The tale of a fallen recorder. + Imaginary Cities and James Vincent McMorrow

With every job there are casualties in the workplace. I however (naively) thought to myself – what could possibly go a-rye as a music writer? Yes – perhaps your computer can crash, carpel tunnel can ensue, you can go broke buying concert tickets BUT a drenched therefore unusable digital recorder? Gasp! I didn’t think of this one.

This has been the unfortunate fate of my Panasonic RR-US570. After my water bottle decided to loosen its lid (I swear I did it up tight) in my purse – I lifted out my recorder like a dripping sponge from the soggy abyss.

Now you’re probably saying to yourself – Torontette, get to the point. WELL. My interviews with Imaginary Cities and James Vincent McMorrow were both on this said recorder. When the realization came, my heart crumbled to the kitchen floor. These were two of my favourite interviews I have conducted to date and they were gone. Unretrievable. Resting in peace in interview heaven.

So relying on my spotty memory I’m going to attempt to highlight some of the golden nuggets I dug up during these interviews, if at the very least to pay homage to my long lost recorder. Or perhaps to spite it. Perhaps this is a little ‘up yours’ to technology. It may fail you but you will always have your memories.

Interview with Imaginary Cities

Rusty and Marti – and no these aren’t the names of the protagonists in a indie boho love story – met when Marti was playing in a Motown cover band at Winnipeg’s Cavern. They recorded one song together that Marti had already written and that turned out so well, they began writing and recording many others in tandem. The rest my friends, is history.

They say spending time on the road touring as been a blast – traveling the country doing what they do. I asked if they have any pet peeves of each other, or things that may them tick. Laughing harmoniously, Marti and Rusty say that for the most part, they get along splendidly, despite the odd brother and sister-like bicker.

You may have heard of Rusty Matyas before – he has been a part of two amazing Canadian bands, The Waking Eyes and The Weakerthans. Matyas might be a seasoned touring musician but for Marti Sarbit, this is her first time on tour. And quite a tour it is. They have been well received from coast to coast and city to city. Sarbit’s lusty and soulful vocals pair effortlessly with Matyas expert musicianship making for a serendipitous duo on stage.

They’re touring with The Pixies (awesome) right now and will be in Toronto April 19, playing a show at Massey Hall.

Interview with James Vincent McMorrow

Sitting in the front room at The Great Hall, James Vincent McMorrow on the piano bench with the rain in the window behind him, I remembered why I do this. Why I sacrifice my social hours and my sleeping ones to discover, write about and be impassioned by music.

JVM is probably one of the most unassuming musicians that I have ever met. Yes, appearance-wise he fits the bill – scruffy orange-tinged beard, striking eyes, casual yet cool clothes and a dreamy Irish accent. But he is so gracefully humble and modest. Simply refreshing after encountering many big egos in the music scene.

James makes irresistible music that someone has described much better than I ever could – “It is laced with hauntingly gracious melodies, mythical story lines, and musical structures that lend themselves to the traditional folk style that emerged in the States in the 1960s.” If I had to live a million years listening to one voice, it would be his.

His soothing demeanor, combined with his affection for Toronto, and admiration of The National won me over in leagues during our 20 minute chat. He mentioned that he’ll be back in Canada later this year. Do yourself a favor and catch him live if you can. I promise you won’t regret it.

Listen to ‘Temporary Resident’ by Imaginary Cities:

Listen to ‘If I Had a Boat’ by James Vincent McMorrow:


Interview with Yukon Blonde at Canadian Music Week

Before their show last Thursday at The Great Hall during Canadian Music Week, Torontette had the great opportunity to sit down with Jeff Innes and Graham Jones of Vancouver-based band, Yukon Blonde. Last year was a huge one for them, being named one of the 10 Canadian bands to break in 2010 by the CBC and being designated at the best band of 2010 Canadian Music Week in 2010 – among other worthy accolades.

Torontette: How did Yukon Blonde come to be?

Jeff Innes: Originally Graham and I went to school together and I used to play guitar a lot. I had a film class where I did a couple soundtracks and Graham was friends with the person that I did the soundtracks for and we met through that. Graham had a band at the time, so I started watching them play and I really wanted Graham to play drums with me and eventually he left that band and we started this band. We found Brandon our guitar player working in a shitty retail job and he had another band in town at the same time that we used to go and watch. And you know, he just looked the part so we stole him from his band. To begin with, we were a band called Alphababy for about three years and then some shit got all messed up and we decided to make a new band. So we disbanded and re-formed as Yukon Blonde, moved to Vancouver and here we are.

T: Tell me about the difference in essence between Alphababy and Yukon Blonde, if there is any.

JI: Vibes. The sound. Alphababy was pretty jammy. Pretty dark.

Graham Jones: And a little more progressive I guess.

