about what was going on earlier in the day. You have to have some strategies to take that moment, be in the moment focusing on connecting with the audience. Giving it your all, no matter what kind of music you’re playing, whether it’s a slow soft song or an intense heavy rock song. Being in that moment and giving it all you can.
MR: Is that done through eye contact?
Breagh: That’s a piece of it, yeah. He talked about when you can, really look into the audience…engaging.
Carleton: Focusing your energy too. Like Breagh said, it’s easy when you play the same show or play the same songs a bunch of times to go on autopilot. Try to reconnect in that moment on stage to the lyrics that you wrote. Remembering the day you wrote that song. What you were feeling. Try to get back into that emotion while still maintaining eye contact and portray that to the audience. In that moment, you are feeling it in real time. It was a nice reminder to re-center ourselves around each individual song and each individual lyric performing them each night.
MR: Do you have a desire to sometimes break out and modify the songs, or do you try to stick close to the original as much as possible?
Dylan: You have to stay on the roadmap when you are playing with other people. The arrangement is important, but if there is a guitar solo and it’s feeling really good, we’ll all look at each other, and just let it go…till it feels that it should end. Usually, we try to stick to the arrangements. As far as the structure, it’s usually the just the same.
MR: I’m going to ask you the Champagne question. It’s not my question, it comes from a guy named Clay Hebert. If we were to meet in one year’s time from now. We are opening up a bottle of champagne to celebrate something that you just accomplished. What would that be?
Carleton: We are just working on our new record right now, which we hope to have out in the fall. We will be doing lots of touring this year. Raising a glass to an album that’s just come out that we are all really proud of and is being received well. Yeah, just keep playing great shows. Our focus all the time is the people that come to our shows, making sure they have the best time that they can. Holding that relationship with them, so more of the same, but always getting bigger and better. What do you guys think?
Breagh: That sounds good to me, other than the Grammys…
MR: Will we hear some of the new songs on the album that’s to come at your Montreal show?
Breagh: Yeah. We’ll play a couple new ones and lots from the record.
MR: Of course, you have to play “Montreal.” You will be in Montreal…
Port Cities: For sure!
MR: I’m sure you will be able to connect to that memory.
I thank-you so much. The website is portcities.ca. What’s the best way to connect with you?
Carleton: We are on all the social media: Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. If you message us on Facebook or Instagram, we read all those and respond to every person. If anyone ever has a question or a request, whatever, we are easy to get a hold of.
MR: You will have two bands open up for you on February 8th at La Vitriola. What If Elephants and Vikki Gilmore. See you there, and we will talk again in a year, when you receive your Grammy!
Get your tickets in advance…three great acts for the price of one!