Even in a time when everything is laid out on the public forum and the professional and private are largely interchangeable, the process of how the hell to make it big as a musician still remains mysterious. Toronto R&B sensation anders has had a meteoric climb, going from faceless SoundCloud crooner to genuine streaming success, a JUNO nomination, and a sold-out show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in about a year and a half. That latter performance, which took place last May, is the climax of Road to the Phoenix, a new short documentary starring anders, but it’s not the focus.
Instead, the film, a collaboration with Alfredo Productions, is largely dedicated to showing the process of how an independent artist like anders gets to stand in front of a packed house without playing the traditional promo game. Interviews with members of the NST team lay out their methods of creating a direct connection between artist and audience, while testimonials from producers like Luca and FrancisGotHeat argue for how anders’ soulful musicality differs from that of his Toronto peers. It all ends with an intimate performance of “Changes” at the Phoenix, words of gratitude melting into the song’s calm keys. If you’re a day one anders fan, this doc is a gift, and if you’re just catching up now, then the breadth of the singer’s vision might surprise you. Watch Road to the Phoenix in its entirety above and read on for an interview with anders and director Alfredo Films.
Noisey: How did being from Toronto affect your music and your ability to gain fans?
anders: Toronto defined who I was, so it affects everything I do in all aspects of life—not just music. It’s apart of my DNA. We’ve had a lot of great artists come before us which allowed artists coming afterwards to be heard and to be taken seriously. It’s a blessing to be from this city.
Do you feel the city is still in the middle of a boom period for R&B and hip-hop?
Definitely, we’re far from finished.
What factor do you feel is most important for success? Luck, hard work, support from a team? A combination of all three?
To be honest, a little bit of everything. Some things can be executed with a good supportive team. Having strong work ethic and good content on my end allows my team to focus on the things they need to focus on. However there’s certain things I can only attribute to luck or God—things only the universe can control.
What do you find compelling about anders as a subject?
Alfredo Films: As creatives we're always looking at other creatives, across all mediums. When we heard anders’ first project, 669, we were amazed by his musical maturity. Right then and there we knew we wanted to meet the mind behind the music. He brought along with him same maturity when commanding audiences and we found that extremely compelling.
How did you arrive on the decision to focus more on the lead-up to the show rather than the show itself?
We made that decision before we even started shooting the documentary. There is actually a rough paper edit right before we started shooting that focused heavily on anders’ journey throughout the months. During the lead-up of the show there was so much growth among the peers at NST, and anders himself, that it became hard not to focus on that. The show was a culmination of a lot of sleepless nights for the entire team and we made sure that when we got to the show, it was as cathartic as it was for anders and the NST team.
What is the core message of the doc to you?
At its core the documentary is about growth and going through changes (like the song). During those few months that we followed anders, we watched him grow not just as a person but as an artist and tried to best capture that.
What do you hope that other local musicians take away from your story?
anders: To move with purpose, to move militant, and to believe in yourself. Be good to the people around you as those are the foundations of great relationships to come. After that, God will do the rest.
Phil is a writer based in Toronto. He’s on Twitter.