It’s fitting that Sonia Sturino and Jordan Stowell’s label collective is called Nice Friends. The two have curated a lasting friendship and professional relationship – not to mention being bandmates – with 1,000 kilometers in between them.
Sturino and Stowell formed the collective to help release their own music as well as friend’s music in a simple way. They wanted to focus on the personal side of the music world and not necessarily the business side of it. This all happened in 2009. Sturino formed what became the Box Tiger that year, when MySpace still played a role as an outlet for indie musicians finding an audience. It was what helped spark the relationship between the singer and Stowell.
“We started speaking out of mutual interest,” Sturino explains about the beginning of their relationship. The two started collaborating on music; sending files back and forth trying to make something happen. The distance never seemed to be much of a problem. “It always felt right to be based out of two cities.”
So that’s what they did. Sturino found fellow musician friends in Toronto, while Stowell remained in Portland, Maine and the long distant collaboration began. They spent three years writing music, playing shows – alternating between Toronto and Portland – and building a fan base. Like any young band, they felt the struggle of gaining a fan base. Especially since they had two cities in two different countries to conquer.
“We were lucky. Portland really adopted us. Toronto as well. Lauren Wayne (general manager of Portland’s pinnacle venue: the State Theatre) was a great connection to gain.”
Wayne gave the band opportunities to open for some terrific bands including Metric, whose singer Emily Haines is often a vocalist Sturino is lumped into with. With the raw energy of both bands, coupled by intensely unique female vocals, it is easy to see why fans and media compare the two.
The fact that the Box Tiger released their debut Set Fire on August 6, 2013 added to the comparisons. However, that’s not what the band was going for when they sat down to write and record the debut.
“We want to be honest,” Sturino admits whole-heartedly. “Whether it’s an album, a live show, or a photo with a fan, we want to be as honest as possible.”
That simple idea – honesty – is what drives the band. A lot of Set Fire was written during a transitional period in the singer’s life, as well as a transitional period in the music industry as a whole. Sturino is 23 years old, but a lot of the lyrics and melodies came from the past four years. From when she was still a teenage to now an adult. The digital music scene also expanded. Now bands had Bandcamp to sell their music without a major third party. MySpace went by the wayside and now Facebook was a major platform for gaining fans. Most importantly sites like Kickstarter popped up all over the internet and bands did not have to work so hard to gain momentum.
“Kickstarter is hit or miss,” she reveals about the crowd-funding site, “So many bands aren’t around long enough to earn it – to build a fan-base – and just rely on the site.”
Her strong feelings are why the album took such a long time. Not only did she and the rest of the Box Tiger want the debut to be perfect, but they wanted to feel a certain sense of satisfaction over all of the hard work.
There was not a lot of money, according to the band. There was barely any funding and the quartet raised the money themselves through EP sales and what little money they could scrounge up from shows after they spent their gas money getting there. The struggle, however, was vital to who the band is now. This album was not just a debut to a band. It was an honest insight into who the band was as people.
“It just started with an idea.”
The idea goes back to the notion of honesty. Bands rely on sincere lyrics, but Sturino wanted her lyrics to have a deeper emotional connection. Because of when the album was written, over such an expansive amount of time, she knew a wide variety of people would understand where she was coming from.
“For me it’s all about why we set fire to things. A lot of the themes are about burning things down. Burning the past and getting into adulthood. About moving into a new realm. It’s a restart.”
Lyrically, the restart was essential to who the band is. So much has changed and will continue to change. Even within the last year a lot has gone through a metamorphosi. The band formed a friendship with Jess Abbot (of Now, Now and Tancred), who helped bring the album to life. Abbot’s now-defunct label Cardinal White put out Set Fire alongside Nice Friends, but it was not necessarily a professional relationship. It was two groups of musicians finding a common bond and wanting to help each other out.
Now that the Box Tiger has found a growing fan-base as well as tight bonds within the music world, they have to find out what to do next. The indie art-rockers are one of the countless bands knocking down doors, and they know it may take awhile for something big to happen. But for now they’re not worried about that. It’s already been a long process. They can wait for major success. They have trusting fans, and that’s what is more important to them.