Over the last couple of years, Halifax-based trio Neon Dreams have rapidly emerged as one of the brightest new stars on the Canadian music horizon. The success story they are writing has long and deep roots, however, for Frank Kadillac, Adrian Morris, and Matt Gats have been playing together in different configurations for the last nine years. The result is a tight-knit band with a strong personal and musical foundation, one destined to help Neon Dreams go a long way in the business.
Neon Dreams released a new EP, Wolf, Princess & Me, on Dreaming Out Loud on Sept. 22. This release comes hot on the heels of another radio hit single, "Find A Way." Featuring the guest vocals of Sarah Mark, it is an infectious track perfectly timed for the summer season. Neon Dreams first made an impact on Canadian radio in 2016 with their breakout single "Marching Bands," featuring Kardinal Offishall. Recently certified gold, the smash hit brought Neon Dreams victory in the Best New Group or Solo Artist (Dance/Urban/Rhythmic) category at the 2017 Canadian Radio Music Awards in Toronto, during Canadian Music Week.
The fact that the group beat out such prominent fellow nominees as Shaun Frank, Tory Lanez and Party Next Door in that category definitely placed Neon Dreams on the music industry radar. Released in August 2016, Neon Dreams' seven-song EP To You continues to enjoy astonishing success. To date, it has received over 8 million streams on Spotify and sold over 10,000 units in Canada.
The group's musically eclectic yet always melodic material is now in high demand in the world of television. The band has already notched more than 150 TV placements in such hit shows as Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Real World, and Silicon Valley. Another thumbs up has come from CBC Music, who recently placed Neon Dreams on their list of 25 Musicians Under 25 You Need To Know, alongside the likes of Alessia Cara and Shawn Mendes. The band also has fans in high places. PM Justin Trudeau recently included "Confessions," the Neon Dreams and Quake Matthews collaboration, on his Spotify summer PM Mix playlist!
Observers on the Halifax scene had noted the immense potential of Neon Dreams much earlier. Their signature high-energy and dynamic live show had made them local favorites, and their strength in performance is now a key asset as they play shows across North America. Frank Kadillac and Matt Gats first started playing together in high school, as Matt recalls. "We both didn't go to class very much and the music teacher was nice enough to let us hang out in the music room. We'd hang out and once a week Frank would ask about starting a band. He started getting better at a rapid pace and I was like 'we're definitely going to do this.' We have never looked back."
Adrian Morris joined the party shortly after. He explains that "they had another drummer, but he dropped out just before they had a big show coming up. They started asking around, and one of their buddies was a mutual friend. He said 'check out this guy on YouTube," as I'd put up a video of me playing drums that had gone viral, with nearly a million views. They called me up, saying they had a big gig in three days. I quickly learned all their songs and did the show." That core trio stuck together through a couple of different musical incarnations. One of these was a pop-punk quintet that made a splash locally.
The musical tastes of the guys then evolved, first into hiphop and then electronics. Matt explains that "when these bands came along incorporating electronics and rock, we wanted to do that too. We started a new group, and that's when Corey LeRue started performing with us." LeRue was a Halifax-based DJ and producer, and his influence would be crucial to the development of the Neon Dreams sound.
To reflect their new hybrid style, the guys came up with a new name, inspired by a very poetic setting. "We went to [iconic Nova Scotia landmark] Peggy's Cove," Adrian recalls. "It was quite a spiritual journey, lying there sitting on the rocks at midnight we're just lying there on the rocks, looking at the stars. Someone said 'it's like neon.' We went 'neon skies, that's cool. How about neon dreams?'"
The name stuck, and the energized foursome put their heart, soul and musical intellect into forging the fresh new Neon Dreams sound. "Our history of playing in rock bands made that a lot easier," Adrian reflects. "It wasn't as if electronica and EDM was all we knew. Where we are at now is like the combination of every different style and genre we have tried before." To Matt, "it's all about trying to evolve with the times, while keeping our influences from the past." Their shared history in rock bands meant that Frank, Matt and Adrian could bring that energy and adrenalin to the table, while Corey's mastery of the beats added a vital new component.
