Back to the Bottom - Lyric Video


Local Xpress: Nova Scotia songwriters’ work comes alive when they unite as Port Cities

Trio launches debut CD at Casino Nova Scotia’s Schooner Showroom, with shows in Margaretsville, Membertou and Lunenburg

After a cross-Canada tour, Nova Scotia trio Port Cities (Dylan Guthro, Breagh Mackinnon and Carleton Stone) returns home to launch its debut album at the Schooner Showroom on Thursday. (MAT DUNLAP)

After a cross-Canada tour, Nova Scotia trio Port Cities (Dylan Guthro, Breagh Mackinnon and Carleton Stone) returns home to launch its debut album at the Schooner Showroom on Thursday. (MAT DUNLAP)

By Stephen Cooke, Local Xpress

The combination of three young songwriting talents coming into their own creatively isn’t a new idea—the names Crosby, Stills and Nash might come to mind—but it’s still a good one when something remarkable comes out of it.

So it goes with Port Cities, a triumvirate of performers with Cape Breton roots who all blossomed in the hothouse of the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, held every summer in Ingonish. The camp is a draw for young writers in all styles of music, from indie folk to electropop, but it was Dylan Guthro, Breagh Mackinnon and Carleton Stone who locked into a mutual orbit and discovered that three is indeed a magic number.

The proof lies in their self-titled debut CD, which finally gets its launch locally on Thursday at Casino Nova Scotia’s Schooner Showroom, followed by shows at Margaretsville’s Evergreen Theatre on Saturday and Membertou Trade & Convention Centre in Sydney on Sunday. There’s also a Lunenburg Folk Harbour show at the Lunenburg Opera House on Saturday, May 27.

At a retreat populated by the cream of the region’s up-and-coming songwriting talent, overseen by Grammy Award-winning hitmaker Sampson, any number of combinations could have clicked, but there was something about the shared tastes and skills, and just enough contrasting influences, of Guthro, Mackinnon and Stone that made their collaboration stand out.

“One thing was the vocal blend, musically, says Stone, shortly after the trio’s return from a musical expedition to Port of Spain, Trinidad. “We always seemed to be the ones who could best help each other, and we were always learning from each other. Not to mention the fact we all get along super well. That was one of the main things, when we started going on the road together, playing in each other’s bands and doing these little tours as solo artists, we didn’t get on each other’s nerves. Not too badly, anyway.

“Some people you can love to death, but it could be hard to travel with them. But we sorted that out before we ever decided to start the band, and musically we’ve all got our strong suits in different areas, so it never gets boring. So if you never get sick of someone, and never get bored with working with them, it seems like kind of a no-brainer after a while.”

Evolving into a group, as opposed to three solo artists with acclaimed releases of their own, isn’t something that happened overnight. Chemistry takes time to gel, but it was in evidence when Port Cities taped its CBC Play Music session at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio back in February, around the time of the album’s release.

There was a feeling of mutual support between them, and the sense of relief that each of them had someone else to lean on during a set, or make jokes with between songs. There’s certainly an all-for-one-and-one-for-all air about the endeavour that makes writing, recording and touring as a trio seem a lot more attractive than the idea of continuing to carve out a career as solo performers, and the sound of the album is essentially the sound of three friends tripling down on becoming creative partners.

“Making this record, we were aware of what kind of magic we had between the three of us musically, but besides that, we didn’t have a set plan of what things would ultimately sound like when we went into the studio with Gordie,” says Stone, who joined his cohorts at Sampson’s in Nashville to put it together, piece by piece. “We had a few false starts of trying stuff, and some things that didn’t really seem right, and by the time we got into the groove, we were thinking, ‘Yeah, THIS sounds like Port Cities.’

“When we finished the record, it seems like we hit on what we actually are, and what people see when they come to a show. I think it translated really well to the album, and it seems people are getting that from the recording. And we haven’t got a bad review yet … knock on wood.”