JI: And with Yukon Blonde we just wanted to make a good, fun, rock and roll band. The first Yukon Blonde song was called ‘Babies Don’t Like Blue Anymore’. So that’s how we started. We wanted to make good pop music.

T: What’s the Vancouver music scene like?

JI: It’s crazy, and it’s all over the place, in a good way. And it’s getting recently better. It’s been good to us. We have a lot of friends out there. Our friends Said the Whale, they’re there, our new friends Sun Wizard, who are excellent, are there. It’s pretty eclectic. It’s pretty rootsy I’d say. It’s got that pacific northwest rootsy sound all over it. You can’t really escape it out there, that’s just what it is.

T: What’s your favourite festival that you’ve played to date?

GJ: Tough to say but I’d have to say Hillside.

T: I’m from Guelph so I love that answer!

JI: I’ve heard that a considerable amount of the volunteers were conceived at the festival. I’m not even kidding.

T: Well Guelph is known to be quite the hippy town.

JI: When we were there, it was such a cool atmosphere. It’s just one of those festivals. You know you’ve done a festival right when you’re at the festival and you feel like you’ve been there forever. You’re there and you feel like you’re surrounded by everything you want to be surrounded by. And that’s kind of how I felt.

T: If you could tour with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

JI: I would say Bowie or Plastic Ono Band.

GJ: Or The Flaming Lips.

JI: Yeah that’d be awesome. Maybe if we keep saying that for every interview, it’ll finally happen. We stalked them for a bit (laughs). We went and saw them live and I met Wayne Coyne and we talked a bit, it was cool. And then we dropped the record off at his house.

GJ: We did a little Google Earth to find his house.

T: Slightly creepy?

GJ: It is. I know. We caught him in the bathtub, having a bath in his front yard on Google Earth, so he was pretty easy to find.

T: How was touring with Plants and Animals?

JI: Awesome. They are very, very cool. It was one of those tours where you can’t really ask for more.

GJ: All the shows were really well attended, and we got to watch a really good band play every single night.

T: So what’s next for Yukon Blonde? You guys had a huge year, last year.

JI: Yeah we’re hoping to top it this year.

GJ: Try and play as many shows as we played last year.

JI: And make a record. It’s exciting. It’s always exciting.

Here’s the video for the song ‘Wind Blows’ off of their self-titled debut that came out last year.

Interview with Freedom or Death at Canadian Music Week

Freedom or Death was one of the bands that I was most excited for at this year’s Canadian Music Week and the night of their show at The Bait Shop, I was lucky enough to sit down with Fernandez from the hottest new duo on the Toronto scene, Fernandez and Sway, a.k.a. Freedom or Death. They have an interesting outlook on making music. One that strives to break conventional barriers of classification while setting our minds and souls free. Free to fly where you might ask? Anywhere you desire. Just close your eyes and point.

Torontette: So tell me about how you and Sway met?

Fernandez: We worked at Sony together, so we both met at a record label. I left about six months before he did and called him up about a year later and said to him, “Do you still want to make music?” and he said, “Yep” and we sat down and started writing songs and three months later we had a record done.

T: Wow. That’s fast.

F: It was. And now here we are, a year and a half later and we have our second record coming out.

T: And when is that set to drop?

F: April 26th. It’s called EGO.

T: I know a little bit about the meaning behind your name, and your mantra and based on what you live by and make music by, I’m curious as to your opinion on classifying music by genres.

F: I think it’s human to try and classify things because that’s how we understand things. So it’s going to happen. I do it, everyone does it. We do it with everything in our lives – we try to classify and figure out ‘where does it fit’. But I don’t think with our music we ever think about where it’s going to fit, we just do it and then the names get attached to it. So it’s pretty diverse. Some of it is very electronic, some of it’s acoustic, some of it’s rock. But it’s all tied together by Sway’s voice. So that’s the main thing you know.

Because of this, our music may be tough to classify but people do, sometimes it’s cool. Like we’ve been classified as electronic-folk. Opposite ends. It’s great and they perfectly got us in that sense. It’s like saying hot-cold.

T: What’s your favourite era of music?

F: I don’t have one really but I know it’s definitely not now. What I know best is 70s and 80s.

T: You’ve obviously been heavily involved in and still are in the Toronto music scene. What is your take on the Toronto concert audience?

F: As Kardinal Offishall said, “They pay $20 to boo you.” It’s a pretty jaded city. We actually wrote a song about it. About how it’s just so difficult sometimes for us to embrace our own and that’s what we’re trying to do tonight. We’re trying to embrace the bands that we like and promote together. For some reason cities like Montreal get it better and I don’t know what it is about Toronto that has a problem where it doesn’t really have an ego yet and I think it needs to have more of an ego. It needs to realize that it is good enough. You know, it doesn’t have to be the bastard New York. If we can change that and try to make it different in that way and that’s what we like to think we’re trying to do with Freedom or Death. Yeah it’s tough. I definitely wouldn’t say Toronto is the easiest place to be embraced, even if you’re from it. We actually have found more people embracing us from Montreal, than here.

