Thematically, a lot of the new Wilderness of Manitoba album, Island of Echoes, is about the past year or so and all of the songs come from that timeframe. There wasn’t a lot of downtime for the Toronto-based band as most of it was spent on tour, primarily in the United States and England. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Will Whitwham reflects, “For me personally, a lot of my songwriting was done on the road because it had to be. So, whenever I was home, I'd have a week or two to record demos and then be back at the drawing board again in a van or hotel room.” The constant touring, the ever-changing geography, playing larger venues and working the new songs into the live sets, all had a profound influence on both the band and the new album. Whitwham and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Stefan Banjevic started playing electric guitars, the sound became more expansive to fill the halls they were playing. “This also carried over into writing the new songs as we had fuller band arrangements in mind”, adds Whitwham.
The downside of life on the road was the departure of vocalist Melissa Dalton. However, when it came to recording the new album, as Whitwham points out, “It forced us to find the right person for the various songs we were recording and we ended up asking some of the best singers we knew (who also happened to be female) to collaborate. The results were even better than we expected.” One of those singers was vocalist/violinist Amanda Balsys of Kingston band The Gertrudes. From its inception, the Wilderness of Manitoba has been known for its three and four part harmonies. Along with Whitwham, Banjevic and bassist/vocalist Wes McClintock, Balsys ensures the continuity of that signature vocal blend and contributes to the instrumental mix with her effects laden violin. Rounding out the band is drummer/percussionist Sean Lancaric who brings his sense of rhythm and personality to the intricate arrangements.
The band’s previous two releases, Hymns of Love & Spirits and When You Left The Fire, were recorded mainly in the basement recording studio of the house on Delaware Avenue where most of the band members lived. Gradually, over the course of the year, everyone except Whitwham moved out and found apartments. When it came time to record Island of Echoes, the decision was made to record the basic tracks and mix at Revolution Recording, a throwback to the original great Toronto studios of the sixties and seventies. Intent on capturing the band’s evolving live sound, Whitwham says they got the best of both worlds, “We have never made a studio album until now and I think you can especially hear it in the percussion as well as the overall mixes. We still had the necessary time and space to alter and experiment with overdubs at the house for a month, but the backbone of the tracks has a much fuller studio presence than any of our earlier recordings.”
Expanding on the changes reflected in the new album, Whitwham explains, “We don't want any of the albums to be similar, but, at the same time, we aim to create a mood or cohesiveness in everything we do. It felt as though we'd already made folk records and it was time to experiment with what that means. There are elements of folk happening throughout the album, but it is in no way a folk record although it is definitely a Wilderness of Manitoba record. The seventies was just a reference point that happens to include some of our favourite influences such as Fleetwood Mac. We were looking to bring in the kind of instrumentation you hear from that era that is heavy with electric guitars, Hammond organ, synthesizers and a prominent backbeat with lots of harmonies happening vocal-wise on top.” In addition to the male vocals of Whitwham, Banjevic and ex-member Scott Bouwmeester the presence of Balsys along with Elise Legrow of Whale Tooth and Felicity Williams of Bahamas brought the high end/female vocals to another level and contributed to the more dynamic music direction being pursued by the band.
The new album is called Island of Echoes. The name will likely conjure up several images to each person, but the central idea comes from nostalgia and all that surrounds it. Most people write about what they know which inevitably becomes or already is the past. 'Echoes' refers directly to burdens or triumphs that you carry with you, that remind you of what you've been through. “Without memory, we wouldn't know what to make of our identity”, says Whitwham. “I also kept playing with the idea of different bodies of water in the songs and its effect. Then, there is a line from a novel when two men were canoeing on a lake through a forest fire. ‘It's like the island we slept on when we finally made it out of the fire’, which reminded me of everything that has happened to us since When You Left The Fire was released. Lastly, I started thinking about the island as the mind and the ocean as encompassing all things outside of it. An island of echoes was our island of memories.”
There were a number of highlights for the Wilderness of Manitoba over the past two years, ranging from their UK debut at the End of the Road Festival where they received a standing ovation to playing the Philadelphia Folk Festival and meeting Levon Helm; from their first shows in Berlin, Hamburg and Amsterdam to touring the U.S. opening for artists like Cloud Cult and Aimee Mann; from sold out club shows in London and Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival to performing at SXSW in Austin. 2013 promises to be just as exciting as the band returns to SXSW, New York and the UK. Island of Echoes was released on September 18th in Canada.
