Listening to “New York City Blues,” the first single from Toronto rock band Sun K’s debut effort Northern Lies, echoes of Americana as well as Toronto’s vibrant music scene of past and present abound through each and every note.
At one turn, the group recalls the uplifting harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash while simultaneously infusing the song with the rock influence of the city from which “New York City Blues” takes its name.
While that may strike some as hailing from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, both dynamics in fact make sense once you delve into the group’s history.
Sun K – performing at Moncton’s Plan b Lounge on Tuesday, March 17 – was originally the brainchild of vocalist-guitarist Kristian Montano. The project started off as a solo endeavour, steeped in the realm of folk music.
It was with the addition of his band mates – keyboardist Stuart Retallack, guitarist Kevin Michael Butler, bassist JuHang Sin and the group’s drummer, New Brunswick native Aaron Bravener – that Sun K found their current voice.
“It has been an interesting evolution, going from being a solo songwriter to fronting a band,” Montano begins. “While we might have started as a folk-oriented group, once we began making Northern Lies, we started experimenting more in the realm of rock and roll and really pushing ourselves to take the group in a different direction.”
Montano doesn’t explicitly say so, but one potential (if not indirect) reason behind the group’s leaning towards rock and roll with Northern Lies could lie with Cone McCaslin, the Sum 41 bassist who produced the album.
“We were very fortunate that Cone expressed early interest in the band,” Montano says. “I was admittedly a little wary of working with him at first but as soon as we got to sit down and talk about what the record could be, I instinctively felt that he was the perfect guy to help realize this album.
“He has a very transparent style of production. He wasn’t looking to completely overhaul our songs but he also needs credit for having helped us develop our sound in a passive way. He helped me discover where these songs needed to go and just guided us to get there, as opposed to using any heavy-handed kind of measures.”
Released last Tuesday via Canadian label MapleMusic Recordings, Northern Lies is the culmination of much hard work. At the same token, Montano and his band mates are not naive enough to think that success is a guaranteed thing.
They acknowledge many days and weeks away from their loved ones await them yet it is a challenge they are eager to take on.
“There is a kind of excited trepidation among us, with respect to the album being released. People have asked what we expect to come from it, and the honest answer is nothing. We are excited to get out on the road and show people what we can do. The reality of the situation, however, is that I think we are all a little nervous about leaving people we love behind for what could be a significant amount of time.
“Being on tour and promoting a record is a side of the industry that I feel not everybody understands,” Montano continues. “A lot of people just assume we are just off playing music every night and that it’s like a vacation. In actuality though, there are so many highs and lows that go along with being a band in the world today. We are hopeful that the response to the record will be good and will only try to worry about our future when the amount of shows we are playing begins dying off.”
Montano’s love of and passion for music is not a fly-by-night kind of moment. As a child, he learned how to play piano courtesy of his mother, who was a Music For Young Children teacher.
Music continued to interest Montano as he grew, however, it was always something that he did for fun. He never contemplated making a career out of it. It was when he was enrolled in a pre-medicine course at McGill University in Montreal that things started to crystallize for the aspiring musician.
“In my second year of university, I was bringing home guitars instead of my school books,” he recalls. “One day, my parents sat me down and just threw it out there: They told me that they felt as though I was more passionate about music than school and that it was OK with them if music was something I wanted to seriously follow through on. Not that I ever felt otherwise, but it was just such a relief to know that I had their blessing to go into music if I decided to do so,” Montano says.
“And now, here I am.”
What: Sun K
When: Tuesday Mar. 17, 9 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton