Port Cities: A Singular Roots-Rock Sound
The band met at camp. Gordie Sampson Songcamp, that is. The star Nashville songwriter and producer from Big Pond started the annual songwriters workshop in 2010 to nurture and educate young songwriters from Nova Scotia. At the second year of the event, Carleton Stone, Dylan Guthro, and Breagh MacKinnon “crossed paths” – and then their paths kept crossing… and crossing.
Three years later, the three decided to tour together in what they considered a travelling “songwriter’s circle” – each doing his or her own thing with the others as backup. But by the end of the tour, something had happened. It was clear that their combined efforts, including their three-part vocal harmonies, created something beyond three individual performances. “It was just magic when we sang together,” says Breagh. The next year, they made it official – and launched Port Cities.
When they released their self-titled debut album early in 2017, “Back to the Bottom”, their selection for the Blundstone Playlist, reached #1 on the CBC Radio 2 Top 20 Chart. They entered the list again the following fall with “In the Dark”. And in early November, they took home five of the most prestigious Nova Scotia Music Awards: Best Album, Best Group Album, Best Pop Album, Entertainer of the Year and Digital Artist of the Year.
“A port city is a place where cultures and histories collide, where goods and ideas are imported and absorbed into the local bloodstream,” the Port Cities website declares. “[The band’s name] isn’t just indicative of where they’re from (the harbour hamlet of Cape Breton) but what they do: fuse divergent styles and experiences into a singular roots-rock sound.”
Two years of steady touring not only built a fan base on the East Coast but solidified their collaboration and convinced them it was time to record together. The trio, who already had a total of six solo albums between them – recorded the bed tracks for the album in Nashville with Gordie Sampson and some of Music City’s best session players. Then they went back to Nova Scotia and “just messed with things,” says Dylan. “We’d do these big weird group vocals, create and experiment with sounds—and through that, we landed on a vibe that’s consistent across this whole record.”
As their website says, “the result is a perfect balance of Nashville and Nova Scotia, of the rustic and atmospheric.”
Visit their website to find out where they’re playing next, and when you do catch them, check out their Blundstone boots. “We all wear our Blundstones almost every day,” the band says. “It’s really hard to find a boot that’s comfortable but still looks good enough to wear on stage.” Their boots are kind of like their music. “Both are durable, timeless, rarely need to be polished, and appropriate for all weather conditions.”
Of course, Blundstone boots also work hard, which is the simple “secret” to achieving the success Port Cities has enjoyed so far. “Take your time, write as many songs as you can, and work harder than everyone else. There’s no overnight success in the music business.”
It’s great insight for young musicians. “The music business is one of the toughest industries to achieve success in; there’s endless hours of unpaid hard work with no guarantee of success. But, if like us this is your passion and you want to make it your career, be prepared to devote your time to it and make sacrifices to achieve your dreams.”