Will Whitwham - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar
Amanda Balsys - Vocals, Violin
Sean Lancaric - Drums, Percussion
Stefan Banjevic - Banjo, Vocals, Cello, Electric Guitar
Wes McClintock - Vocals, Bass
Hymns of Love & Spirits EP (2009) Canada
When You Left The Fire (2010) Canada
Hymns of Love & Spirits expanded reissue (2011) Canada
When You Left The Fire (2011) USA
Delaware House EP (2012) UK, Netherlands
Island of Echoes (2012) Canada
Island of Echoes - album review
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How do you improve on a folk formula that worked exceedingly well the first time around? For Toronto...How do you improve on a folk formula that worked exceedingly well the first time around? For Toronto-based group The Wilderness of Manitoba, the answer is this: speed it up. Don’t get me wrong- there will always be a fondness in my heart for the emotion-baring, funereal folk song. But when a folk album can make a listener want to dance then you know you’re doing the right thing.
When You Left the Fire was a beautiful album. It showcased the band’s beautiful (you could almost call them trademark) vocal harmonies alongside rich folk instrumentation. Here, for the band’s latest effort, they’ve gained even more confidence and have produced a work that exceeds that of their previous recording.
For one thing, this album is gorgeous. Just reading the track list may be enough to make you want to go and lie on the grass in a park somewhere. Track names like “Golden Thyme” and “The First Snowfall” tell a lot about the character of the band. WOM is also just as poetic in their lyrics, no doubt largely thanks to Will Whitwham, who also showed off his poetic side with his solo album, Silver Skies.
By track three of this album you should already be hooked on for the whole experience. Instrumental opener “Balloon Lamp” quietly makes way to “Morning Sun.” The latter, thanks to shimmering electric guitar and a steady kick drum, could almost be a rock song. It’s also a great introduction to those unfamiliar with WOM’s killer vocal harmonies. This leads to “Echoes,” one of the finest songs on the album. It skillfully blends an uptempo beat with Whitwham’s gentle vocals to create one beautiful track (that may also make you want to dance).
To hear more upbeat and powerful songs you can also check out “The Island of the Day Before,” arguably one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Glory Days” also is one of the rare songs that has all three of my favourite things- a song length under three minutes, vocal harmonies and horns.
Just because WOM have embraced a faster tempo, they certainly haven’t forgotten how to play more melodic numbers. “Golden Thyme” slowly layers instruments to create a drawn-out, dreamlike track. “The Escape” uses a multitude of instruments, from plucked strings to keys to electronics to create another strong creation.
You have to hand it to the Wilderness of Manitoba- rather than just rest on their laurels and continue to deliver the same experience album after album, the band can try out something new with confidence and put together a fantastic collection like Island of Echoes.
Island of Echoes - album review
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There’s a glut of great and high-profile records coming out this week and next, and it would be a sh...There’s a glut of great and high-profile records coming out this week and next, and it would be a shame if The Wilderness of Manitoba‘s Islands of Echoes gets lost in the shuffle. Over the course of their three releases, the band has constantly impressed me with their ability to write new songs that sound like they’ve been in existence forever. Few of their contemporaries are as attuned to their environment, creating music that sounds like it’s sprung from fertile patches in the Canadian Shield, blooming against all odds.
“Morning Sun” drips with crisp dew drops, kissed by the titular light that causes it to sparkle and shine like a jewel. With their trademark vocal harmonies, The Wilderness of Manitoba usher us into their geography of roots and folk landmarks, but it doesn’t take long for the listener to realize that this is a different island than the band has inhabited before. For one thing, it’s wired for electricity. “Echoes” pulses with plugged in guitars, vibrates with a heartwarming hum. Without giving up the charms of Hymns of Love and Spirits and When You Left The Fire, Islands of Echoes flexes muscles that I never knew the band had. Their time on the road as been well spent, as it was while touring that many of the songs first took shape. They were finalized and polished in a proper studio for the first time in their career, bringing out the lustre and shine of quintessential WoM songs like “Golden Thyme”, and giving tracks like “A Year In Its Passing” more room to stretch expand in.