T: Is this your first music endeavor?

F: As an artist, yes. Actually I shouldn’t say that, I produced some dance records way back when and Sway had a band before and I’ve also been a DJ for about 15 years. So we’ve had stuff but as a serious entity, as a career, yes. This is the first. We were always on the business side before and so now we’ve left the business side to do the artistic side.

T: Do you find that benefits you now as an artist? Having the business acumen?

F: It can or it can hurt you greatly because you think you know what you’re doing and the whole industry has changed. So we actually spend a lot of time un-learning. Like before we would get $50,000 to market a record, take it to radio, take it to a publicity team and so on but now we don’t have that kind of money to work with, first of all. And second of all, radio and publicity and online and everything has changed in terms of how people consume music, so we had to unlearn all that stuff. So knowing the business side has actually been a bit of a hindrance believe it or not.

T: So you’re playing CMW, you’re playing SXSW, what else do you have lined up?

F: We have a bunch of stuff happening on the eastern seaboard of Canada and the U.S. but nothing has been routed yet. We also have a bunch of stuff in Toronto in April. We’re doing Steam Whistle, we’re doing The Horseshoe and lots more coming up in May, June and July.

T: If you could play any festival in the world what would it be?

F: Perhaps Coachella. Or Montreal Jazz Festival – I just love the culture of that.

T: If you had to tour with any artist dead or alive, who would it be?

F: Radiohead. Easily.

T: Any final thoughts for Torontette readers?

F: Probably that the unique thing about this project is that it is two guys going after their dreams when they know better. We know how hard it is, we’ve seen how hard it is and we’re still going after it. If there was a unique spin on what we are, that’s what Freedom or Death is. For us, or for anybody, to go after what they want by any means necessary, and die trying to.

Next Toronto appearance: Tuesday, April 5 @ The Horseshoe

Freedom or Death on Myspace

Freedom or Death on soundcloud

Virginia Woolf – Freedom or Death

Interview with Kim Churchill at Canadian Music Week

It’s no secret that Torontette loves and supports a lot of electro music – music that is ridden with synths, samples, reverbs and mastered sounds. But every so often there is an artist who comes along that is so pure and simple in design, that the beauty of his stripped-down essence fills a special place in both my musical library and my heart.

20-year old Kim Churchill is this artist for me. He is Australian through and through and lives and breathes what it means to be a hard-working musician. I sat down with him at The Royal York during Canadian Music Week and reflecting on the interview, I can’t help but think of one of my favourite Aussie movies. Rugged, blonde and bronzed, he resembles a younger Croc Dundee and is perhaps the only person who can get away with wearing a tank top  in the ostentatious surroundings of the Fairmont. Don’t let his appearance fool you however. He’s intelligent, well-spoken, inspired and inspiring and can sing and play the guitar, harmonica and bass drum all at the same time. And they say men can’t multitask.

Torontette: How old were you when you first picked up a guitar?

Kim Churchill: I was four. Playing the guitar has been something for me almost kind of like breathing. Like walking. Something that I can’t honestly remember my life without. The guitar has been a constant thing in my life for as long as I can remember.

T: I read that when you’re in Australia you live and tour out of your van. Being here in Toronto, are you missing your van?

KC: Oh yes, always miss the van. But there are enough exciting things to distract me. Touring Canada is the closest country that I feel to home, you know. I have no idea why but I connect very well with this country. It’s a home away from home in a way.

T: If you could describe the Australian music scene in three words, what would they be?

KC: It’s very relaxed. That can be a blessing and that can be very hard at the same time because you could pull 300 people at a venue in the city and then the next time you play it’s a nice day, and the beach is good and stuff and everyone is chilled out. And then you could pull like 100 people and really struggle to make any money out of the show or struggle to have music as a job because of how relaxed it is. At the same time though the gigs are always great. The gigs are always beautiful. And I get the same feeling here. There’s a serious appreciation for music.

Another word would be vast. There’s a lot going on. There’s lots of different styles of music that are all sort of intermingled and even the idea of a genre is losing its meaning because everything is four or five genres in one and there are no boundaries anymore, there are no things dividing everything.

And I would say, sporadic, would be my third word. There are real hot spots but then there are a lot of places in Australia where say you can drive for 10 hours and not go through a town with a music venue. So it’s sporadic in the sense that it’s everywhere and nowhere and everywhere and nowhere and so it can be very hard to put a tour together, you have to do a lot of driving to make it all link up.

