Climb the steps of his Halifax home to the third floor and find yourself in Jamie Townsend’s cozy attic bedroom. Primary red and blue colourblocks the walls and slanted ceiling. Scuffed album covers depicting lush coasts and young love hinder sunlight from entering the window. Stuffed monkeys perch on the speakers that bookend Townsend’s desk. On the blue carpet sits a beige futon in sofa mode, an antique globe — which spins to yield song names — and two chairs facing each other. One chair squeaks as Townsend leans back. Ben Dalton sits facing him, tapping a bongo. A couple clicks on Townsend’s mouse and the room fills with warm electronic pop. For the two members of Southern Shores, music is about where you want to be, not necessarily where you are.
The island of Grande Comore is located off the east coast of Africa. Its average temperature is a tropical 30 degrees Celcius. Google it and find their song synched to the above black and white film of one man’s paradise: a secluded island, a pet monkey and dancing ladies. A quote fills the screen at the four-second mark:
“Down through the ages has come that eternal heritage — the urge in every man to turn his back on so-called civilization, to get back to nature and revel in the glories and freedom of a primitive paradise.”
“Heat and leisure are what one wants in life that you don’t necessarily need,” says Dalton, who once applied for a job as a travel writer. “I want to express those feelings in music.”
It seems to be working. The duo recently nabbed a deal with new label Cascine to record a six-song EP and their first show — Friday, April 29 at Tribeca — feels almost too soon for comfort. They’ve been working in Townsend’s bedroom most days since receiving the happy news. When Dalton recalls that first message from Cascine, he grins. Their experimental grooves have been less than a year in the making so Townsend and Dalton were genuinely caught off guard by these victories:
“We never even talked about labels before,” Townsend says.
“No, certainly not. Definitely not ever,” Dalton adds.
“I didn’t even know these sort of labels existed,” says Townsend.
“It’s fun to put your music up on SoundCloud, but I didn’t really think that anyone except our friends was listening,” Dalton underlines. “So we didn’t know how that happened but someone somewhere heard it and was excited.”
Southern Shores began with five members but quickly whittled down to two when Townsend quit his engineering job last summer in favour of European adventure. Dalton joined him and the pair set up in a one-bedroom Berlin apartment last fall. It wasn’t glamorous. They packed light, bringing only Dalton’s smallest keyboard and Towsend’s computer as music-making tools. Initially the other members’ participation remained up in the air. Townsend and Dalton soon dismissed their earlier group work in favour of manipulating found sounds. Dalton returned to Halifax last December and Townsend followed him in January. Then came the first signs of success: StereoMood added Grande Comore to their “dreamy” playlist and BadPanda blogged about the pair. That’s when Dalton and Townsend knew they had something good.
Producing leisurely tracks has been hard work. Currently the Southern Shores members’ most imminent concern is translating their chill vibe into a live show. Thanks to the 'net, the pressure to perform has never been greater. Dalton and Townsend acknowledge that once a group’s first performance hits YouTube, there are no second chances.
The duo cancelled their show last week at Gus’ Pub to buy more time: “We decided it would be wise to hone our skills.” Their April 29 gig is more certain. Patrons can expect some form of visuals — perhaps projected video clips — to accompany Southern Shores' exotic pop.
One more reason to look forward to summer.
Full disclosure: Townsend and Dalton are friends with my boyfriend, and if they say we partied, then I’m pretty sure we partied.