A soulful singer pays homage to the Motown Records sound each week. She meets a sound engineer and multi-instrumentalist in a basement bar. The result: Imaginary Cities – yet another band with a big sound unearthed from Winnipeg’s fertile music scene – is born.

Marti Sarbit, one-half of Imaginary Cities, recalls this serendipitous meeting. “Rusty [Matyas]

“This record definitely has more of an orchestral sound. We are really proud of it.” – Marti Sarbit of Imaginary Cities

came up to me between sets,” she says. “We ended up singing a song together. We had a really good time and the rapport was great. Awhile later, I asked if he would help me with some other songs I was working on. We ended up recording ‘Say You,’ which became the first song on Temporary Resident. From there, we couldn’t help but continue.”

Next up in the duo’s evolution was finding a name. Sarbit says their first thought was Sparrow or Old Sparrow, but legal reasons prevented them from adopting this moniker. In a rush to come up with an identity, she searched for inspiration amongst the dusty book jackets in her parents’ basement – enlisting her dad for help.

“We saw one book called Imaginary Beings and another called Invisible Cities,” she says. “I called

Where the first record was a blend of different styles, with Fall of Romance the duo has found their sound

Rusty right away and said, ‘These sound cool, should we somehow use one of these?’ We both liked the result when we combined these two titles together and felt it was big enough to match our sound.”

Imaginary Cities released its debut (Temporary Resident) in 2011 to critical acclaim. After an exhausting touring schedule in 2012 that included sharing the stage for nine straight weeks with The Pixies, the pair returned to the studio. The result, Fall of Romance, dropped at the end of May, and shows the band’s musical maturity. Where the first record was a blend of different styles, with their sophomore offering the duo has found their sound – grand and atmospheric indie-pop, laced with haunting harmonies.

The bed tracks for Fall of Romance were laid down in Winnipeg. Imaginary Cities then journeyed to Vancouver to record the remainder of the songs, over the course of three weeks, with Howard Redekopp (The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara).

“This record definitely has more of an orchestral sound,” says Sarbit. “We are really proud of it. I hope people like it as much as we do. I even find myself listening to it, which is not something I usually do… it’s pretty exciting.” – DAVID McPHERSON

Track Record

  • Temporary Resident was long-listed in 2011 for the Polaris Music Prize
  • It also won a 2011 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Pop Album of the Year.
  • Imaginary Cities’ TV credits include Degrassi, Less Than Kind, and MTV Tough Love


Publisher: Downtown/Imaginary Cities
Discography: Temporary Resident (2011), Fall of Romance (2013)
Visit www.imaginarycities.ca
SOCAN Members since 2002 (Matyas), 2010 (Sarbit)

“Hey, Nashville! Break’s over!

Jason Blaine remembers the gentle joshing he received from fellow workers during the few years he toiled at a filing cabinet factory back in the ‘90s. As a then-aspiring country music singer and songwriter who dreamed of living in Music City, Tennessee, and making an impact on country music, Blaine was ribbed by a few blue-collar types on the job, but never let it get under his skin.

“I got teased a bit, but I think it was all in good fun,” recalls Blaine, who was raised on a radio diet of Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Vince Gill, among others. “They literally named me ‘Nashville,’ but I thought, ‘That’s all right.’ I always knew I’d end up as a songwriter in Nashville.”

Today, the Pembroke, ON, native Blaine, 33, has transformed fantasy into reality with his wife

“If I was a country fan, what would I want to hear? A turn-it-up loud, all-summer-long, drive-around-in-my-truck album.”

Amy and their three kids, Grace, Sara and Carter. Although he may live south of the Canadian border, Blaine’s star is still very much on the rise back home. In 2012, his fourth album, Life So Far, yielded the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Single of the Year with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore.” This year, he’s nominated for aCCMAs for Songwriter of the Year – for “Cool,” a co-write with Deric Ruttan, from his stellar 2013 album Everything I Love.

Co-produced by Blaine with Scott Cooke (Florida Georgia Line, Nickelback), Everything I Love is packed with irresistible earworms like the energetic “Rock It, Country Girl,” the celebratory “Good Ol’ Nights” and the slap-happy “Friends of Mine.” The latter features a quartet of homegrown country stars – Jason McCoy, Gord Bamford, Deric Ruttan and Chad Brownlee – chiming in on the festivities.

“I joked to them that if they hadn’t agreed to do it, I’d have to re-name the song ‘No Friends,’” Blaine chuckles.

Each song on Everything I Love is marked by melodic maturity, everyman lyrics, a hint of swagger and a stylistic versatility that adheres to Music Row expectations while still allowing Blaine to maintain his own identity. That’s something he may not have necessarily achieved had he landed anywhere other than in Nashville.

“I felt like I would have copped out on a dream of mine if I’d never actually went there and tried to figure out that scene and make friends,” admits Blaine, who honed his musical chops playing in a band with his dad and his brother. “It is a hub for amazing talent. If you go thinking you’re a pretty good songwriter, you will be humbled. If you go there thinking you’re a pretty good musician, you will be humbled. And you’ll be better for it.

“You go to some writers’ nights, you just go and listen and you think, ‘God, that’s amazing.’ You’ll

“There are still personal songs on it, but I really focused on fun and writing these uptempo crowd anthems.”

hear songs that you may never hear on the radio, and there are more undiscovered hits than there are hits. But it will raise your game, and I have friends and peers that I count on and trust that I can bounce stuff off, and they’ll go either, ‘Yeah man, that’s really great stuff,’ or they’ll send you back to the drawing board.”

