If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: One of the best things (and there are so many) about being introduced to David Marsden’s live radio show 14 years ago, and then more recently (2014) to his free-form stream NYTheSpirit.com, is getting to know some incredible music acts and artists that I never would have been exposed to otherwise.
George Rondina is part of this treasure trove of talent. Three of his songs recorded under the moniker Imagination Machine that David has played on his live weekend show have absolutely torn me up: A Northern Evening, Dancing on a Highwire, and True (May the Road Rise). These hauntingly lovely songs are the perfect blend of an internal, aural, emotional journey highlighted by Rondina’s expressive and unique voice. Personally, music is an escape that makes the real world tolerable by pushing it aside and providing a safe haven in which to curl up and fantasize about what life should be. George Rondina’s music is that and so much more—it envelopes the listener within a protective bubble that promises salvation rather than mere isolation.
It’s my pleasure to share this interview with you and to hopefully pull more listeners into the ethereal world of Imagination Machine. Given the reality that we are forced to deal with every day, I believe this is an alternative that many will willingly embrace once its magic has touched the soul.
MissParker: I’ve done some research about you online and am amazed at your accomplishments, most notably the Toronto recording studio known as Number 9 Audio Group. Before I ask you to expand on that a bit, I also read that you were part of several bands back in the late 70s. What can you share about that experience?
George Rondina: I’d like to say, thank you for having me and for the very kind and generous introduction. I started out as a musician and was in a couple of different bands in high school. Once graduated, the musical journey really kicked in and the 3 bands I was in toured Ontario and Quebec.
It was fun for the first few years, but living out of a suitcase in some not-so-swank hotels took its toll after about 5 years and I started to think of something I could do that would garner a bit more of a normal life. After much thought, Number 9 Sound Studios ( Number 9 Audio Group ) was born.
MissParker: So, getting back to Number 9 Audio Group—the name is intriguing, by the way—where did the name come from (I have a guess) and what prompted you to switch from performing to producing?
George Rondina: Ah, so the name Number 9 of course was a culmination of things—John Lennon’s infatuation with the number 9 and numerology, as he was born on the 9th day of the month, and so was I. In 1981, for lack of a better name, Number 9 it was.
We ran the studio in tandem, with playing live on weekends, at first. When my first born came along, the rest of the band approached me about touring full time. I was happy playing weekends and running the studio through the week. It was a very hard decision, but I chose to keep the studio going, as I had no interest in going back on the road at the time and I knew it would have been very hard on my family. So that’s when the switch happened.
MissParker: The “who’s who” list of artists you’ve worked with at the studio is impressive, to say the least. Of the people you’ve worked with, who left the biggest impression and why?
George Rondina: Wow, that’s a tough one, as many of the bands like “The Barenaked Ladies” weren’t famous when we first recorded them. There are a few that I enjoyed meeting a lot, like David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears. David recorded 4 albums at Number 9 and we became quite good friends. Jim McCarty from the Yardbirds and Renaissance would be another. A real gentleman. The work we did with the Stones, Van Morrison, and Will Smith was either rental work or location recording—mostly arm’s length—never got to meet them directly. After almost 40 years there’ve been a lot of great experiences, that’s for sure.
MissParker: Who haven’t you worked with that would be high up on your wish list?
George Rondina: We could be here all night (laugh) . Of the living: Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Pete Townshend and The Who (whom I have met but haven’t worked with), Pink Floyd, particularly David Gilmour, Genesis…The list is endless.
MissParker: I’m curious about your connection with David Marsden. How did you first meet up with him and how long have you known him?
George Rondina: I’ve known David from his radio shows since the 70s, but he’s only known me since about 2017-18, when I released A Northern Evening and he was kind enough to add it to his playlist.
MissParker: I fantasize about having been a part of the music world, but life seems to have had other plans for me. So I’m always curious—what got you interested in music and which instruments were the first you learned to play?
George Rondina: Feb. 9th 1964 The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. That night, I decided that music is what I wanted to do. I was just a young kid. I tried guitar but just couldn’t get the hang of it, where piano came much more naturally for me. Then came the other keyboards and synthesizers, which I have a nice little collection of my favourites now. The only other thing for me was singing. I started in choirs at an early age.
