“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.

In some bands, once each member establishes their role in the songwriting and recording processes, they guard their musical turf almost religiously. If those roles change, the potential for the kind of conflicts that can tear an act apart increases greatly.

That’s never been a problem for Protest The Hero. Over nearly 15 years, PTH have fluidly adapted to dramatic changes in the music industry, while fostering a creative process that finds them actively encouraging each other to evolve – without ever fracturing the bond that’s kept them together. That bond has existed since they were children, says lead singer Rody Walker, who credits their longevity to a collective passion for the music they make and their shared outlook.

“We have an amazing capacity to have a good time despite the circumstances,” says Walker. “We

“We do this because we love it, and nothing could be so bad that it would make us stop.” – Protest The Hero’s Rody Walker

do this because we love it, and nothing could be so bad that it would make us stop.”

“I don’t think we’ve written any record the same way,” Walker continues. In fact, he says, their new album (yet to be named and released as of press time) is the first PTH record for which he’s written all the lyrics, instead of sharing those duties with longtime lyricist/bassist, Arif Mirabdolbaghi, as he did on 2011’s Scurrilous.

It’s also the first time PTH opted to crowdfund a record through Indigogo, rather than partner with a label – a campaign they announced in January 2013, which found them reaching their stated goal of $125,000 within thirty hours and ultimately raising a total of $341,146.

Four songs into the writing process, however, PTH found themselves facing a change far harder to adjust to than any they’d dealt with previously; drummer Moe Carlson’s decision to pursue a career in tool-and-die manufacturing and, ultimately, his departure from the band.

Usually Carlson, Mirabdolbaghi and guitarists Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar write the tracks. Then

“We have to keep reinventing what we do. We have to be able change direction at the drop of a hat.” – Protest The Hero’s Luke Hoskin

Mirabdolbaghi – and now Walker – contribute lyrics and melodies. After talking it through with Carlson, however, PTH decided, mutually and amicably, to continue writing without him.

Embracing change has always been key to PTH’s creative growth. “We have to keep reinventing what we do,” says Hoskin. “We have to be able change direction at the drop of a hat.” That said, Carlson’s departure was particularly difficult for Hoskin. “He was the first person I’d bounce ideas off,” Hoskin says. “It was like losing your identity as a writer because you’ve always written with this person.”

To fill that void, Hoskin turned to Cameron McLellan – a longtime friend of the band, who started out as their lighting technician before taking over as their sound engineer. Hoskin and McLellan had written together before, but never with PTH in mind. They began by sifting through bits and pieces of previous music they’d worked on together on tour as well as generating new material.

Even after they began recording – with Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler filling in for Carlson – it became necessary to alter their process again, Hoskin continues. And, after laying down drums with returning producer Julius “Juice” Butty at the helm, PTH and Butty decided that the best way to move forward was for McLellan to produce the remainder of the sessions.

While the resulting album features some songs that are more linear than PTH’s past efforts, they haven’t abandoned their progressive metal roots. “There are some songs that are simpler, and some that are more complex, than anything we’ve ever written,” Walker says.

Going forward without a label, however, they expect the process of releasing the record to be more complicated than ever before. “We’re excited,” Hoskin says, “but we had to step up and make every decision about every aspect of this album. That’s something we didn’t have to do before. Now we have to or they won’t get sorted out. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”

Publisher: Protest The Hero – self-published
Discography: Search for the Truth (EP, 2002), Kezia (2005), Fortress (2008), Scurrilous (2011)
SOCAN Members since 2003
Visit www.protestthehero.ca

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)