New West’s full-length debut, Based on a True Story, is so nuanced and layered that if you’re listening carefully you can hear birds chirping, and a very quiet “moo” at the end of “Cold Tea,” recorded on a voice note when the Toronto-based band was working at the famed Rockfield Studio, a farm in England.

The very first song the four-piece collective wrote together, 2019’s romantic piano ballad “Those Eyes,” was an enormous viral hit, earning more than 100 million cumulative views, across all platforms and versions – and of course, had to be included on Based on a True Story….  “We knew it was special,” says lead singer Kala Wita. At the start of 2024, New West released a version of the song that features singer Zeph.

The original recording of “Those Eyes” initially led to a relationship with Toronto’s Dine Alone Records, which put out a series of singles for the cinematic, soulful alt-rock band in 2021. Those culminated with the EP In Good Time, which attracted the attention of US labels Giant/Republic, distributed in Canada by Universal Music.

New West, Those Eyes, video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the song “Those Eyes” by New West (featuring Zeph)

The band members don’t use their birth names professionally; instead, they go by Kala Wita, Noel West, Lee Vella, and Ben Key. West produced, mixed, engineered, and mastered the album, and all four members are multi-instrumentalists and contribute to the writing,

Wita says he writes most of the lyrics. “Then, if someone thinks they could be better, that’s usually what happens,” he says. The collective ethos comes through when Wita explains how they arrive at the final version of song. “We all chip away at it together,” he says. “That’s why sometimes it takes a lot of time, because we need to sit with it together and bounce back ideas, see what fits, what doesn’t. We usually all agree on what’s the best thing for the song.”

In a manner of speaking, they let the song run things. For the actual vibe, the direction of the song, whether it’s going to be more of a sparse ballad, or have layers and intensity, it’s wherever the song takes them.

“See, that’s still, like, the most beautiful part about the whole process,” says Wita. “I can send a voice note to these guys and we’ll bring it into the studio, and if it’s not speaking to the song, then we’ll chip away at it for weeks, months, until it feels right. And that’s how sometimes a song will be a ballad. It just depends on what it wants to be, and then we just kind of help it.”

While the “Those Eyes” is hard to top, the band has other great singles, such as “Cold Tea,” “IYKYK,” “Homecoming,” and “In My City.” “A lot of our music is very coming-of-age,” says Wita. “It’s very much universal truths about life, and love, and relationships, and all of that.”

New West very much intended that Based on a True Story… be listened to from beginning to end, in sequence, and even feel there’s the proverbial “special place in hell” for people who shuffle albums. “I understand we’re in a singles world, but if you throw on an artist’s album, you must know that there was some intention in the track listing,” says Wita. “You play that top to bottom, don’t you shuffle. I think it’s important now, especially with the TikTok generation. A lot of them do kind of want more depth in what they’re receiving, especially with their music.”

Kala Wita’s tips for songwriters in a band

  • Trust the process. “Keep yourself moving. Don’t get too stuck. If you’re in a writer’s block, you lean into it. Don’t worry. Don’t put too much stress on yourself. If the words come, they’ll come when they need to.”
  • Share the credits. “We learned from all the bands that preceded us. Queen took pretty much their whole life as a band together to realize they should have just gone equal parts from the beginning, and we stole that. We stole that from Coldplay, too, where there’s four of us, so everyone gets a quarter of the pie.”
  • Combine the contributions. “There’s words, there’s melody, there’s structure, there’s instrumentation – all the things coming together are what make songs special. And when we do that together, we have those moments where we’re all contributing in all in different ways.”