MissParker: Who were your early musical influences?
George Rondina: Well of course, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, and the whole late 60s-70s scene. Later: Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, ELP, David Bowie, Tom Petty—the list could go on almost forever.
MissParker: Even though you’re a musician first and foremost, what planted the Imagination Machine seed?
George Rondina: I’d been writing songs all my life but pushed aside recording them to focus on the studio, raising my kids, and making ends meet. Later in life, which started around 2016, I recorded a Christmas song for a charity to help kids with depression issues. The song was called Shine On. After I finished recording that song, I decided that it was time to start on an album.
MissParker: To me, you have the perfect blend of synths and instrumentation to enhance your vocals on the gorgeous track “A Northern Evening.” The first time I heard David play it, I about fell out of my chair while grabbing my phone to Shazam this amazing song I was listening to. What inspired you to write that song?
George Rondina: It was a long time ago. I wrote the majority of A Northern Evening when I was in my 20s, and adding parts and lyrics in 2016-17 when I recorded it. By the way, I’m very encouraged and grateful by your kind words.
It was an experience I had while in Northern Ontario on a crisp, clear winter’s night while snowmobiling. We reached a peak and gazed into a sky full of stars with northern lights and shooting stars. It was an epiphany for me. I guess the belief that there is something more was confirmed that night and soon after came the lyrics and the song.
MissParker: I absolutely adore “Dancing on a Highwire.” What’s the back story to that song?
George Rondina: That’s a little sad I guess. My father suddenly passed away at 56 when I was 21. Literally died in my arms. The only death I’d experienced before that of someone that was close was my grandmother ( my Dad’s mother) the year before. I went into a bit of a dark place and was searching for something. Not to get too deep into the experience, Highwire is really just about the fragility of life and how we all have the courage to carry on even through the darkest of times.
MissParker: Rooting around YouTube I’ve come across some other Imagination Machine gems that are both playful and lovely. Do you have any other songs in the works?
George Rondina: The other Imagination Machine Songs are Muskoka Trees, Blue Room, and I just recently finished a song called Still In The Silence. Going in the studio this week to start another new song.
MissParker: Please share how we can purchase your music and also be informed of any future releases.
George Rondina: It’s pretty well a one-man show right now. I don’t have a website or FaceBook page just yet for Imagination Machine. The other thing is since I started Imagination Machine there is a children’s group using the same name, so it may evolve into George Rondina and The Imagination Machine .
I think tuning into Dave Marsden’s NYtheSpirit.com is a good way to hear what is going on with Imagination Machine or my personal Facebook page. The songs are all available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube, and more. You can download from iTunes and Bandcamp, which is always preferred by the artist.
Here are a few links:
Muskoka Trees ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music
True (May the Road Rise) ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music
Blue Room ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music
Dancing on a Highwire ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music
Still in the Silence ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music
A Northern Evening ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music
And, before we end, I think it’s very important I acknowledge the musicians, engineers and studios that played a huge part in making our songs presentable 🙂. They are: George Koller, Vito Rezza, Graham Walker, Larry Bodner, Chase Sanborn, Reg Schwager, Ciceal Levy and Amoy Levy, Caroline Akwe, John Madill, Aaron Fund Salem, Arron Davis, Bridget Hunt, Carolyn Blackwell, Winona Zelenka, John Switzer, Samuel Bisson, Alex Toskov and Veronica Lee, Loretto Reid, Eric St-Laurent, Anne Lindsay, Bernie Cisternas, Brian Mcloughlin, Alex Lang, Number 9 Audio Group, Alex Gordon, Abbey Road Studios Mastering, Lacquer Channel Mastering, and Noah Mintz.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been a pleasure.
It was truly a pleasure to learn more about this inspiring music maker and producer. Follow the links below to sample some of his incredible work. And, if you like what you hear, be sure to support George Rondina and Imagination Machine using the links he gave us above.
True (May the Road Rise)
A Northern Evening
Dancing on a Highwire