With over six million streams on Spotify, The Neighbourhood Watch’s top song AA has been an unexpected hit for the home-grown Toronto band.
Vocalist Tristan Surman said the track almost didn’t make it onto the five-piece group’s debut album Community Protected, released in 2017. “We didn’t play it at any of our shows and it wasn’t really on my radar personally.”
Surman said it was keyboardist Tyler Moretti who reminded him the tune existed: “I think it was four or five days before we were about to record the record and Tyler said ‘Yo, do you remember this that we played like almost a year ago?’
“It’s the simplest song in the world. People ask us for the chords all the time. You can put it out there — it’s (B minor, D, A).”
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Surman, a founder and marketing principal at Montreal’s My Media Creative, said the simplicity of the tune is likely the reason behind its popularity.
“Out of nowhere it became our most popular song by far and it resonated with folks. I think that’s an expression of just how naturalistic the process was.”
AA, the first track, along with the following nine songs on the band’s first album, were recorded all in one day as they waved goodbye to high school.
Moretti, a TMU alum, said the process of getting the album out was chaotic. “We literally just YOLO’d it every time in the beginning stages,” he said.
Tristan’s brother and the band’s guitarist/bassist Ethan Surnam said early production was bare-bones and all about getting the work done as quickly as possible given that the group was nearing the end of high school.
“The funny thing about it is that we thought we were going to break up right after that, like Tristan was going to Montreal for school, the other guys were graduating high school and I was the only one still in (high) school,” he said.
Moretti said he and fellow TMU alum, drummer Wyeth Robertson, met with brothers Ethan and Tristan when they all attended Etobicoke School of the Arts. Bassist Wyatt Garvin joined the band later.
“Around grade 12 our friend groups kind of merged together,” said Moretti. “We would go to this little ravine after school, we called it Skippy, and someone would bring a guitar and we could keep making little jingles and stuff.”
The band, which cites inspiration from The Lumineers and Big Thief, has a chill, folky vibe that has garnered them success on streaming services.
Seven years after creating AA, The Neighbourhood Watch has three albums on Spotify and has amassed a loyal group of fans.
In the past the group has played live gigs around the city, including Dundas West’s Baby G. Nowadays, however, live performances are challenging because everyone is spread out between Toronto, Montreal and Boston where Ethan Surman is studying music.
“For context, we’ve been a band since 2016 and we’ve only lived in the same city for that 2016-2017 year, so we’ve been struggling for a while now,” says Robertson, the band’s drummer.
“It was a long and ongoing process of learning how to work well from a distance, everybody has things that they come up with on their own,” he added. “In the old days after school we would say ‘Hey here’s this thing I came up with, let’s try it out,’ and now it’s more of a ‘Hey I’ll send a demo, what do you think?’”
Last summer the group made a cottage trip dedicated to songwriting and band bonding.
“The return on that cottage was purely emotional — and it was a bit of a cottage from hell,” Tristan Surman said.
“We go down and see a vintage chest in the basement of this cottage, we open it up – (and find) severed doll heads.”
Haunted dolls aside, the guys have been able to take the time to make the distance work.
“We’d like to play some gigs this summer —at least one!” Surman added.
“And we’ve been working on a couple of tracks for the last year or so and we’re getting into the last stages of these tracks, so people can certainly expect new music from us this summer.”