20 Questions: Imaginary Cities

Imaginary Cities
Fall of Romance

For those of us who bemoan the fact that we weren’t born Canadian, Imaginary Cities adds more fuel to the fire with their blend of pop music, which does more to blur the lines of what makes meaningful music than any of their contemporaries.

Fall of Romance, the duo’s sophomore album, sounds as refreshingly dense and well-developed as most bands’ fifth or sixth record, owed in no small part to Rusty Matyas’ already storied experiences with major label success via his work with the Weakerthans and his band the Waking Eyes. Yet it was Marti Sarbit’s voice which captured Matyas’ attention in the first place, and it’s that same voice which anchors the music on both their studio efforts. The two worked up material for 2011’s Temporary Resident playing music just for the sheer hell of it, and had they not been initially pressured by the Weakerthans’ manager to focus on putting out a full record, we may never have heard them.

That, my friends, would have been a major loss for fans of contemporary pop music. With musical tastes ranging from the Beatles to the Travelling Wilburys, filtered through what Matyas has dubbed “the school of Canadian pop”, one immediately expects a great deal of sonic depth in the mix. But add Sarbit’s unique vocals, at once contemporary yet legendary in her ability to charm up comparisons to the greats of the era of 45s, it becomes difficult not to become positively evangelical in one’s fandom.

As we all dig through the songs on Fall of Romance for hidden nuggets the first fifty repetitions have yet left unrevealed, you can now delve into our latest 20 Questions feature! Matyas turns his attention from the band’s songs to all those questions you wish you’d thought to ask and more. Battlestar Galctica spoilers abound, as do insights on the best albums from the Beatles, Weezer, and XTC, as well as his desire to one day write a melody as ubiquitous as, say, “Fur Elise” … or barring that, “Chopsticks”.


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I recently re-watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. The new one, not the original. It’s probably my favorite thing ever made for TV or the big screen. There are two moments my eye-dams broke, both times I watched. The main one is right at the end when — SPOILER ALERT! — Rosalyn dies. Something about seeing the universe’s toughest man break down in tears is so heartbreaking.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I’d like to say Fry from Futurama, mostly because he’s got simple life goals. Win Leela’s heart is the big one. He’s also blissfully ignorant to a lot of evil that surrounds him in New New York. I think Futurama is one of the most overlooked shows on TV. The writing is always intelligent, romantic, and the stories are put together like a perfect puzzle, each with it’s own uniquely satisfying ending.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Well that’s a tough one. I could easily choose any number of Beatles records or the Weezer “Blue Album”, but for interest’s sake I’ll say Apple Venus Vol. 1 by XTC. It’s the only full album I’m really familiar with by the band, and the styles and instrumental arrangements vary dramatically from song to song. There are a lot of hidden gems on there any songwriter would be a fan of. I will never tire of that record.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek. It’s a little more G-rated than Star Wars, but I grew up watching it and I love all the characters. Jean-Luc Picard is not only one of the nicest guys in the universe but he can win a battle with good morals and rational thinking. He’s like the Will Smith of space captains — he doesn’t need to swear when he raps.

5. Your ideal brain food?

My white, 100-year-old upright grand piano. There isn’t a day that goes by without me sitting down for a tinkle ([insert juvenile laughter]). I’ll often blindly hit some keys and see what starts happening. I write at least one song/melody a day, and record it on my iPhone. If I ever die, which I probably won’t, check my voice notes please. I also love hearing something on TV or the radio that I like, and trying to figure out in my head how to play it. When I think I’ve got it, I sit down at the piano and see. It’s always right. Except when it’s way off.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I am proud to say I can make a living in one form or another through music. Throughout my whole life, music has always fascinated, moved, and satisfied me. Not that it doesn’t for everyone, but I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to understand the why and how music does these things to us. The fact that I can do it for a living means that I’ve figured out a piece of that puzzle. But it never feels like I’m close to the full answer — I’m always learning that there’s so much more to learn. And every corner I turn is an exciting one. I just watched a video where Chilly Gonzales teams up with Daft Punk. That man is not only a musical genius, but he articulates musical things into words that opened my eyes to new songwriting techniques. Another exciting corner turned. Thanks, Chilly.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

Well I suppose it sounds vain, but I’d really love to have left just one melody in the collective human conscience. Like “Happy Birthday”, “Fur Elise”, “Chopsticks”, or any other melody that people know and always will. I don’t want the fame or glory or money (yes I do), but to have affected the world even microscopically in a timeless way. I think that’s kind of the ultimate goal.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Definitely Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury, Robert Schneider (Apples in Stereo), Bryan Adams, Roxette, just to name a few. I don’t care what people think of the production styles of some of these names, these artists can/could write songs and melodies that are timeless and move me.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Either “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven (all three movements) or “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That’s purely musical though. If you’re looking for lyrical content I’d say “Imagine” by John Lennon or “Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips. The simplest messages can provoke the most emotion. Plus the melodies are beautiful.

10. Your hidden talents …?

While I can eat total garbage on tour and drink lots, I really love to cook nice meals when I’m at home. So that’s two hidden talents in one. I can treat myself like crap and hardly ever pay the consequences (no hangovers, pleasant bowel movements) and then I go home to cook some gourmet meals. If I were to choose an alternate career path I’d love to take some culinary training.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My wife Savanna said to me that no matter how stressed out I am or how bad I might feel, there is always someone in the world who would trade their situation for mine. It’s a simple thought that can instantly make me stop sweating the small stuff. She’s pretty smart.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The best thing I ever bought was my new house. It’s allowed me to set up my own studio. I live within a block of some of my best friends. And Winnipeg is one of the few cities where you can do that on a musician’s salary! I’m sitting on my awesome porch in my awesome neighborhood typing this right now!

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or …?

It does feel good to put on some nice clothes and feel like you look great, ready to impress. But more importantly for me is to feel comfortable and relaxed. Pajama pants, my Space Mountain shirt, my couch, my wife, and some sci-fi is totally where it’s at.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Oh sheesh! I don’t know, I think I’d be nervous around all the people I have a million questions for. It would eat up time and then I’d just get tipsy before having any confidence to ask anything I really want to know, and then I’d just end up embarrassing myself. So I’ll say Kristen Wiig. She seems like someone who’s pretty easy to be around and isn’t fake. And we’ll laugh and laugh …

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

Definitely the future. Not sure where. Maybe a spaceship? Maybe some new planet called Glorbax 7? I want to see what happens to technology and the human race when the singularity happens. It’s going to be awesome.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

We just went to Falcon Trails resort right by the Manitoba/Ontario border. Best four days of nothing I’ve had in a while. We stayed in a luxury cabin with private hot tubs, barbecues, and wood-fire stoves, right on the waterfront. Few things can recharge your brain and massage your stress away like thinking about nothing and having no responsibilities other than watching four Nicholas Cage movies in one day.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or …?

Barbecues, condiments, and laughter.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I love living in Winnipeg, and I’m unsure that I’ll ever leave. It’s the perfect balance of city and town. Lots of space, cheap living expenses, good people and a musical community that could rival that of any city in the world.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I’m not a very political person. Like Phillip J. Fry from Futurama, I like to remain somewhat blissfully ignorant. However I’m aware just how lucky I am to live in Canada. I’d like to our leader to take steps to keep it this way. For everyone, not just rich people. See? I sounded like I knew what I was talking about there, but I don’t.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I started producing records for bands other than my own this year. It’s something I really enjoy, and I hope to keep learning and helping people make the best music possible.