They both grew up in Ontario; Spink in Peterborough, James in Verona, a small eastern town with a population of a mere 1,800. They both moved to Waterloo for university, where they met via community theatre; but it wasn’t until James decided to refocus his career from drummer to frontman that they combined their talent musically. “I had written a bunch of songs and recorded them in my basement, mostly for posterity,” says James, “I asked Laura to sing harmony on some of the songs and it instantly had this magical vibe.” Shortly after James released his solo album Goodnight, Young Novelist (2009), he realized that in order to perform live, he needed to assemble a band to match the record’s full sound. After recruiting some musicians he had met over the years and touring the east coast as a six-piece, the band decided to stay together, becoming Graydon James & The Young Novelists. Between 2011 and 2012, they released two albums: live at dublin st. church (2011), and in the year you were born (2012). However, it became clear that Spink was taking on more lead vocal duties. By the time they recorded their next album, made us strangers (2015), it made the most sense to simply shorten their name to The Young Novelists.
While their upcoming album in city & country will technically be their fourth album, it is their third studio album and second under the current moniker. Their last record made us strangers landed them a Canadian Folk Music Award for New/Emerging Artist, a Vocal Group of the Year nomination, and reached top 20 on !earshot’s and Stingray Music’s (formerly Galaxie) folk charts. The same year, the band won the Grassy Hill Connecticut Folk Songwriting competition and James received the Ontario Art Council’s prestigious Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award. But 2016 was an even bigger year for the two — Spink quit her job as a scientist, they packed their things (and their five year old son Simon), and went on a massive North American tour. After over 100 shows, including a 10-week stint on the road, the pair returned to Toronto to start working on in city & country, drawing inspiration from their travels.
Set for release on May 4, 2018, The Young Novelists recorded in city & country with the help of JUNO-winning producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, The Wooden Sky). Recorded at Bilerman’s Hotel2Tango studios in Montreal, the duo returns with their classic him-and-her vocals, with James playing acoustic guitar and Spink on percussion and vibraphone. For the album’s fullness, they enlisted the help of bassist Derrick Brady, drummer Rory Calexico, and guitarist John Law.
“It was a new experience – being away from home and recording,” Spink says, adding, “It was magical to be in a beautiful, new (to us) city, spending our time and creative energy in a great studio, working with fun and fantastic people who were equal parts talented and devoted to the project.”
The album opens with “Two Of A Kind” a sentimental ballad inspired by the town of Goderich; keyboardist Jeffrey Louch shines on the almost-love song that tells the tale of a woman trying to choose between two men. The album continues with the delicate, mellow “Back To The Hard Times,” but this time, focusing on Spink’s vocals, perfectly complemented by violinist Lana Tomlin (noted for her work with Canadian band Stars). The song is inspired by Ridgeway, a town on the shores of Lake Erie, and compares two very different kinds of sadness: the failure of an old amusement park and a friend’s relationship ending. “This sort of thing happens in lots of small towns – an industry is built up and torn down. We tried to combine aspects of the grandiose industrialist dreamer who started the Crystal Beach Amusement Park, and the small-town kids who tried their best and got their hearts broken there.” The album takes a leap on track 5 with the upbeat, energy-packed “Come Round Again”. Written about a Bonnie & Clyde-style heist in Halton Hills, the song’s adrenaline draws from a guitar-heavy intro and super catchy hook — it’s a challenge to not airdrum along to this one.
The title track, “City & Country”, ties the album together in more ways than one; listening wise, the track brings together the entire studio band (including cellist Justin Wright). Inspired by Toronto, Waterloo, and his hometown of Verona, James’ reminisces on crucial times and places in his life. “This is really a song about my experiences living in a major city and a small town, and the fact that I think there are more similarities than differences.” No matter where you’ve lived, the dichotomy that exists on in city & country is universal; it’s not just a memoir of the duo’s experiences or the histories of small towns, it’s about appreciating where you’ve been and where you’re at — and finding the good and bad that lies within both
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