Article by: Colton Eddy
Born in the city of Winnipeg between sets at The Cavern, Imaginary Cities brought together multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas (The Waking Eyes, The Weakerthans) and vocalist Marti Sarbit.
Their debut record, Temporary Resident earned a ton of praise from various national publications, a Polaris Prize nomination, a few awards and an opening gig for Pixies on their North American tour. Chemistry between the duo propelled them to the top of Canada’s college charts and some year-end best of lists. Through their marriage of soulful rock with a shimmer of pop, they’ve carved out their sophomore album: ‘Fall of Romance’.
Following their charming performance at EdgeFest, Rusty and Marti cracked open a few water bottles and joined Sticky at the picnic tables to reflect on their set before they explored the current state of music, their sophomore record, and the tragic flaws of Facebook.
Sticky: Rusty, you have been a part of EdgeFest for quite a while. You’ve played with The Weakerthans here, among others.
Rusty: This is my fourth EdgeFest, I think. Yes. And also with The Waking Eyes and now Imaginary Cities.
Sticky: What difference is there in the performance headspace for earning new fans in a festival versus celebrating the fans in your own show?
Rusty: I know what you mean. When you play your own show, even if there are ten people there, they are there for you.
Marti: And that is a special feeling in itself.
Rusty: Whereas, if there is a thousand people or however many there was - we were just talking about this. I can’t tell if there is sixteen or sixteen hundred people.
Marti: It is hard to tell when there are no walls.
Rusty: There is a number of people who had heard our music there today, I could tell.
Marti: It is pretty cool to know that there is that many people hearing you, most likely a lot of them for the first time. And we felt very good about the show, so hopefully they felt the same way.
Rusty: I think that there is a special feeling when you do a headlining show and let’s hypothetically say a large number – that feels great! You know that they are there and they like your music.
Sticky: Within your songs, both titles and lyrics, there are a lot of throwbacks to Old English, such as "9 and 10".
Rusty: I specifically, because I hate writing lyrics, I’m very much not good at it. Marti is better at it then I am, but we work on it together. So I have an ongoing list on my phone of common English phrases. A lot of one-liner English phrases like "Silver Lining", eighty-percent of them are Shakespeare. He came up with a lot of phrases that are used in common English today.
Marti: We have one song called "9 and 10" on the album and basically the entire chorus is made up of Shakespeare lines.
Rusty: As cold as any stone, with the turning of the tide, pure as driven snow, twinkling of an eye - that’s Shakespeare. Yeah, every line in that is a Shakespeare line.
Sticky: Do you throw down a phrase and build the song around that?
Rusty: No, we have the music beforehand.
Marti: I’ve written lyrics in a sort of different melody before. We put them together with notes that Rusty had in his phone.
Sticky: A lot of the lyrics, the album title, and even the album art addresses how love is lost in this digital world. Is that acknowledging how technology controls our lives?
Rusty: Well, even with Facebook, everyone is so incredibly saturatedly connected. And yet, way more disconnected than they have ever been.
Marti: People feel so comfortable saying whatever they want when they are online.
Rusty: It’s similar to road rage. People will honk their horn or give the finger when there is a pane of glass between them.
Marti: It’s a shield.
Rusty: And then on Facebook, when people say whatever they want and think it has so much meaning – not that I’m passionate about it or whatever. Facebook drives me crazy, actually! I am passionate about it. The comments people do post seem very passionate and heartfelt, but really it means nothing.
Marti: Well, even with texts. You try and text with the person that you love and it doesn’t come off as wonderful as it does when it is face to face. And emoticons don’t really say what you want.
Rusty: So I guess, in a way, the robots on the cover and the title Fall of Romance is sort of a statement to how it has become very stale. And how there is no personal, physical and even vocal connection with people anymore. It’s all texting.
Sticky: Do you think that it is too far gone?
Rusty: I think that Facebook is going to implode any day and I can’t wait for that.
Marti: I think people are too addicted at this point, to let it implode.
Rusty: Actually, I can see a lot of people – my wife’s cousin who is a lot younger, in her teens, she discontinued her Facebook account because she thought it was too crazy. People are bullying other people, especially if you’re in high school.
Marti: I’m glad that I didn’t grow up with it.
Rusty: And I see the way that high school people text or Facebook each other, it becomes all about rate or date and that kind of thing. It is totally vulgar and gross. I watched a nameless music video station last night on TV and I was disgusted. Every single video was about making out or getting it on, all night long. And it is teenagers!
Sticky: Though in some ways, rock music has always been about that.
Rusty: Yeah, but in the nineties, I grew up with Weezer. A bunch of nerds playing in a garage and now its just about: “I’m a sexy sixteen year old and I’m going to do you all night!” That’s gross. It’s a wrong thing to be promoting.
Marti: We’ve reached a level where people are completely fine taking off their clothes, all of their clothes now. I think, ten years ago, having a little bit of clothes on was scandalous. Now having none on is normal.
