Being a music lover is something like a treasure hunter. You’re constantly in pursuit of that hidden gem. Something that stands out from the mess of typical top 40 clones.
Last year I was listening to CBC Radio 3 in my apartment while I was making dinner.
Out of my computer poured this voice reminiscent of Etta James combined with driving drums and organ.
The song was Say You, and the band is Winnipeg’s Imaginary Cities.
“My dad was always playing his records in our living room and a lot of the time it would be blues,” said the band’s singer Marti Sarbit.
The voices of Ray Charles, Nina Simone and Etta James filled Sarbit’s home, but it was another soul singer that captured her heart.
“I remember when he first played Aretha Franklin for me, it was a kind of music that I couldn’t help but love right away,” she said.
Sarbit met the other half of Imaginary Cities, Rusty Matyas, when she was singing with a soul cover band, which she still sings in whenever she can.
“I learned songs by some of the best soul artists like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave,” she said.
Winnipeg has a music scene that seems to encourage artists to mix and mingle, which means that many of them are in many different bands.
Sarbit was on stage at a bar with the soul cover band where they played every second Tuesday and Matyas happened to be doing sound for their set.
“He asked me to sing on a Motown song that he’d written and that was the first thing we recorded together,” said Sarbit. “We had such a good time doing it that I asked if he’d help me make a demo with some of my songs. The first song we recorded of those was Say You (first track on our album). Rusty added so much to it that it became a whole new song and was no longer just mine, it was a joint collaboration and we felt so good about it that we decided to keep going.”
For their first gig Sarbit and Matyas filled a local bar with friends and family.
“I remember (though it wasn’t that long ago) being super nervous and excited at the same time,” said Sarbit. “It was a pretty special night. We played at the bar that Rusty and I both frequent a lot and all of our friends and family were there cheering us on.”
Even though both Sarbit and Matyas have played in different bands, they have a different connection to Imaginary Cities.
“I’ve gotten to play with and in many different bands before, and every experience is entirely unique,” said Matyas. “I can safely say that Imaginary Cities is the proudest I’ve been in a band. Marti and I worked very hard on the record (although it was pure joy), and we are getting to see and do things I’d only dreamed of until now.”
With their different perspectives and musical influences Sarbit and Matyas went into the studio to create their first album Temporary Resident.
“We tend to work really well together in the studio. It’s easy to bounce ideas off of each other. My contributions are usually (but not always) writing the lyrics, creating the lead melody, singing the parts, being there for Rusty to bounce ideas off of,” said Sarbit.
“When we’re in the studio, I pretty much get to watch Rusty in his element and give my opinion when it’s necessary. He works so hard in the studio playing every instrument and coming up with arrangements. It’s always a pleasure working with him in the studio.”
Since releasing their first album Imaginary Cities have toured the band with ‘80s rockers The Pixies.
“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” said Sarbit. “I learned a lot from watching them put on such a big, awesome show every night. There’s a huge level of professionalism that the entire crew and band brought to it that I’d never seen before. That was pretty inspiring to see. It’s amazing to see how devoted their fans are too. It all just reminded me of how much I want to keep doing this.”
Imaginary Cities takes the stage at The Royal on Sunday night. Doors open at 7 p.m.