Some of those friends and collaborators have impressive track records: fellow Canadians Ruttan (Blake Shelton’s “Mine Would Be You,” Eric Church’s “Hell On The Heart”); Kelly Archer (Jason Aldean, Dustin Lynch) and Steven Lee Olsen (The Judds, 98 Degrees); and U.S. writers Jim Beavers (Tim McGraw’s “Felt Good On My Lips”, Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”) and George Teren (Brad Paisley’s “Where I Get Where I’m Going”, Tim McGraw’s “Real Good Man”.)

“I’m more of a melody/music/groove/guitar-riff guy,’ says Blaine, whose most popular U.S. placement has been “Work It Out” on country rapper Colt Ford’s Top 10 album Every Chance I Get, a song that featured Luke Bryan on vocals. “I think I’m stronger in that area than lyrics, which is why I’ve just been really fortunate to write with some guys who have just been honing their craft for years, like a George Teren, or a Deric Ruttan.

You never know who’s listening.

When Montreal’s newly formed Half Moon Run went into a studio to provide a track for a student project, they had no idea they’d get a record deal out of it. In fact, as Dylan Phillips explains, going into the session was a bit of a blur.

“I was super sick, so I can’t remember much of that day,” says the band’s drummer and keyboard

“You meet people and they’re clearly more interested in being in a band than writing songs, making music… We don’t want to turn into those guys. – Dylan Phillips of Half Moon Run

player. “I know it was pretty rushed. I do remember that soon afterwards we heard from Kyria [Kilakos, label manager of Indica Records]. She was teaching at the school and the recording caught her attention. We hadn’t even played 10 shows yet, but a couple of weeks later we were signed. It was quite exciting, although it was also faster than we were able to handle.”

The song was “Full Circle,” a nimble bit of hypnotic folk-rock highlighted by the double-time, three-part harmonies of Phillips, guitarist Conner Molander and lead vocalist Devon Portielje. The three had come to Montreal from across the country for different reasons: Molander to study psychology at McGill University, Portielje for a music industry job, and Phillips to pursue his masters in classical piano. They met through a Craiglist ad, and (with exception of a short-lived high-school rock group for Conner), Half Moon Run was their first band.

Still, they weren’t newbies. Portielje had studied Music Industry Arts at Fanshawe College in London, ON, which is why he says he met the initial offer from Indica with “raw skepticism.”

“I wanted to be DIY,” he says. “I wanted to go viral on YouTube, and have a position of power when

“Songwriting was like going to a new job. Keep your head down and start working.” – Devon Portielje of Half Moon Run

talking to labels. One of the main things covered [at Fanshawe] was getting ripped off by contracts. But we had an entertainment lawyer look at [the Indica contract], made some amendments, and signed.”

After initially telling Indica they could have an album’s worth of songs ready in two months, the band took almost a year to do it. Dark Eyes was released in March 2012. The band’s sound is delicate and intimate, a mix of au courant sensitive indie rock and retro psychedelia, with subtle electronic flourishes.  Dark Eyes found its place onto the shelves of Radiohead fans, Band of Horses listeners and the like, and Half Moon Run found itself touring North America as the opening act for Wintersleep and Metric.

Then last October, they got a major boost from Ben Lovett of international chart-toppers Mumford & Sons, who told the influential U.K. magazine New Musical Express that Half Moon Run was his favourite new band, and “potentially one of the most important bands debuting an album this year.”

Since then the group (which now also includes multi-instrumentalist Isaac Symonds) has been capitalizing on the attention – playing the Glastonbury and Reading festivals in England, touring with Mumford and Of Monsters And Men, getting airplay on BBC radio, and signing deals to release Dark Eyes in France, the U.S. and the U.K.

But the men of Half Moon Run haven’t been able to squeeze in much songwriting. “It’s really tough,” says Phillips. “We do have seeds of ideas. We try stuff on acoustic guitar, we harmonize, and then I take it to my computer in the van and add keys. I have used iPhone recordings into Logic. We’ll try anything. But we really need our set-up and some meaningful time off. You can’t see a song to completion on the road.”

For a new group, Half Moon Run already has a defined system of creating music. Portielje says this is partly because the band members weren’t friends first, so from the get-go, their get-togethers were focused on production. “It was like going to a new job,” he says. “Keep your head down and start working.”

When the band is finally able to settle down to craft the follow-up to Dark Eyes, its four members will continue to apply the rules that served them so well the first time. For Portielje, that includes writing the melody first, then syllables, then words. But don’t ask Phillips about his lyrics. “We don’t discuss what a song means,” he says. “That’s why sometimes the lyrics might be dark, but the music is not.”

Most importantly, Phillips says Half Moon Run will never forget the real reason they came together, and flipped their lives upside down to pursue their opportunity.

“You meet people and they’re clearly more interested in being in a band than writing songs, making music,” he says. “We recognize those moments in ourselves too, and we can make fun of ourselves. But we don’t want to turn into those guys. Songs always come first.”

Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Canada, Indica Records Inc.
Discography: Dark Eyes (2012)
SOCAN Members since 2011
Visit halfmoonrun.com