The Wilderness of Manitoba prefers to characterize itself as an evolving entity and founding member Will Whitwham is the last man standing. For the band’s new album, Across The Dark, the vocalist/multi-instrumentalist stepped up to write and produce all the songs himself. “The Wilderness of Manitoba is a collective whose sound is open to change as long as songwriting and harmonies remain at the forefront. It also relies heavily on a strong female voice to carry half of the lead vocals; my favourite instrument and one that I’ll never be able to learn!” says Whitwham. From the band’s inception, it has redefined itself with every new release; from Hymns of Love and Spirits through When You Left The Fire, Island of Echoes, Between Colours and the band’s various EPs. The evolution of their sound has run the gamut from four part harmonies and its initial chamber folk sound to duo lead vocals and an expanded sonic palette ranging from cinematic indie pop to anthemic folk rock. The current live band includes vocalist/guitarist Raven Shields, bassist/vocalist Tavo Diez de Bonilla and drummer Mike Brushey. “The touring and recording members bring fresh eyes and open ears. Playing with new people always brings a greener, more inspired revitalization simply because it’s change. And change is great if you don’t fight it too much.”
Across The Dark is a little closer to what the present line-up of the band is delivering live. “We’ve experimented a lot in the studio over the past few albums while maintaining a core sound as a touring act”, says Whitwham. “And while that sound has always remained intact, it hasn’t always been easy in the studio just because there are so many options with multiple outcomes. I limited myself a little more on this record and ended up with something tighter.” One of the things the album title reflects is feeling that you’ve committed to something sonically and you’re confident enough to ‘cross the dark’ with it. It’s not dissimilar to the touring life and its ‘down in the trenches’ mentality. Anyone who has toured extensively knows there are long stretches and dark roads (especially in Canada), but it can also be the most rewarding when you’re happy with the band and the shows you’re delivering. If night after night, you feel that the benefits far outweigh the kilometres, then you’re successful enough to justify the madness. The other half of ‘across the dark’ refers to risk and also to the search: constantly trying to find something and the yearning for someone as a main theme in the songs themselves.”
In its eight year existence, the Wilderness of Manitoba’s strengths come as a direct result of the wealth of traveling the band has done; playing a multitude of festivals and touring in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the USA and Canada. “The live show,” says Whitwham, “is an in-the-moment portrait of the band and its efforts.” Those efforts were recognized when the Wilderness of Manitoba was nominated for a JUNO Award. Summing things up, Whitwham says, “There is no lacking in the quantity of musical ideas and we’re looking forward to getting back to performing as a live entity.”
Across The Dark: The Songs
Head for the Hills: A concept that relates to one fearing the decay of his or her land in the change of season on the surface (the dying of crops etc.), but the change of season reflects something deeper and more internal: a mental instability, an anxiety, a fear, triggering the ‘flight over fight’ response in that whatever you’re up against seems too daunting.
Run From The Dark: Dealing with the same tensions as above, but closer in relating to a person rather than just a feeling. Run from the dark is to decide whether to let your guard down or to continue trying to evade vulnerability, always faced with the inevitability that there’s no substitute for time. “Dreaming in the distance, we’re chasing the night from the sky.”
Easier: A very long and inevitable falling out; hoping that together we can somehow make it easier. There’s a call and an answer happening here. She asks ‘can we get easier?’ And he responds, ‘only when our shadows move to cross the dark.’
Dead End Eyes: Never being able to get through. Unable to communicate, but knowing that both parties ultimately want the same thing.
On My Mind: Yearning for someone when either you’re far away or they are.
Clovers: The closest to a ‘love song’ as I’ve ever gotten. The asking of a lover to come over and lie in the clovers; just spanning time together and not necessarily wanting anything more.
Old Fear: Same old fear, same old anxieties, but you’re getting used to it. It’s almost easier to deal with than it used to be even though it still ultimately haunts you.
Northern Sky: The only other almost ‘love song’ on the record, but relating it to the struggles you’ve been through and how that ties to the road, the distance and the travelling.
Safe From Sin: Another falling out, but the offer of still being there for someone because of worry. You’ve let them go from ego, but you can’t stop caring.
Cindy Runs: This was fun. I grew up loving 1960’s pop songs and this was a more modern attempt at it. As this band has always had special guests from its inception, we were very fortunate to have Laena Geronimo (ex-the Like) on violin as a collaborator. The song itself is about Cinderella as the clock strikes midnight and Cindy runs, but also touches on what many of these pop songs from the 60’s are about: teen angst; someone who is too elusive and trying to figure that out.