It’s not unheard of for some Canadian artists to achieve far greater success in a single country abroad than they do at home. Historical examples include Saga in Germany and the Tea Party in Australia, and you can now add Neon Dreams in South Africa to that list.

The Halifax-based alt-pop duo (vocalist/guitarist Frank Kadillac and drummer Adrian Morris) has certainly fared well at home since forming in 2015. Neon Dreams won a 2020 JUNO Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year, scored a Gold single with 2016’s “Marching Bands,” a collaboration with Kardinal Offishall, and have earned tens of millions of cumulative streams for their material.

Over the past year, however, South Africa has emerged as a happy new home for Neon Dreams, bringing them a first Platinum single, for “Life Without Fantasies.” First appearing on the 2019 album Sweet Dreams Till Sunbeams, that song had minimal impact in Canada, but later caught on big-time in South Africa, grabbing Neon Dreams’ attention.

From his current base in Capetown, Frank Kadillac relates the unconventional song trajectory. “Adrian watches where we get played, and he says, “We’ve got a spike in South Africa with ‘Life Without Fantasies.’ It kept going up their charts, and I grabbed my ukulele to do a new version to say thanks to fans there. That’s my favourite song, and I was so grateful for their support. That video went viral there, as it turns out ukulele music is big in South Africa!”

The South African opportunity offered Neon Dreams a lifeline during a dark time, and they seized it eagerly. “In the middle of the pandemic, we were only just hanging onto being artists,” says Kadillac. “This was a glimmer of hope. Fans there said, ‘You don’t know how your music makes us feel and helps us here. You have to come here and experience it.’” Neon Dreams riskily booked a 16-date tour there in May of 2021, and all the shows sold out, and proceeded without a hitch. An 11-date return visit begins April 20, 2022, followed by Canadian dates.

“Fans there would tell us they need music like ours to get them through the day” – Frank Kadillac of Neon Dreams

The level of fan enthusiasm on that first tour deeply affected Kadillac. “The environment in South Africa is different than North America,” he says. “It’s still a Third World country, and fans there would tell us they need music like ours to get them through the day.”

Kadillac has remained in Capetown, writing songs, recording, and making videos. One new track recorded there, “Little Dance,” has just been released internationally, and is quickly gaining momentum.

The singer now injects a positive and uplifting message and tone into his music. “I want it to be a bottle of sunshine you can drink from,” he says, while acknowledging his own soul-searching. “After ‘Marching Bands’ did so well in Canada, I got distracted by the success. I went down the wrong path with the wrong people and it hurt my spirit. I found my spirit again in 2018, and now I want to help people find their true selves.”

Participation in a 2018 SOCAN Kenekt songwriting camp in Nicaragua boosted Kadillac’s personal and creative growth.  At Kenekt, Kadillac co-wrote the Ria Mae single “Hold Me” with Mae, Lowell, and John Nathaniel. The experience also inspired him to write the 2018 Neon Dreams single “Guilty.”

“It really helped me gain confidence, and to trust my gut as a songwriter,” he recalls. “This was also the start of my healing phase. At that camp, a session for meditation and yoga every morning was a huge benefit.”

Neon Dreams’ success has been achieved in DIY fashion. The group releases its records on its own imprint, Dreaming Out Loud Records, which has a distribution deal with Warner Music Canada.

“Our team all grew up together and is like family,” says Kadillac. “Our manager, Matthew Sampson, is a former band member. I think a lot of our success comes from our love for each other. We understand what we all want and have shared goals.”