Zach Para and John Pita, collectively known as City of the Sun, recorded the Segunda Alma EP at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the concert industry brought to its proverbial knees, there was little left to do but create. So, that’s what they did. Armed with a small arsenal of instruments and recording equipment, the New York City-based duo holed up in a Bushwick basement toiling away until they had eight solid songs they felt were album worthy. But they also emerged from that period with more knowledge about the recording process than they initially had.
“We didn’t have the ability to play live shows but were determined to learn how to record and produce ourselves more thoroughly while exploring a new style we had been listening to, which was a kind of organic house,” Para tells BandWagon. “We recorded in my basement with subpar gear. We are no seasoned engineers, but we just experimented until we found a sound that worked and stuck with it. We didn’t overthink it but kept an open mind to where the music was transporting us. “We referenced some Caribbean and South America rhythms and melodies. While stuck in a basement in Bushwick, we always had this vision of exploring more tropical lands. The music always felt transportive in that sense. We finished tracking and arranging the basic ideas and sent it to our friend Atilla to produce and add some electronic touches. It was a big learning experience for us and I’ve really enjoyed the final product.”
Founded in 2011 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, City of the Sun honed their skills busking on the streets. Ultimately landing on an amalgamation of gyspy, jazz, rock, flamenco and indie rock, City of the Sun soon began to master its non-traditional world music flare. In 2013, they were invited to perform at a TED conference and their career began to take shape. After releasing their debut EP, Live At The Factory, in 2014, City of the Sun began selling out iconic NYC venues such as Rockwood Music Hall, Mercury Lounge and the Gramercy Theatre. By all intents and purposes, they were well on their way to accomplishing their goals.
As Pita explains, “Our goal was to play all over the world and have our music listened to by people on all continents.” Para adds, “We’ve always wanted to spread our music to as many people as possible, in all corners of the world. Whether it’s one of our YouTube videos or a live show, I’ve always wanted to have a global effect with our music.”
But they know there’s more to do. Pita continues, “We have [accomplished them] in many ways, but the goal post has definitely moved and we plan to keep reaching for it. While at the beginning of our journey in the group, playing all over the world was the a big dream. Now, our intention is to make new music that will reach more masses than ever before in the history of City of the Sun. This will inevitably bring us to new places and in front of even more people.” Para agrees, saying, “We’ve definitely begun, but there’s a lot more people and places to reach.”
Both Para and Pita have grown up around music and were encouraged early on to pursue that path.
“Growing up, I heard a lot of classical piano from the demo in this old Casio keyboard that really touched me,” Pita says. “I also heard hearing my parents listen to a lot of salsa during holidays.”
Para, too, was influenced by his family. He explains, “I grew up with a full license to make music with whatever I could find. Whether it was working out a drum beat on the kitchen table before dinner or playing along to music on my dad’s congas, me banging around was always celebrated. At first we started mostly busking in the streets and I had to adapt all of my drumming knowledge to the cajon, which was a brand new instrument for me at the time. I was thrown into the music and immediately taken back to when I would make beats on my dad’s cabinets. Cajon and cabinets are basically the same thing [laughs]. That level of encouragement to be expressive, experimental and inventive has shaped how I have approached the band overall.”
And that approach has been working. In 2016, City of the Sun released their inaugural full-length album, to the sun and all the cities in between, with Chesky Records. The album debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard jazz charts, giving them license to tour Europe. There’s a sense they won’t rest until everyone’s heard their music. After all, Pita defines success simply as “shows all over the world and recording songs that reach the masses,” while Para concludes, “Success is happiness, sustainability and empowerment sharing your art with the world.” City of the Sun is certainly off to an auspicious start.