Allowing the trio’s own identity to flourish proved to be a process as well. Stone’s contemporary songwriting style has been tempered by his work with producers like Hawksley Workman and Broken Social Scene’s Jason Collett.

Mackinnon’s jazz training lends a more adult sound to her material, while Guthro got his start playing with his dad Bruce Guthro before going on to collaborate with hip-hop artists like Quake Matthews.

They have shared experiences and backgrounds, starting with growing up in Cape Breton, but there’s also some creative push-and-pull from those different interests and influences to keep things interesting.

“We tried to keep the vibe pretty similiar throughout the record,” says Guthro. “And besides our own influences, there’s also Gordie’s input and his choice of players down in Nashville. We just went into it four songs at a time, doing four bed tracks on each trip that we would bring home and mess around with, trying different ideas, and then sending back to Gord to see what he thought.

“Anything we sent back had already passed through all our filters, and would have to be something we were all happy with, so we’d be wondering what his thoughts would be and what he might want to add. By the time we were down in Nashville for the last four tracks, it was pretty much a no-brainer how we were going to make them suit the rest of the record.”

Currently, Port Cities are being heard on commercial radio with the earworm-laden single Back to the Bottom, with the help of a promotional boost from Warner Music Canada, and more recently launched the wistful Mackinnon tune Astronaut with a video filled with adorable childhood clips. [READ MORE]

Astronaut [Video]

When we wrote “Astronaut”, we were thinking about the differences between the endless imagination of being a child and the reality of growing up. Our parents had no idea that twenty years ago they were shooting the music video for us. Hope you enjoy 🙂


Port Cities (2017)
1. Back To The Bottom
2. Don’t Say You Love Me
3. In The Dark
4. Sound Of Your Voice
5. How To Lose You
6. Half The Way
7. On The Nights You Stay Home
8. Where Have You Been
9. Burn That Bridge
10. The Out
11. Body + Soul
12. Astronaut


bio-picA port city is a place where cultures and histories collide, where goods and ideas are imported and absorbed into the local bloodstream. The trio of celebrated Nova Scotian songwriters who now call themselves Port Cities honour that tradition. Their chosen 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.

Port Cities’ self-titled debut may be the group’s first effort together, but its members share deep, intertwining roots in the Maritime music scene. In addition to releasing three solo albums, Carleton Stone has written songs for and with everyone from Quebecois soul sensation Bobby Bazini to beloved acoustic troubadour Donovan Woods. Dylan Guthro has parlayed his own folk/RnB fusions into match-ups with Halifax hip-hop hero Classified and EDM crew Neon Dreams (whose 2015 single “High” featured Guthro alongside rap superstar Waka Flocka Flame). And Breagh MacKinnon is a jazz-schooled chanteuse whose 2012 album, Where the Days Went, was nominated for an ECMA Award; she has since lent her voice to recordings by East Coast pop icons David Myles and Ria Mae.

Port Cities is a collaboration six years in the making. The trio first crossed paths in 2011 at a songwriter’s workshop hosted by Gordie Sampson, the Nova Scotia native who has become one of the most in-demand writers and producers in Nashville (his roster of past collaborators—Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Florida Georgia Line among them—could fill up an entire Grammys telecast). That initial meeting would eventually lead to triple-bill tour in 2014 that, MacKinnon recalls, “was originally supposed to be a songwriter’s circle, but by the end, it had more of a band feel than three musicians performing separately. It was just magic when we sang together. Shortly after that, we started throwing around the idea of making it official and starting a band.”

After building a fervent fanbase in Eastern Canada through steady gigging over the past two years, the trio laid down the bed tracks for their debut album in Nashville, tapping into Sampson’s deep Rolodex of ace session players. But then they took the recordings back home and “just messed with things,” Guthro explains. “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.”

