While Winnipeg might not exactly feel like a fertile music scene to those that live outside the Canadian prairie, Imaginary Cities formed from the small community of musicians and creative folks that encourage themselves to play in up to five bands at a time. Primary songwriters Marti Sarbit and Rusty Matyas met and formed in Winnipeg as Sarbit’s soul-powered voice immediately captured multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Rusty Matyas’s attention at the Cavern, a Winnipeg bar where Sarbit was fronting a Motown cover band and Matyas had come to mix the sound.
Matyas, a touring member of Canadian indie rockers The Weakerthans, imagined Sarbit as the voice of his lyrics and soon they wrote and recorded what would become their anthemic debut album - Temporary Resident. Temporary Resident, was released in 2011 in Canada and quickly topped the country's campus radio charts. The album was subsequently named as a long listed nominee for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. To support the album, the band was selected to open for The Pixies on their cross-Canada tour. Temporary Resident recently saw its stateside release on April 10th and are now a permanent five piece band. Glide recently had the honor or talking to both Sarbit and Matyas.
It must be exciting see Temporary Resident get its proper U.S. release. Why do you think it took some time to get it released in the states after it had been a critical success in Canada?
Marti: We only released the album in Canada a year before releasing it in the States and we're super pumped about it. It just seemed to make sense that we released the album in our own country first where we'd already signed on with a label and had been touring lots. Of course, after playing the same songs for a couple years it can become redundant in some ways and perhaps lose some of the meaning they originally had. Although I think as time goes on they develop different meanings and even though it can be a bit of a challenge, sometimes it's fun to find new ways of enjoying them. We've also been adding a lot of new material to our set which keeps things exciting and fresh.
What have been the most pleasing things you've read or heard about Temporary Resident? Looking back know, if there was one thing you can change about the recording what would it be?
Marti: Just the fact that people show up to our shows, buy our album or send us nice messages is pleasing. I wouldn't say that there's anything specific that someone's said that's out-weighed everything else. It's really all flattering and I'm not just saying that to be fair, everything ounce of support is truly appreciated. After all, we wouldn't be able to do what we do if there weren't people who wanted us to.
It's easy to listen back to our older stuff and be self-critical, but I think anybody who listens to a recording of themselves would feel the same. There's always things that can be tweaked and changed, but I'm very proud of what we produced with the last album. It was the first album I've ever released and I've got no regrets (or at least none worth dwelling on).
I read you are getting back into the studio to work on your second album - what direction is that going to go in musically? What kind of tracks have you laid down so far?
Marti: Rusty and I have been in the studio recording lots of new stuff and I think I speak for both of us when I say that we're super stoked on the direction the next album's taking. It's definitely taking on a more orchestral feel this time around. Just a bigger sound in general.
Lyrically what inspires you to write? Who are some of your favorite lyricists?
Marti: Every song is inspired by something different, whether it's personal or not. Sometimes either one of us will hear a phrase that sounds cool or pleasing to the ear and we'll write around it or sometimes the music just provides itself to certain lyrics (mood-wise and/or rhythmically). In terms of lyricists, I'd say my favorites are Feist, Otis Redding, James Mercer, Nina Simone, Paul McCartney.....just to name a few.
Each of you brings different musical influences to Imaginary Cities- who do you feel is the more dominant influence and what genres do you feel best represent Imaginary Cities if you had to describe your band?
Rusty: Defining your bands sound is a hard thing to do. When people ask, we usually say words like pop, soul, indie. We each bring our own set of influences and styles to the table, and each song is approached uniquely. Sometimes Marti will have full lyrics and melodies written that I (Rusty) will write chords around. Sometimes we start from scratch together, sometimes we use old demos of mine and turn them into Imaginary Cities songs.
You were invited to tour with the Pixies on their North American tour last year. Did your sound change at all from playing such larger venues or did you adapt at all to the Pixies audience? Is there anything you are taking that experience with into the studio?
Rusty: There was some adaptation involved with playing larger venues like arenas and theaters. Bringing our own sound guy was thew biggest must of all. Every step of being a musician is a learning experience. When I'm sixty-four and still playing music I'll learn and adapt from every show I play or performers I share a bill with.
What was it like having your own headlining tour prior to the Pixies and after?
Rusty: It was great and rewarding to see a growth in our following. It's a great feeling to look out into a crowd that all took time out of their day, and paid money specifically to come see your band. Sometimes they even know words to your songs. That's nice.
Do you foresee Imaginary Cities always being a duo? If not, what instruments would you like to expand to? Are there any relevant musical duos out there that you particularly admire and respect?
Rusty: Imaginary Cities is only a duo in the sense that only two of us are in the studio. Marti is there for me to bounce ideas off and sing words, and I arrange the instruments and produce the songs to a point where we give them to our live band members. We are very much a full band and great friends. The live show is a big full sound comparable to the record. As far as other duos, I'm a big fan of Roxette and the Eurythmics.
Winnipeg is said to have a small but fertile music scene. What venues, artists and bands have most helped cultivate this scene? What do you feel was your breakthrough moment as an artist?
Marti: It's true, Winnipeg really is a great city for music. What I love the most is that it's less competitive than bigger cities and yet more active and consistent than smaller ones. There's definitely a sense of community within the scene, whether you play rock, blues, metal, bluegrass.....whatever. Many musicians in Winnipeg play in five different bands of five different genres at a time, so we all somehow end up playing with each other at one point or another. The best part of living there is that on any night of the week you can find a venue with quality live music playing.
Rusty and I met at a local bar called The Cavern, and we both continue to go there often when we're back home. If you're looking for great blues you go to The TImes Changed. If you want to dance on the weekend you go to The King's Head. Plus we've got great music venues like The Walker Theatre (also known as The Burton Cummings Theatre), The West End Cultural Centre, and The Garrick off the top of my head.
I think our breakthrough moment as a band would've been when we got the chance to open for the Pixies on their month-long, cross-Canada tour. It was for sure one of the highlights of my life thus far.
Whats next in 2012 that your looking forward to the most?
Marti: It seems like 2012 is already looking to be a busy one for us. Right now we're beginning a five week tour in the Northeast of U.S. then a four and a half week tour that ends with us playing at Lollapalooza in Chicago. After that we'll be working on our next album which Rusty and I have already laid down a whole whack of demos for. Basically it'll be a lot of touring, press and recording. I'm really looking forward to seeing where this year takes us musically and audience-wise. Should be a good one!