Sticky: Well, shaking your hips on the Ed Sullivan Show was considered edgy.
Marti: I’m old! [laughs] I feel so old right now.
Rusty: I’m old too, but its just sending the wrong message to teenagers who are watching this. Every song is about it, even One Direction songs are about doing it all night long. Everything is about sex. And I get it, sex sells and that’s great, but let’s talk about music. Where’s the music? Where’s the song that doesn’t have to be about your boobs. Your sixteen year old boobs.
Sticky: Do you feel that, being in your role, you are more responsible to voice these opinions?
Rusty: I don’t think that any of our songs are about sex or anything close to it. Our songs are generally about love, or lack thereof, or relationships.
Sticky: Has love and the conversation around it become an old art?
Rusty: Yeah! Think of the best songs you know, its all Beatles songs. "All You Need Is Love", "I Want To Hold Your Hand".
Sticky: So is it McCartney or Lennon?
Marti: I’d say that we’d be definitely more McCartney inspired.
Sticky: Marti, coming from your soul music background, do you feel that whole culture around the music has been lost?
Marti: Well, I don’t think that it has to be. As a girl who sees a lot of other bands with girls in them, I notice that there is this expectation to be sexy and all of that. I know what I feel good doing and I don’t want that to be looked at under a microscope. That’s scary. Why does anybody care about that? [laughs] That’ll just make me more insecure. I just want to get up there and do something that makes me feel good and not have people judge something other than what I am trying to do.
Rusty: It’s frustrating as a guy. I can be a slightly overweight 33 year old who is balding and nobody blinks an eye at it. But if Marti was an over-weight 33 year old girl who is balding... when it comes to guys, you could look like whatever.
Marti: Girls. It is a weird thing, because obviously I want to wear something that makes me feel good and all of that, but sexy is really important if there is a girl in a band and I don’t know why. [laughs] I don’t understand it. It makes me just baffled at the music scene. I don’t get that.
Sticky: How did you know that it was time to drop the new album, the ever so important sophomore album?
Rusty: I don’t know. We’re just constantly writing. It’s not like we took a break and said that this is our writing period. Just always writing and we write in different ways. We go in and work on it in studio, to demo a song and once we had enough, we were like, "Okay let’s do this". It just seemed natural. Just don’t think about it too hard and we don’t really let the industry standards and timelines dictate what we are supposed to do.
Marti: We can’t force it, so we don’t.
Rusty: A lot have people ask if there’s pressure for a sophomore - is it sophomore? Yeah. There’s no pressure. We only make the music because we want to.
Sticky: Reading a lot of the reviews, critics have commented that you have changed your sound.
Rusty: But we haven’t! We, just like every other single band in the history of bands, we grew a little bit or developed a little bit.
Marti: Well, if anything, we heard certain things from the first album that we felt we were excelling at or that we were enjoying the most and we’d sort of elaborate on it for the second one. It is not so far off; it is still us. On the first album, it would make sense that people would think it is different because the first album was literally all of the songs that we had written together in the course of a year.
Rusty: There’s a friggin’ bossa nova song on that record. We were just having fun, making music.
Sticky: There are some great Canadian collaborations on Fall of Romance – Mother Mother, The Sheepdogs and Sloan.
Marti: The Sheepdogs, well Rusty has been close with them since forever.
Rusty: Known them since their very first show outside Winnipeg, I did their sound. They’re just great guys and a great band. We became friends. Ewan and I have made lots of music together; we have a side-project called Mother Brothers and he really liked that song that is on the record "Who’s Watching You". He was in town and we asked him to sing the verse. He was like, "Obviously. Awesome," and so all of the guys are actually on it. Andrew Scott, the drummer from Sloan is on it. I’m a good friend with their keyboard player now. I used to play in a band with the guy who is now Sloan’s keyboard player. They were just coming through town as we were about to start recording the record and Andrew is like my favourite drummer in the world. I kind of texted their keyboard player. Kind of? I totally texted the keyboard player to say, "Hey, Andrew should totally come play on this song!" [laughing] Hint. Hint. Ten minutes later, I get a phone call from Andrew and he asked me to pick him up. "Let’s do this!"
Sticky: So technology is not always bad!
Marti: We weren’t even in the studio. We were at a rehearsal space and we were worried that we weren’t going to get the right quality, but he killed it. Luckily, it sounded good. It sounded really, really good. And the Mother Mother guys – Howard Redekopp, who produced the record for us in Vancouver had produced a bunch of the Mother Mother records. He just got in touch with them, because they were in town and they came down and sang on a couple of songs. Jeremy from Mother Mother played saxophone in a couple of songs and Molly did all of our artwork. And it is great, because these are all bands that I super respect and admire. And more so than being able to namedrop, when I’m eighty I will get to say that this person that I really admired and I are on the same songs. That’s amazing, you know?