Discovery: Imaginary Cities

Published April 9, 2012

Winnipeg natives Imaginary Cities are mystical, magical, and nomadic. The musical duo is composed of Marti Sarbit and Rusty Matyas (formerly of The Waking Eyes, and still a touring member of The Weakerthans), who have been constantly on the road this year; they’ve played alongside The Pixies and Ra Ra Riot and are currently on tour with mewithoutYou.

Matyas and Sarbit formed Imaginary Cities after working together at a bar in Winnipeg, and the result of their collaborative efforts is an effortlessly soulful pop project. The band’s debut LP, Temporary Resident, is both moody and chilled-out; it’s complex enough to reward multiple listens.

We chatted with lead singer Marti Sarbit about being in a soul cover band, finding a band name in an old stack of books, and being something of a nomad.

HOMETOWN: Winnipeg, Canada

ON BECOMING IMAGINARY CITIES: Rusty and I were working at the same bar. My cover band was playing there every week, almost. Rusty was doing sound. One day he came up to me, said he had written a Motown song and asked if I wanted to sing on it. That was the first thing I did. Then we decided to continue.

BRINGING THE PAST AND PRESENT TOGETHER IN MUSIC: Personally, I love Aretha Franklin. Otis Redding is another favorite. More recent stuff, I’ve been obsessively listening to The Shins’ new album. I can’t figure out which song is my favorite. Also, Broken Bells. I like Feist and lots of stuff. Gnarls Barkley I like a lot, too.

ON BEGINNING THEIR ORIGINAL EP: The EP has more acoustic versions of our songs, of the songs that we have on the album. It’s a taste for everyone to get. It’s a more low-key version of our songs. Our album is more rocking.

ON MAKING SOMETHING DIFFERENT: It’s hard to say. I would think it’s more pop, just to make it easier. It’s pop, but then it mixes rock and soul.

THEIR NAMESAKE: It’s from our song, “Temporary Resident.” Basically we thought it sounded cool. It didn’t really come from anywhere super deep. We liked the sound of it. I guess it relates to us as a band. We’re moving all the time.

GROWING INTO THE MUSIC SCENE: Rusty’s been in bands for 15 years or so. He’s been doing this for a long time. He plays with a couple of awesome bands that I’m a fan of. I’m quite new to it. I played in a soul cover band for a few years. This is my first, more personal project. We both come from pretty different backgrounds.

WHETHER RUSTY’S STAYING IN THE WEAKERTHANS: I believe so. We’re pretty busy with Imaginary Cities, so I’m guessing right now while we’re touring he won’t be able to do that. As far as I know, he still plays with them.

THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL MUSICAL FRIENDSHIP: I guess I would go with, “Say You,” because that was the first one we wrote together. We were really excited with the way that it turned out. It makes me happy to think back to that.

BECOMING MORE THAN JUST A TEMPORARY RESIDENT: It’s definitely not a concept album. I think it took us about a year to get the whole thing recorded. We just started doing it for fun, just recording songs whenever we felt like it. We had nothing in mind for an overall album. It was just songs whenever we felt like recording them.  So, I think over time we found that there were similar sounds in most of the songs, but we pretty much just took it song by song.

FINDING A NAME IN A COLLECTION OF BOOKS: We were kind of in a rush to find a name. We originally had a name “Sparrow” and “Oh Sparrow,” and then there were legal reasons why we couldn’t use it. My dad and I were looking through his book collection in my basement and we were looking at book titles. There was one that was Imaginary Beings and one that was Invisible Cities. I called Rusty, and we liked the names of both of them. We took one word from each and mushed them together to get Imaginary Cities.

ON PLAYING WITH OTHER BANDS: Definitely The Shins. Basically all of those bands I mentioned before would be a dream for us to tour with. Then there are our friends in bands that we’d love to tour with like Royal Canoe and The Liptonians, The Sheepdogs, who are good friends with us. They won that Rolling Stone competition. They come from Saskatoon, which is sort of close to us. Rusty has known all of them for a long time. There are lots of bands out there that we would love to tour with.

ON CANADA BEING A BIG INFLUENCE: Probably without really knowing. I guess when you have long winters, and very, very cold ones, it forces you to be creative, stay indoors, and come up with something to do. We tend to choose recording or writing songs.

THE NEXT ALBUM: We’re actually pretty close to being almost done with demos for most of the songs. It probably won’t be for a while that we can put it out. We have to let Temporary Resident run its course, but we’re really excited about the new songs. We’re putting them into our sets.

FUTURE COLLABORATIONS: I’m always open to that. I think it would be a pretty big challenge, because Rusty has pretty much been the only other person I’ve written music with. It would be nice to see how our styles go with other people. For the next album we’re even bringing in a different producer to give us a different flavor. We’re open to it.

IMAGINARY CITIES WILL BE PLAYING AT THE ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL TONIGHT. THEIR ALBUM, TEMPORARY RESIDENT, IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.