Adrian explains that "our concept from the beginning of Neon Dreams was to bring live instrumentation back to it and make it about the band even though it is club music. We'd go to a show and it was all about the visual effects. The person at the turntable would not be interacting with the audience. We wanted to put on a real show." The importance of the long personal and musical interaction of Frank, Matt and Adrian cannot be over-stressed. Frank notes that "we have spent more time with each other over the last 10 years than we have with our own families. This is our family. It is a very true and authentic chemistry you just don't get if you put three random dudes together in a room together and say 'go play.'
"Our personalities are all different so we don't really clash. We are very different but we're all working towards the same end and the energy is amazing." A strong work ethic has been another asset, and it didn't take long for Neon Dreams to gain a strong following on the East Coast. One 2015 New Year's Eve show they headlined in Halifax drew 8,000 people, though Matt recalls "it is hard to play guitar when your hands are frozen!"
The breakout onto the national stage came via "Marching Bands," one of the freshest hit singles of recent years. Primarily penned by Frank Kadillac, it's an autobiographical look at how he fell in love with music, and the emotional honesty of the song has resonated with a large audience. The creative process within Neon Dreams is a very democratic one, as Adrian explains. "A song generally stems from one person's idea and then we all run with it. We're not a traditional band in the sense that we don't sit down with a bunch of guitars and jam things out in a circle. We all start in our programming software, then we bring ideas in."
"Matt may come in with a riff on guitar or Frank may have a vocal part with a couple of chords. We then look at what direction to take with it. Is it a pop Top 40 sound or dancehall reggae or some more electronic vibes? It can start in many ways and go in many directions and then it ends up with Corey, the engineer of the team." As Frank observes, "inspiration can come from anyone then we all take hold of it and it becomes a Neon Dreams track at the end."
This approach helps account for songwriting that is both musically eclectic and lyrically adventurous. That will certainly be reaffirmed on the upcoming Wolf, Princess & Me. The five track EP follows Frank Kadillac as he navigates a love triangle with a Princess and the Wolf in what has been termed a "fairy tale for millennials." All the songs will stand alone, but all connect together to tell a complete story of love in the new age of technology. The EP was also accompanied by a visual movie.
Neon Dreams are back on the road, winning new fans with every high energy show they stage. Their performance prowess recently earned them a coveted spot opening for hot US act The Chainsmokers at the Calgary Stampede, whil a Canada Day 150 show in Mississauga attracted 40,000 people. Further proof that the music industry has taken note of Neon Dreams' immense potential came when the group was named one of three winners in the 2016 Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class program. This is Canada’s premiere artist development initiative, and it is one that Neon Dreams quickly took full advantage of, excelling with multiple performances at JUNO Week in Ottawa in April 2017.
Making the band's commercial success to date even more noteworthy is the fact that it has been achieved in a strictly independent DIY manner. That is changing with Warner Music Canada coming on board by partnering with Corey LeRue's new record label and lending distribution and promotional support to upcoming Neon Dreams material. Neon Dreams have also attracted US record label interest, fuelled by an earlier showcase at Hollywood's famed club The Viper Room. "Marching Bands" caught the ear of Australian label Possum Records, and they recently released the hit track down under.
A recent major change in the Neon Dreams camp came with Corey LeRue's decision to leave the group to concentrate on songwriting, production and the operation of his record label. He will continue to work closely with the band in all those spheres. "Neon Dreams are still my top priority," Corey stresses. "I'm working my tail off to make them the biggest band in the world." Both Corey and Neon Dreams recently signed a publishing deal with HyveTown, a Vancouver-based boutique music publisher with a roster including Dallas Smith, Shawn Hook, Joey Moi and Paul Rodgers. This arrangement is bringing great new opportunities for the members of Neon Dreams and LeRue to write for and with other artists The group's focus is now firmly set on Wolf, Princess & Me. Look for this compelling new record to further fuel the unfolding success story of the hugely talented Neon Dreams.