We chat to Will Whitwham of Canadian five-piece The Wilderness of Manitoba ahead of their short stop over in London, and debut European release When You Left the Fire.
Hailing from Toronto’s ever flourishing music scene, having produced the likes of Broken Social Scene, Owen Pallet and Caribou, the Wilderness of Manitoba’s main asset is a sound built upon a rich tapestry of intertwining vocal harmonies. The soon to be released When You Left the Fire thematically centres on the cold isolation of Ontario’s winters and was recorded during those icy months first at a church in Toronto, as well as in the basement of the band’s house.
How did you begin playing music?
I started piano when I was 7 years old and guitar at age 12 and got inspired by everything from jazz to 90’s grunge throughout my teens. Then there was the 60’s and 70’s (even 80’s) music I grew up on within and before that thanks to my parents. I guess that’s how it all began and led me to seeing that there is no end.
You’ve got your latest record ‘When You Left the Fire’ out in the UK soon. Considering the great reception you received at End of the Road festival and Camden
You’ve got your latest record ‘When You Left the Fire’ out in the UK soon. Considering the great reception you received at End of the Road festival and Camden Crawl last year, you must be confident about its release?
I think we are confident in the way that it came from an honest place when we made it and we were happy with the results. It is a moment (or a series of moments) in time that illustrates where we were at musically & creatively when it was happening. It also feels like we have grown in a way that is not beyond that, just different. Like we are ready to expand upon what we have already made and go deeper. I’ve always felt that my favorite artists are always releasing something but at the same time, have already gone to a different internal (if not, external) place by the time the tangible result is out there and available to people. That isn’t to say that they aren’t still inspired by what they’ve made in the past, but rather that it has already been expanded upon. I think it’s ‘creative survival’ more than anything else.
Vocals and harmonies are the core of many of your songs. Is this how they are usually formed – vocals first, instrumentation later?
Instrumentation always comes first and sometimes with that comes a vocal melody. I like to pay close attention to what a melody is trying to say without words (if it is saying anything at all) and then have the lyrics guided by that. Then we get into where the harmonies could or should happen and after or along with that, all of the other instrumentation follows (ie.cello, electric guitar, percussion etc.)
How do you attribute the Toronto music scene to the formation of and growth of the band?
I think that Toronto (and any place you find yourself living in that has an extremely diverse and varied arts & culture scene) will only end up inspiring you and leaking into all areas of your subconscious. Music has changed in such a way that we are not necessarily watching who is going to break next in Seattle! Some of our favorite people making music are local. Some live in the same neighborhood. Some of our favorite artists have played house shows in our backyard. Toronto, in that way, is really a wide open world for one to grow creatively. How far one can take that however, is totally up to them.
You tend to record a lot of your material at home, and your songs often have very personal stories behind them. Is it important for you to record these in a place that heightens that sensitivity and the song’s importance to you?
It’s always best to create in a space where you are the most comfortable. We love the opportunity of finding a new space to try new ideas, torecord bed tracks and work with somebody outside of the band that has a new voice for the approach. But it all comes back to the house so each song and section can be obsessed over for the next few months. Ideas don’t always arrive when you want them to. You need the two to three month period to live with the material and be certain about whether or not it’s complete.
You’re playing in some lovely unique and cosy venues down in London at the end of the month. How important is the live setting of a show for Wilderness ofManitoba?
The live setting not only affects how we play but also what we play. We tend to change our set list from night to night and room to room depending on where we might find ourselves. The music is moody and as a result, it changes constantly, even if it is in subtle ways. We try to make every set unique to the room and hopefully to the people in it.
While your debut LP is just set for release in the UK there’s talk of you recording a follow up sometime soon. Do you want to tell us a bit more about the next release?
I think one of the many things we hope to accomplish on the next release is to be more varied and dynamic. We tend to be a fairly atmospheric live band for example and we haven’t really attempted to fully capture that on record. We just want to take the music we’re making and completely widen it; so I can say that there will be more upbeat songs, but there will also be more completely stripped down songs and lastly, there will be songs where we will try our best to play (tastefully) as many different instruments as possible!
Be sure to catch them at either (or both!) of the following dates if you’re around the area.
Sep 27 – Tamesis, Embankment Dock, London
Sep 28 – Slaughtered Lamb, London
Video / Track: Orono Park