Blending the timeless tastiness of classic synth-pop to the intensity and dynamics of modern punk and the irrefutable rump mobilization of the recent dance-rock insurgence, the New Cities are primed to bring their own form of urban renewal to the Canadian pop-music scene and beyond as their first single, "Dead End, Countdown," hits radio in February, with the full album set to hit in May.
"It took three years but everything is falling into place," says Nick Denis, one of the two keyboardists in the New Cities and also the chief lyricist. He's talking about the New Cities' steady rise through the ranks, of course-the Quebec band's initial, independent forays into recording, releasing and touring to test the waters, through their serendipitous hook-up with producer and manager Greig Nori, their baptism of fire in Toronto, their signing to the Sony label and the ever more high-profile gigs they've snagged even before their first single hits the radio waves.
But the quote above could also refer to the perfecting of the New Cities sound, especially now that the line-up's rock solid with the inclusion of drummer Francis Fugere and bassist/singer Julien Martre-"Now I feel like we have the perfect synergy," says Denis.
The original core of the New Cities hails from Trois-Rivieres ("three rivers"), a small but lively city halfway between Montreal and the provincial capitol, Quebec City. While Montreal, Quebec's biggest burg, was being toasted internationally for its post-millennial music boom (something about a fire in an arcade?), Trois-Rivieres had its own sonic upswing, of which Denis and his pals David Brown, Phil Lachance and Chris Bergeron, as members of the ska-punk unit the Gamblers, were a part. "It started when a bunch of people started booking a lot of shows," says Denis, "so all the kids in high school would go to shows and start bands." In 2005, the quartet hunkered down in a basement and began concocting the next stage of their musical trajectory. Goodbye to the Doc Marten boots and chequered suspenders, they said-something new was in the air. "We'd started listening to Death From Above 1979 and the Faint, that kind of music, and that was what we wanted to do at first," recalls Brown, a former bassist who'd accepted the role of lead vocalist. "We'd all been playing in ska-punk bands for a long time, and that kind of music is good for making kids dance-that's what we wanted to do, but with a different kind of music." Denis adds, "When we started, we tried to make it a little more indie, but at some point, you tend to go towards what works best."
And the best find you. After the New Cities released an eponymous EP, produced by Steve Nadeau of Venus 3 fame, a friend brokered contact with Greig Nori-the onetime frontman of Treble Charger who has since made his mark producing Sum 41 and Hedley. That's when things accelerated. At Nori's invitation, the sextet of small-town Quebec lads planted themselves temporarily in a cramped office/apartment in the nation's music-industry hub, Toronto, during which they played a heap of shows. Fifteen in three months, in fact, at any and every venue-the Horseshoe, the Mod Club, even the Bovine Sex Club ("which is really weird for a band like us," says Denis). "It was really intense because we got there and realized that we were almost there," recalls Brown. "We realized that we could do this."
Work began on their debut album, with Nori's guidance. "He just wanted us to push our limits, " says Brown. "The keyboards, the vocals, the drums and guitars-he wanted everything to get to the next step. He wasn't writing stuff for us and saying, 'This is how you'll sound, guys.' The whole time, we were still in control." And here's a bonus-the whole affair was mixed by Dave "Rave" Ogilvie, a man with Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Skinny Puppy, Tool and Nine Inch Nails on his sprawling list of credits. "We were trying to find someone who could mix electronics and rock," says Denis. "Not everyone knows how to do that. This guy does."
The New Cities are already itching for what comes next. Their high-voltage live show is already making a mark on the Canadian concert circuit, but the band's vision is wider than that. Denis reflects on the uncertainties of many of their fellow francophones in Quebec, even those who choose to sing in English. "There's a mentality where you don't feel like you can take it out of Quebec. You always feel like it's more of a dream than a possibility." No such limitations exist for the New Cities, as they've signalled to their label and management. "We made it really clear that we love to play in Canada, but it's always good to know you can go further."