The result is a perfect balance of Nashville and Nova Scotia, of the rustic and atmospheric, of indie intimacy and the sort of arena-pop anthems that betray Port Cities’ globe-trotting ambitions; the fall of 2016 saw the band set out on their maiden cross-Canada and European voyages. It’s a record that draws on Port Cities’ collective songwriting expertise, but also reveals the dark emotional undercurrents lurking beneath the heavenly harmonies and heart-racing stomp of “Back to the Bottom”, or the intimations of infidelity tucked into the relaxed country-rock lilt of “On the Nights You Stay Home.” Even on the album’s most ebullient tracks, nothing is as it seems on the surface: the gentle Afro-pop groove of “How to Lose You” coaxes the tension out of a love song that’s consumed with the possibility of loneliness; “The Out” is a disco-kissed break-up song perfect for dancing on your own.

As Stone explains, “One thing we all seem to connect with lyrically is showing a less-than-perfect idea of love, and not being scared to talk about how everything is not great, or call out a lot of what normal, traditional love songs would be about.”

The album closes with the desolate ambient ballad “Astronaut,” a song that invokes outer-space imagery only to send us crashing back down to Earth, contrasting childhood dreams of interstellar exploration with the harsh, hopeless realities of navigating adult life. It’s a fitting finale for an album that’s nestled in the liminal space between familiar and foreign, pairing sounds that comfort with lyrics that confront. Because that’s the thing about living in a port city: the place you call home is also a gateway into the great unknown—and, at any moment, that scenic, open-water vista can give way to crashing waves and fierce undertows.

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April 29th, 2017
Delta Hotels by Marriott Saint John - Trinity Ballroom
Saint John, NB
Music Nova Scotia and CBMIC Reception
5:30 PM
May 12th, 2017
Rewind Bar
Wrexham, GB
Port Cities Trio - Music Nova Scotia at FOCUS Wales 2017
11:30 PM
Buy Tickets
May 14th, 2017
The Eagle Inn
Manchester, GB
Dusty Pop Entertainment Presents Port Cities with Special Guests
7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
May 15th, 2017
Cafe #9
Port Cities Trio
7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
May 16th, 2017
The Slaughtered Lamb
London, GB
Throwing Hands, Music BC, SASK Music & Music Nova Scotia Present: Made in Canada
8:00 PM
May 19th, 2017
Green Door Store
Brighton, GB
Port Cities Trio - Music Nova Scotia at The Great Escape
12:00 PM
Buy Tickets
May 20th, 2017
Latest Music Bar
Brighton, GB
The Great Escape Festival 2017
8:30 PM
Buy Tickets
May 27th, 2017
Lunenburg Opera House
Lunenburg, NS
Port Cities Trio - Lunenburg Folk Harbour Spring Concert Series
7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
June 3rd, 2017
The Park Theatre
Winnipeg, MB
8:00 PM
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June 17th, 2017
Halifax Seaport/behind Garrison Brewery
Halifax, NS
Port Cities Supporting The Sheep Dogs
5:30 PM
Buy Tickets
June 20th, 2017
Stanley Bridge Hall
Stanley Bridge, PEI
Port Cities Trio - Festival of Small Halls - Folk Stars
7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
June 21st, 2017
Sea View Community Hall
Sea View, PEI
Port Cities Trio - Festival of Small Halls - Sea View Sounds
7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
June 22nd, 2017
St. Andrew's United Church
Vernon Bridge, PEI
Port Cities Trio - Festival of Small Halls - Songwriters' Circle
7:30 PM
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June 24th, 2017
Chester Playhouse
Chester, Nova Scotia
Port Cities Trio
7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
June 28th, 2017
The Iona Heights Inn/The Frolic’n Folk Pub & Grill
Iona, NS
Port Cities Trio
8:00 PM
Buy Tickets
July 24th, 2017
Ship's Company Theatre
Parrsboro, NS
Monday Night Concert Series
8:00 PM
Buy Tickets





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Sheri Jones
Publicity & Promotion:
Grace Russell
Wayne O’Connor
Tom Kemp