Fire & Water finds founding members Brandon Arnold and Shelby Sappier writing City Natives’ next chapter as a duo.
City Natives are back with a new album. Water & Fire finds the group pushing ahead as a duo under the direction of founding members Brandon Arnold (Illfundz) and Shelby Sappier (Beaatz). While the loss of MCs Blake Francis and Gearl Francis narrows the group’s vocal range and tonal texture, together Arnold and Sappier leave little doubt of their collective strength as lyricists and producers. Water & Fire is an album about overcoming life’s many challenges, delivered by two musicians who know a thing or two about tackling obstacles head-on.
“We didn’t know how people were going to react to the change,” said Sappier. “Everybody has known City Natives to be a group of four. So to break it down to two, there’s a lot of questions on our end. Are we going to be seen as still being City Natives? Is the music going to be the same?
“We certainly questioned ourselves a lot but in the end we decided that City Natives, we didn’t do all this just to start over again. For us, there’s a feeling that this group is something we helped build from nothing into something here in Tobique First Nation. This is where City Natives was born, in Tobique. And we achieved so much. For us, this is the right thing to do. Continue the legacy of City Natives, carry that torch and just try to move forward in the best way that we possibly can.”
The group’s latest album also marks Sappier’s return to the City Natives family. Absent from the last two records, Sappier stepped away from the group in 2017 to make his solo album, Love / Hate.
“At the time I was kind of losing myself and I didn’t want that to bring down everyone else’s spirits and work ethic so I took it upon myself to step back and try to find myself again,” said Sappier. “I was having a hard time trying to deal with things and still force a smile. It just didn’t seem fair to the rest of the group.
“There was a lot that led up to it. I wasn’t spending time with my daughter because I was always on the road, always doing shows and never home. She’s my motivation, my inspiration so when I wasn’t seeing her it was killing us both. She ended up being a huge part of my solo album, she was here for every single song I produced. I got to share that creative process with her. Through that process I came out a much better person,” he said.
While he never stepped away from the group, Arnold also released his own solo album, A Leo’s Dream in 2018, exploring personal struggles that at times speak directly to the current state of Indigenous people living within Canada. His opening call-out to Justin Trudeau on Empowered remains as vital a message today as it was when his album came out.
Fire & Water takes its name from the pair’s zodiac symbols while also reflecting the back to basics mindstate Arnold and Sappier have taken in forging ahead as a two-piece.
“It’s a fitting title because those are our zodiac elements,” said Sappier. “It also speaks to the change in the group. There are four elements and we were once a group of four. There were four but now there are two. And we also understand how important water is to us, especially as aboriginal people. Those are our signs but you can cross reference that as much as you want. Water is everything, not only to my community but to aboriginal people all across Canada.”
Unable to tour or perform due to this being 2020 and all, City Natives have been busy recently, shooting their first video to support the album and plotting their return to the stage when things return to some state of normalcy.
“I miss performing so bad. Performing is my strong suit and music keeps me sane,” said Sappier. “I can promise you, once live performances start getting back in gear, we’re gonna rock this shit so hard it’s gonna be unreal.”
Fire & Water is available now on all streaming services.
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Cover photo: Uncredited – facebook.com/citynatives