City Builders are on the brink of something special. The alternative-pop duo, composed of musicians Grace Turner and Theo White, have been creating emotive, ambient pop music for the last year, and have recently begun performing live in venues across Toronto. With a focus on collaboration and authenticity, their music transcends genre and reflects the couple’s care for their craft, and for each other. Read my conversation with City Builders as we sat down for a video call on a recent spring afternoon.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Ava: Let’s start at the beginning. When did City Builders form, and how did the idea for the name and the sound come about?
Grace: City Builders formed in March of 2022. I think it was Theo’s friend’s idea that we start releasing together, so that’s how the band kind of came about, but we had been making music together since January of 2022.
Theo: Yeah, we were introduced by a friend who recognized that we were both musicians and he saw some synergy between us. I think it was the first time that we hung out together — we made a little song, and it’s a tune that we still have and are playing live. The style is very comfortable, it’s really feel-good. We pull a lot from our own stylistic backgrounds. We’ve had many really smart, wonderful people in the industry tell us their advice and what we’ve gathered from that is that, what people right now like to hear from Grace and I is the fast stuff. It’s this fast exchanging, friendly, easy to love, easy to get on-board with pop energy — that’s what we’re really trying to bring on now in our music.
Ava: Do you think that relates to the concept of City Builders becoming or inspiring a sort of community? Does that initial background mission inspire the music that you make?
Grace: Yeah, I think when we’re in our deeper, more ambient music, we’re thinking about that more, where it’s like “how can we connect to everyone on earth.” When we’re making pop music it’s more like “what’s going to be fun for people.” I think the name for me is more about collaboration, and I feel like even having these conversations with people in the industry being like “okay, this is what people want” is a form of collaboration.
Theo: From the get-go, Grace and I are collaborating. We’re the original collaborators of City Builders. There’s not much that’s exclusive in the name, and I think that theme is present in our music too. With the slow stuff, we were really trying to make sure it didn’t alienate anyone. With this more pop-y stuff, no ones excluded from bobbing their head, no ones excluded from jumping up and down, from singing along — so it’s just all pulling people in. That’s something that we want to bring to the studio, and also our live events where we’re like “hey everyone, come on, let’s do this thing, let’s dance, let’s have fun.”
Ava: To touch more on the live aspect of your music, do you find performing live changes the meanings of the songs for you in any way?
Theo: There’s the impact of having people in front of you, people who are listening to you, they’re watching you, they’re all yours and in that moment you are only for them. So every word that we say, it lives just in that special moment that exists there and nowhere else. In that, an entire new field of possibilities forms for how the song can take form in their minds and ours. I know I’ve had moments where I was performing a song live, and I just got this lifting feeling of like, “this is what the words mean! I get it now!” I think that is getting to the magic of live music and so in that, there’s definitely some change for the better.
Ava: Your song “Willow Tree” shares many lyrics about evolution, freedom, and growth – are these themes that you value when it comes to yourselves as growing artists, as well as just in life? Do you have that ambition to keep changing your sound and evolving as musicians?
Grace: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, with time comes change and I’m happy to change as much as time will allow, I guess. Musically, I feel like our music has changed a lot even in the year that we’ve been making it.
Theo: As an artist, I think the art all dies when you stop changing. I think once you say “this is who I am, this is what I do,” that just feels like a box to me. I think growth is essential to being an artist. That being said, something interesting that’s happening to us is this shift to something that’s less challenging to us into something that’s more palatable to a wider audience. I can experiment with music all I want in my bedroom but in terms of being a releasing artist, people want us to be like this right now, but I hope that as that audience supports us we can continue to change and they will continue to listen — that’s the dream.
Ava: I want to talk about influences. I’m curious what you’ve learned from your musical heroes when it comes to writing various genres?
Grace: I think a big game changer for me this year was listening to FKA Twigs. When Theo started making beats to my ballad songs, I started listening to FKA Twigs and that was a huge inspiration. She’s very artistic — she has a soft voice like me, she’s a soprano, and she doesn’t have that conventional pop voice. It’s just melding a bunch of different things together, and I really love that from her.
Theo: I think the impact my inspirations have had on me have all been similar, and what all of their music kind of points to for me is that anything is possible, there are only the boundaries that you set up for yourself. For me, Kendrick Lamar has brought so much compassion and so much intelligence and love to the culture that his music’s being made out of – it’s such an inspiration. His lyrics are so powerful and represent for me that the potential is there to bloom and change — we don’t have to stay so rigid in the ways that we were brought up and the culture that surrounds us.
Ava: You’ve created a really stunning music video for your single “See Paris First.” I’m wondering what your experience was like creating the video? Are visuals something that you’re always thinking about when you’re creating?
Grace: For me, when it comes to writing, visuals are a huge inspiration. I’ll hop on Pinterest or something and write a song from that, or I have posters all over my walls and I’ll write a line about each poster just to make a song. Even once we’re listening to a completed song there’s definitely a vision for it.
That video was so fun to shoot! It was a three day shoot, and so many people helped us just out of the kindness of their hearts. We were both going through some scary things, like Theo getting a tattoo and me shaving my head, so the adrenaline rush of that just made the experience insane.
Theo: It’s a song about facing your fears! That is the part of the film that I think carries the most weight. I was so lucky to have this long-time friend who’s a very talented filmmaker who really helped glue the whole thing together and help conceptualize the video. I can’t remember where the idea to shave your head came from though.
Ava: What can we expect from City Builders next? Are you working on any new releases or have any shows coming up?
Grace: We have a show coming up on Thursday, April 13th at Press Vinyl! We have a show in Guelph on the 20th, a show at Supermarket on the 27th. No planned releases, but right now we’re pitching one of our songs to brands to place it as our next release.
Theo: People can expect some more fun TikTok content, they can always catch us there. They’re gonna get a bunch more live shows, we plan to play a lot more in the summer, and release more of just high-energy, super fun music.