It seems that ascendant soul-pop rockers Imaginary Cities reached their ceiling recently while on tour with iconic indie-rock band the Pixies.
“We were in Detroit, playing the Fox Theatre,” explains vocalist Marti Sarbit, “and somehow our drummer found out how to get into the ceiling of the venue. We climbed up and kind of peeked over the ledge, which was above this huge chandelier, and we watched the Pixies’ set from the very top of the building. It was just beautiful.
“It was one of the coolest things, and one of the most dangerous things, I’ve ever done,” she laughs.
Based out of balmy Winnipeg, Manitoba, the core of Imaginary Cities consists of the singing Sarbit (who got her highly individualized R&B chops down fronting soul-styled cover band The Solutions) and Montreal-born multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas (who has also recorded with The Waking Eyes and The Weakerthans). In a live setting, such as the North American headlining tour that begins today, the duo blow it up to full band size.
College radio faves, it would appear, within microseconds of the release of their debut full-length Temporary Resident (featuring sparkly and spell-binding singles Hummingbird and Temporary Resident), Imaginary Cities have also done their bit to court habitually prickly music critics, enough of whom liked the album to long-list it for this past year’s edition of the Polaris Music Prize (which is awarded to the best Canadian album of the year).
Recently returned from a far-reaching and fruitful tour of Germany (“It’s a really music-passionate culture”), Imaginary Cities have been more or less consistently on the road, and in the air, and on the road again, since the release of Temporary Resident last February. It’s a state of affairs that has, to understate it, somewhat exceeded the band’s expectations.
“We did a month in Australia, a month in Europe, and now we’re about to head off again for a month,” Sarbit says in a tone of voice that’s equal parts deep appreciation and disbelief. “I’m home in Winnipeg for about five days right now, but if you had asked me a year ago if I’d be doing this…”
Having many in the way of pinch-me moments?
“Yeah, I have those all the time! It’s a crazy lifestyle that I never even expected that I’d be a part of, so it’s cool. I look around and I’m in Germany; I look around and I’m in Australia.”
One can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to look around and find yourself opening for the Pixies on every stop of the 14-date Canadian leg of that band’s “Doolittle” tour this past spring.
“That was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done!” Sarbit says with a laugh. “Yeah, that definitely brought a little bit of pride, and it boggles my mind that we’ve even gotten to open for such a big, legendary band. And that they’ve asked us to open for them again is really nice…” she says, pausing, briefly overrun by warm fuzzies. “It just makes you feel good about what you’re doing.”
Apart from the first-mentioned Fox Theatre high point, as it were, Sarbit recalls another magical moment with their Boston benefactors (who, as Sarbit touched upon, have again hand-picked Imaginary Cities for six more U.S. dates later this month).
“[Pixies drummer] Dave Lovering – who’s an actual full-fledged magician – came into our dressing room one night before we were going to do a show and he did some magic tricks for us and they were unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it – we were all just baffled!”
Imaginary Cities with The Coppertone and Bronze Radio Return at Petit Campus (57 Prince-Arthur E.), Nov. 9, 8 pm
Photo by Trevor Marczylo