He and her and she and him

The members of local bands Imaginary Cities and Courier News talk about their differences and similarities

  • Matt Schellenberg and Alexa Dirks of Courier News with Marti Sarbit and Rusty Matyas of Imaginary Cities. – Suzanne Pringle

Casual observers can be forgiven for mixing up Imaginary Cities and Courier News.

On paper, the two new Winnipeg bands are strikingly similar. In both cases, two people from separate, successful musical projects – a dark-haired female with a knockout voice and a prolific male indie rocker – have come together to create songs that are catchy as hell.

In Imaginary Cities, it’s Solutions frontwoman Marti Sarbit and Waking Eyes singer/guitarist Rusty Matyas. In Courier News, it’s Chic Gamine vocalist Alexa Dirks and Liptonians singer/keyboard player Matt Schellenberg.

During a joint interview at the Cavern in Osborne Village, the group members – who have been friends for years – even realize the same instrument had a significant impact on each band’s recent recordings.

“I have this reed organ that I got from my friend who got it at (a thrift store) that pretty much appeared on every track,” Schellenberg says while listing the instruments and found sounds that were used to make Courier News’ debut EP, Fixtures.

“Was it in our rehearsal space?” Matyas asks. “The little wind thing? That totally shaped the sound of one of our songs, Manitoba Bossanova. It’s the lead part.”

Where the bands differ is their sound and their plans for the future. Dirks and Schellenberg recorded Fixtures, a five-song collection of moody, down-tempo electro-pop, in Schellenberg’s home office on a whim. They released it at the beginning of May, but they have no immediate plans to do any more recording or play any live shows.

It doesn’t sound contrived at all – it sounds like something you were just making for fun that happens to be awesome.

Rusty Matyas on Courier News

Meanwhile, Sarbit and Matyas recorded their debut CD this past April with recording engineers Cam Loeppky and Shawn Dealey at Prairie Recording Co.

The band is hoping to shop the record – an 11-song collection of soul-infused pop – to a label for a possible fall release date. They’ve hired a manager (Weakerthans guitarist Stephen Carroll), assembled a live band and booked a series of June shows in Winnipeg and Toronto.

For both bands, recording was about capturing a moment more so than capturing note-perfect performances.

When Sarbit and Matyas were writing at The Waking Eyes’ jam space, they would go in not knowing what they were going to work on that day. They wouldn’t leave until they had written, recorded and roughly mixed a complete song.

Matyas knew he wanted to work with Sarbit when he heard her voice.

“She sounds like a six-month-old chipmunk, which is great – it’s so unique,” he says. “What I like most about it is that (she has) bluesy, soulful tendencies that I wouldn’t have with my boring, white guy voice.”

“And what I like about you is that you bring hooks and awesome melodies,” Sarbit says in return.

“It’s probably similar to you guys,” Matyas says to Dirks and Schellenberg. “I write simple pop songs and then Marti blueses them up and it’s just a neat equation that makes something unique.”
Dirks is quick to point out that when she began collaborating with Schellenberg, there were no plans to release music to the public. For the pair, Courier News was simply supposed to be an outlet for some of the things they were writing that didn’t fit in with their main projects.

“I think you can hear that in the music,” Matyas says to Dirks and Schellenberg.

“It doesn’t sound contrived at all – it sounds like something you were just making for fun that happens to be awesome.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 26 of The Uniter (May 27, 2010)

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