The City and Horses
The City and Horses is an emerging indie pop band lead by songwriter Marc Cantone and consisting of funk flautist Domenica Fossati, drummer Chris Wirtalla, bassist Matt Manhire, lead guitarist Shane Connerty and synth/sax player Nikki D’Agostino. The band's latest album "Ruins" will be released Valentine's Day and we caught up with Marc to discuss it, the band, and the influence of his OCD, anxiety, and panic disorders.
The City and Horses has members in NYC and Philadelphia, how does the dynamic of the band work given the distance?
It's tough! Mainly because we don't get to practice and work on new songs as often as I'd like. But Chris and Matt (the ones who live in Philly) are so important to the band that we make it work. Everyone else lives in NYC paying a lot more in rent.
Marc, does your work as a producer and writer at the children's network you work for have any affect on your role as a musician and vice versa?
I wouldn't say it affects my roles but it definitely informs what I do. [It] is a kids network and I write a lot of songs for my job. Sometimes the only difference between a song I write for kids and a song I write for adults is the lyrics. I don't know what that says about me as a songwriter! I will say that I like simplicity when it comes to music and melodies, and that definitely translates well to the kids space.
How has The City and Horses developed their sound through each album, from "I Don't Want To Dream" to "Ruins?"
We've definitely gotten more synthy and dancey over the years (Google just underlined those two words in red but I'm not going to change them). "Shades," the first single off the new album, is the most dancey thing we've ever done. And seeing how people react to it when we play shows makes me want to write more stuff like that. It's not easy to get people to shake their butts in New York!
Our first album sounds almost country to me now. We had a decent amount of twang going on. With the help of our producer, Aaron Nevezie, we've gotten a little more sophisticated sounding over the years. And Ruins is our most sophisticated record to date. We have more strings on this album, which were written and arranged by my friend Ricky Virgana from the Indonesian indie pop band White Shoes & the Couples Company. They're one of my all time favorite bands and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Ricky through our manager Amanda Van West who used to run the awesome music app Band of the Day.
I will say that I'm thinking of doing something way different on the next record. Much more lo-fi and less produced. I came of age with Sebadoh and Pavement and their early albums just sound so pure and honest to me. But during that time, I was also obsessed with Brit Pop and then later Belle & Sebastian, which probably explains our current sound. (Yes, I know B&S' early albums were super lo-fi and they're probably my favorite of the band's discography. Though The Life Pursuit is their masterpiece and easily one of the best albums of the last twenty years.)
What can you tell us about the theme of "Ruins?"
"Ruins" is essentially a breakup album though the title track is about the insidious way in which OCD tries to ruin everything, from a simple sunny day to the relationship this album is about. So in that regard, the album is about the ruins OCD leaves behind.
Why did you choose to open about your OCD and anxiety?
I write A LOT of songs about OCD but you'd never know it from listening to them. There's a song on our last album called "Whip" that on the surface sounds like it's about a sadomasochistic relationship. And in a sense it is. But in this case the relationship is with OCD. So one reason to open up about it is to give the songs more context for anyone who cares. But it's also to help other people with OCD feel less alone. OCD can be a very isolating disorder because our themes and rituals can be quite embarrassing. And I'm not just talking about keeping a neat desk and adjusting silverware. You know, the whole "I'm so OCD today" thing. I'm talking about some weird shit that would make most people take a step back. So we tend to keep it to ourselves.
You've said that your OCD/anxiety has a large part in your music - how does it affect your writing process? Can you walk us through what happens?
OCD and addiction are very similar. OCD and addicts are always chasing a fix. For addicts, the fix is a high, for people with OCD the fix is a relief from gripping anxiety. And we'll all do whatever it takes to get it. But just like a drug, the fix becomes less effective each time we get it. So we have to do it again and again. Until we basically become junkies to our disorder and have to go to rehab. Rock music is filled with songs about addiction, so I'm just writing about mine in the same way.
And it's really just therapeutic. Writing about a certain issue I'm having definitely makes me feel a lot better about it. And sometimes the issue might be even too scary to talk about but singing about it somehow makes it less scary.
Do you face any anxiety when performing live? If so, how do you handle it?
I didn't play live for about six years because I had severe panic disorder. I was borderline agoraphobic. Wouldn't go out at night. And since most shows are night, I definitely didn't play any! But now I have no issue performing in front of people.
Finally, what's the next step for the band?
Release "Ruins" and hope that people dance to the dance songs, breakup to the breakup songs and get back together when it's all over. We'd love to reach more people with the album but it ain't easy. I was gonna say it ain't easy in today's world but I can't imagine it ever being easy to get recognition as a band. Fortunately for us that's not why I do it! I write songs because I have to. And I'm so lucky to have some of my best friends playing them with me. Anything on top of that is buttercream frosting.