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Imaginary Cities Interview

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With intelligent lyrics, layered melodies, full ensembles, and a harmonic depth that defies their debut album, Temporary Residents, Imaginary Cities, the Canadian duo made up of vocalist Marti Sarbit and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Rusty Matyas, is easily one of the top bands of the year.

With a music style that flirts with all genres from jazz to pop, Motown to soul, there's something in their album for everyone to fall in love with. The best part of their story is the pair didn't set out to reach millions, play arenas, or travel the world; but that's just what happened.

Almost immediately after pairing up and laying down tracks in a tiny rehearsal studio, it didn't take long to realize that the music they were making was beyond their control. Like a destiny wish fully realized, the natural magic they created in studio demanded an audience. Their early demos circulated the scene and found support from the manager of the band, The Weakerthan's, who urged them to polish their set and put out a full record. The two musicians threw caution to the wind, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Imaginary Cities has amassed quite a credit list, opening for bands like Ra Ra Riot, and Besnard Lakes. The real feather in their cap however, was being invited to join the Pixies on their entire North American Tour, where they got their first taste of massive exposure. From there, things quickly took off; they played Canada's North by Northeast Music Festival, won an award for Best Pop Album of the year, and were inline to win the Polaris Prize, one of Canada's most prestigious music awards. The duo has added to their lineup, bringing them to a full five-piece band. They've played South by Southwest here in the States, bringing thousands of new fans to their corner of the earth, and courting (and winning!) the affections of music reviewers everywhere.

antiMusic caught up with the pair fresh from their SXSW appearance for a chat.

By the way, we're tremendously thrilled you got your Chucks.

antiMusic: Tell us about how you met?

Marti: I had a weekly gig singing with a soul/motown cover band at the same bar that Rusty was doing sound at. He eventually approached me to sing on a Motown styled song he was working on and that's the first song we did together.

antiMusic: What's the significance of your name?

Marti: We originally had a different one that we weren't allowed to use for legal purposes and needed to come up with one right away. I got Rusty on the phone and my dad and I read through the book titles in his basement. We came across "Imaginary Beings" and "Invisible Cities" and decided to mush the two together because we liked the way they sounded together. Not a deep meaning behind it, we mainly just think it sounds cool.


antiMusic: Talk about growing up in Canada and how it influenced your music?

Marti: I'm sure without even knowing it, growing up in Canada has probably made an impact on how I write songs. The long winters allow for a lot of time to stay indoors and reflect. Aside from that, there's also so many Canadian musicians who we're lucky to be in the same company as.

antiMusic: What was playing in our household as a child?

Marti: My dad played a lot of Jazz, Blues, Soul and old time Folk music. My mom often played Latin American music. My brothers were into Punk, Rap and Alternative music. I got quite a diverse introduction to it all, though I somehow found myself listening to mostly top 40 until high school where I finally began to develop my own taste.

antiMusic: Who are your biggest influencers?

Marti: I'm highly influenced by Soul singers like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin. There's a lot of more current bands who inspire me as well like Feist, Broken Bells, Arcade Fire, The Shins, Lauryn Hill, Gnarls Barkley…..and lots more….

antiMusic: How would you describe your music?

Marti: I'd say it's a mix of Soul vocals on Pop and Rock music arrangements.

antiMusic: What's your muse?
Marti:
I guess you could say it's music that takes me to another place.

antiMusic: What themes do you gravitate toward when writing?

Marti: A lot of our songs are about relationships like so many other songs out there, though it changes with every song. Temporary Resident (the song) is about letting someone else have control over your destiny, Calm Before The Storm is about preparing for something huge in your life….they all have varying themes.

antiMusic: What is more important to you- melody, rhythm, lyrics, a good hook?
Marti:
For me, personally, lyrics and melody are most important. Especially the way in which they work together.

antiMusic: How is this project different from your previous bands?

Marti: The other band I was in was a cover band. So, the main difference is that we're playing our own songs. Other than that, pretty much everything is different. We never toured with our cover band, it was mostly local bars and weddings that we'd play at. This whole project is entirely new to me in almost every sense.

antiMusic: Talk about your US EP, what was the most challenging part of putting the album together?

