New Yorkers are famous for rushing. They stop for oncoming cars and not much else. But if you’re one of the lucky New Yorkers who has witnessed City of the Sun jamming in Union Square, you understand why it’s the kind of thing that makes you stop dead in your tracks.
A guitar duo composed of John Pita (23) and Avi Snow (25) this virtually unknown band has been making a big impression amongst music enthusiasts through their unauthorized jam sessions in one of the busiest sectors of the Big Apple.
Described as Indie Rock meets Flamenco, or as I like to call it “Flamindie,” their musical style is all their own and will instantly make you forget all about that Chop’t Salad you were so eager to get just a moment earlier.
After having seen one of their impromptu Union Square performances on a stifling July afternoon - my lack of music journalism experience aside - I asked them to come into the Elite Daily office for an interview. Before reading any further, check out this video capturing City of the Sun performing in Union Square.
The City of the Sun project has been a work in progress for about three years. There was once a singer, who has since moved on, and though they sometimes work with a drummer, the only two official band members are Snow and Pita, who met a year ago through the former singer. They once toured with Toronto-based rapper K’naan and opened for him in Washington, Boston, LA and New York.
They recorded an EP last year in LA, and though they may seem like quintessential Brooklynites, they both reside in Midtown Manhattan. In September, they were given the incredible opportunity of performing at the popular TED conference in New York, and having impressed organizers so much, they were asked to return for the October 10th TED conference. Having seen much transformation over the last year, City of the Sun seems to be getting their stride back.
It’s not every day you see such talent on the streets of New York, and though it may not seem so glamorous, the band insists it has its perks. “Honestly the best place we’ve found to practice has been the street. We get to feed off of people’s reactions. See what works, see what definitely doesn’t work. The best things that have happened to us have happened just by sitting on the street corner and putting it out there,” Snow says.
They’ve become somewhat of a staple in the square, “People know us over there,” says Pita, “I’ve had people whistle the songs back to us.” Even the recent performance they did at the TED conference came about because someone saw one of their street performances. “Somebody saw us playing and we got an emailt saying, ‘I’ve been listening to your music and I would like to book you for this event.’ It’s a huge thing. It’s being broadcast in a lot of different countries,” Pita says.
So what do two young, unsigned musicians do to pay the bills? “We work in NYC nightlife. For instance tonight, we are going to Riff Raff. Yesterday we were at Southside--I do it about three times a week,” says Pita. Snow, who also works in nightlife, admits there’s no such thing as a “typical” day for the duo. “It depends what time we wake up because of our jobs [in nightlife] (laughs).
Usually we meet up, depending on the day sometimes we’ll just sit at home and practice; some days we’ll go to a spot and record something. Most days we just go out and play on the street.” But don’t dismiss the band as just a couple of street performers; they have played at a number of popular local venues, including Highland Ballroom, Mondrian Hotel, Hudson Hotel, Bowery Hotel, and are currently playing at The DL on Thursday nights.
So who writes the music? “I think it’s a collective effort,” says Pita. “For instance, one of us will come up with an idea and then together we’ll work on it and expand on it.” There’s an unmistakable Flamenco quality to the band’s music. Pita, who was raised in Ecuador, credits this to his family’s love of Spanish music, while Snow’s first experience with Spanish guitar occurred while he was serving in the Israeli army. “I was in the army with this guy from Venezuela, and he would play classic guitar and we used to just jam all the time.”
Though there’s undoubtedly a Spanish influence, Pita explains he has other musical influences, “I like a lot of technical Spanish guitar, but I’m also really into a lot of modern indie music. I like Coldplay and Bon Iver; the XX. That’s why I use so many effects on my guitar. I want it to sound flamenco-esque, but I want it to sound like something I would enjoy really listening to like Pink Floyd or something that has a lot of soundscape.”
When I asked them whom they would want to play with (dead or alive), Snow simply said, “I’ve always said I would want to jam with Kurt Cobain.”
“I would love to go on a tour with Coldplay…that would be amazing,” says Pita. “Or play with Paco de Lucía, the flamenco guitarist—I’d love to jam with him on stage.”
Little did the band know at the time of this interview that they would soon get the chance to open for rock icon and former Ramone’s drummer Marky Ramone. On October 5th, City of the Sun was introduced to Harvey Leeds, Ramone’s manager. They played a few songs for him and then were taken to Ramone himself. After hearing just one song, they got the thumbs up and two hours later they were on stage opening at Marky Ramone’s Irving Plaza show.
So how is it that this band has gone on this long relatively unnoticed? “We’ve been approached,” Pita explains, “Before our singer left, we were at a certain point—almost like a breakthrough from being an independent band to…there was a lot of progress. But after the singer left, we went on hiatus. Then me and Avi picked it back up. Honestly, I can’t really picture [not playing music]. I started playing when I was 16-17…but even before I could play, I knew that I wanted to do it.”
Snow, who’s been playing guitar since he was 14, explains why the two remaining band members didn’t just give up and cut their losses, “We’ve been saying we should definitely not stop what we are doing just because one person doesn’t want to do it. Now we are just building up our momentum again.”
City of the Sun is currently performing at The DL in New York City on Thursday nights and will be appearing at the TED conference on October 26th in Washington. You can check out their music on Soundcloud.
Their website: City Of The Sun
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Top Photo Courtesy: Facebook