T: When you are writing your music, do you have any non-musical influences? Things that are reflected in your music and colours what you write?

KC: The romantic poets. Funnily enough. I don’t know why. More as a critique of them than inspired by them but say Coleridge, all the stuff he wrote about excited reverie and kind of these massive connecting with God through nature kind of things. These are subjects that I write about a lot. Sometimes negatively, sometimes positively but it interests me for some reason. And that’s a serious influence upon my writing and my lyrical construction of pieces.

T: What do you like to do more write lyrics or create the melodies? Or is it a combination of both?

KC: I was always a guitarist and I grew up playing classical guitar and within that there were no lyrics so for a seriously large amount of my life – 11 years – I was playing music that had no lyrics. But at the same time I was listening to a lot of Bob Dylan and Nick Drake – artists that were completely lyrically-driven so I always wanted to write strong, meaningful lyrics and that instigated a sort of rebellion against classical guitar and everything that I know because it was the opposite. It was free and creative and there was no discipline in terms of how you were sitting when you played the guitar or anything like that. So these days I must say I fall back on my melodies quite often because it is my subconscious tendency to go to what I know but I find more and more now I will be constructing melodies around the lyrics. And it gives you more room to make a song that flows and works.

T: What are you listening to right now?

KC: We’ve had these massive drives from Winnipeg to Quebec City for like 30 hours and I’ve just had this obsession the past few days with the Jewish rapper, Matisyahu. I’m right into him at the moment. Everything that Jack White does from the White Stripes, all his side projects. And then I have sort of all my regular stuff like Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, stuff like that, that I never really stop listening to. A combination of new stuff and the old stuff that I always listen to.

T: Where are you next?

KC: We fly to New York after this and we play a couple shows there and then we go to Austin for SXSW. And then its back home to try and get fit. I feel so unhealthy at the moment. So many wings. Wings and Tim Horton’s.

T: Where do you see yourself in a year from now?

KC: Hopefully doing a lot more stuff here. And I hope to still be playing music and I hope to still be writing music. I hope to still have the freedom that I have now no matter what happens within my career. Other than that, I hope the rest is a mystery. I hope I don’t know what’s coming.

CMW Must-See: Imaginary Cities

Winnipeg’s redeeming qualities are about as hard to come by as a cab on Queen West at 2am yet every so often something great comes along, like a single flower blooming on the the Peg’s prairie landscape. Case in point: Marti Sarbit and Rusty Matyas of Imaginary Cities. Their album, Temporary Resident came out last month, and each one of its 11 tracks is infused with soul, sass, and spirit. Sarbit’s voice is impossible not to love and multi-instrumentalist ingenue Matyas brings each song to life.

The Peg already had a special place in my heart as it is where my two best friends are from. And now this. Imaginary Cities. From Winnipeg. Believe it and see it for yourself this week at CMW.

Click here to see more Must-See artists for Canadian Music Week.

CMW Deets:

W/ Young Galaxy // Thursday March 10 // Lee’s Palace // 10:30pm

Manitoba Music Showcase // Friday March 11 // The Garrison // 11:30pm

Say You – Imaginary Cities

CMW Must-See: James Vincent McMorrow

Another international artist making the long journey to the great white north this week is James Vincent McMorrow from Dublin, Ireland. Here are two songs of his below – different in energy and emotion yet with one thing making them undeniably the same. McMorrow’s foxy voice. He could wake me up from the deepest slumber with that voice and I couldn’t be grumpy…and believe me, I love to sleep.

Hope these songs make your Monday a little brighter and a tip to enhance your listening experience: listen loud.


CMW Deets:

Friday March 11 // The Great Hall // 9:15pm

If I Had A Boat – James Vincent McMorrow

Sparrow and the Wolf – James Vincent McMorrow

CMW Must-See: Bombay Bicycle Club

Bombay Bicycle Club is probably one of the most buzzed about bands on this year’s massive CMW bill and they deserve every sweet morsel of attention they are getting. These young fellas from the UK had a seriously awesome 2010 and 2011 is sure to be even bigger and brighter. We are all very lucky to have them here in Toronto this week for CMW and with a reputation for electrifying live shows, this must-see event calls for the Sharpie to make an appearance on your calendar.

They’re set to release their next album this year, and will undoubtedly be playing some tracks from it. Their last album Flaws was acoustically recorded but this latest release will see the return of electric guitars and sped-up rhythms. They snagged the Best New Band award at the 2010 NME Awards up against such talent as The XX, La Roux and Mumford & Sons.

Here’s the vid for one of my favourites off of their debut release, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose.

CMW Deets:

Buzz-Factor // Friday March 11 // Lee’s Palace // 12am

The Indie Awards // Saturday March 12 // Canadian Room, Royal York

Always Like This – Bombay Bicycle Club