Marti: A couple of the acoustic songs on the US EP were recorded in Nashville one day in the middle of our tour opening for The Pixies. It was a bit of a challenge organizing it and making sure we were happy with everything like the studio and engineer. It all turned out well though and we're happy with the results of that day.

antiMusic: Were there changes you implemented that didn't have the full consensus of the band? How do you handle creative differences?

Marti: Rusty and I make the final decisions on everything and we tend to agree most of the time. He sees over the full arrangement and production of it and has a very clear vision of what he wants and I trust him and his vision fully. If there's something I don't like I'll tell him and we'll look at it, and vice versa when I'm working on lyrics or melodies. We always come up with something we're both happy with though.

antiMusic: What is your favorite track and why?

Marti: My favourite track on the album is Say You because it was the first one we wrote together for the album and I remember how excited we were after the full day we spent on it.

antiMusic: What song from the EP keeps you awake at night?

Rusty: Error: Question does not compute.

antiMusic: What is the history behind songs like, Say You, and Temporary Resident?

Rusty: Say You was actually the first proper Imaginary Cities song we recorded together. Marti asked me to help her demo this melody she had for it. She essentially had all the melodies written, but all over one chord. I took those melodies and added different chord progressions underneath to try and build a tension and release style song. The whole thing is very centred around a minor key for the first half, until it finally starts hitting some major noted near the end. We were so happy with the way it turned out we decided to keep writing together.

Temporary resident was a song I had originally written for the piano, while recording an album for a different band I was in called the Waking Eyes. It was rocked up a bunch for the record, but we still enjoy hauling out an acoustic piano version whenever there's a real piano around.

antiMusic: Why did you change Marry the Sea?

Rusty: We didn't change it necessarily, we just made an acoustic version. The full studio version still exists, it hasn't been deleted from the planet as far as I know.

antiMusic: You just came back from SXSW. Talk about your experience there. What were the crowds like?

Rusty: Well it depends on where and when you play. Afternoon shows are usually filled with sober people who haven't had a full day of sun yet. By the evening people have probably had a few, and have music overload. We played an evening show for a Manitoba Music showcase, so the crowd was mostly our friends and peers from back home.

antiMusic: How receptive were they to you?

Rusty: It felt like we were well received.


antiMusic: What were your fears going in?

Rusty: Not getting free converse.

antiMusic: Were your expectations met?

Rusty: Yes, I acquired a sweet new pair of Chucks. You can't go in to these types of things expecting too much, but if you work hard you can make some great connections. We were lucky to do just that two years in a row.

antiMusic: Did you feel like you got lost in the sea of musicians?

Rusty: I always say bands are like groups of cats. Sizing each other up, smelling each others butts and trying to do something crazy unique to stand out. So I'd say it's more like getting lost in a sea of cats.

antiMusic: What's your greatest memory from playing?

Rusty: Tim Hoover (DJ Co-op) brought me a beer and a shot of whiskey to the stage, that was nice. Also I thought we played well that night.

antiMusic: Did anything magical happen?

Rusty: Chic Gamine got up onstage with us to sing some beautiful harmonies, that always makes for some magic.

antiMusic: What songs did you select to play?

Rusty:

Chasing the Sunset
Temporary Resident
Marry the Sea
Say You
Ride This Out
Where'd All the Livin' Go
Bells of Cologne
Water Under the Bridge
Hummingbird
That's Where it's at, Sam

antiMusic: In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?

Rusty: I don't think so. We had a great time. Maybe book the hotel a little earlier so we can get a nicer one closer to the city. One where the ceiling doesn't leak on to my bed. That wasn't awesome, although it was super memorable.

antiMusic: How much time did you have?

Rusty: We were there for about five days.

antiMusic: Was it worth the hype?

Rusty: Apparently SXSW gets bigger every year. It's definitely a great event to experience. There are always at least a few bands I look forward to seeing, the weather is great, and the food is barbecuey.

antiMusic: What's next?

Rusty: We are currently on tour through Germany. Actually we just crossed the border into Austria. Playing Vienna tonight!

Imaginary Cities Interview

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