SXSW 2012 - Live Review
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Five-piece Toronto band the Wilderness of Manitoba quietly stepped on the small stage, the bassist b...Five-piece Toronto band the Wilderness of Manitoba quietly stepped on the small stage, the bassist barefoot, introducing themselves and going straight into their opening track, which was a mellow folky number with a noticeable post-rock influence. They followed this by a number that had more of a barroom groove, and by the third song, they were displaying more of an English folk rock style, à la Fairport Convention. With three of the band members harmonizing together, there were also similarities at times with Simon and Garkfunkel or Wye Oak, with a touch of another Toronto band, Great Lake Swimmers. Playing a selection of new material, the Wilderness of Manitoba were clearly well rehearsed, the songs played flawlessly. Some really nice banjo work and a great sense of rhythm -- the drummer was especially good -- was up front and centre, and the group employed a bunch of different instruments for texture, including a Chinese singing bowl for one track. With hundreds of folk revival bands out there, the Wilderness of Manitoba have a unique voice and something of definite value to add to that conversation.
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Canadian based chamber-folk ensemble The Wilderness of Manitoba have a new album ‘Island Of Echoes’ ...Canadian based chamber-folk ensemble The Wilderness of Manitoba have a new album ‘Island Of Echoes’ due out in September which promises to be a bigger more expansive sound than previous releases. They recently touched down on UK soil where they will be playing a string of dates including WOMAD Festival. Nearly a year on from our last interview we catch up with their Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Will Whitwham to talk about the band as well as their new sound and how the band has changed over time.
We also have recent video of their performance at The Lexington, London which you can watch below.
The Wilderness of Manitoba Interview
If you’re going to come up with a name for a band you should at least make it memorable…The Wilderness of Manitoba can’t be faulted in that department with a unique name which conjures up imagery that fits them so remarkably well, ironic in that the name more or less found them.
“The name was originally inspired by Noam Gonick, a Canadian filmmaker and artist from Winnipeg who had created a film installation called the ‘Wildflowers Of Manitoba’ which Scott & I had been asked to be a part of in a roundabout way through a friend of his. But we misheard the name, mistaking it for ‘The Wilderness Of Manitoba’ and it remained as our band name and description of what we were aiming to create at the time. Our music has evolved a lot since then, but I think we’re constantly bridging the gap between what the name means (to us) and what the music is depicting. It’s as though we started out with the name owning us, but now we are owning (or earning) the name.”
Island Of Echoes promises a different sound…whilst this creative leap is in some part an organic natural progression of a band’s growth in popularity and the need to have a larger ‘sound presence’ in the spaces they find themselves performing it also brings new challenges which effects the overall band dynamics.
“I think that if anything, it has created a better dynamic amongst the band. We were due for a change creatively and also, wanted to take the music we were making and expand it tenfold. I’ve always been more intrigued by an album that has a wider range of dynamics. Some songs lend themselves to a full band arrangement with synthesizers and electric guitars while others are hush quiet throughout. I also think that when you create a record with this mentality, you’re more likely to achieve that timelessness or lasting quality that some of the older, classic albums have.”
The development in sound of The Wilderness of Manitoba has led to changes over the years. Drummer/percussionist Sean Lancaric’s addition in late 2009 helped add that extra level of intricacy to their arrangements although he wasn’t always present, more recently vocalist/violinist Amanda Balsys has joined their ranks, a welcome addition.
The Wilderness of Manitoba“We often found ourselves in a position where it was just easier to tour without drums for the EP that was being promoted at the time (which was quite bare & sparse arrangement wise). But we aren’t the same band that we were then. Our sound and vision has grown a lot and drums/percussion are essential to that. Amanda has been a friend of ours for quite some time and we met through playing with her band ‘The Gertrudes,’ a lovely 12 piece folk band from Kingston, Ontario. After collaborating & recording some music together, we asked her to sing the female lead on a few songs for the new album (we were in a position where we wanted to find the right female voice for each song). We liked the vocal blend to such a degree that she ended up singing on most of the record and started to play shows with us on her violin & effects. In looking for a female lead singer, we’ve also acquired another songwriter and instrumentalist who fits into and rounds out the new sound perfectly.”
The inspiration for their music is of course wide and varied, each member bringing their own personal contribution but they still have their influences which have played a part. “Fleetwood Mac, CSNY, Yo La Tengo, YES, Fairport Convention and Joni Mitchell to name a few.”
In a band where three and four part harmonies have become a key signature part of their sound I was curious as to whether vocal precedence over instruments ever came into play when making musical arrangements.
“The instruments have always taken precedence in leading the melody and where the song is going to go direction wise. We have always put the vocals on top of that as a signature of our sound and continue to do so. I think we will always continue to expand upon the instrumentation however, and push ourselves further. It’s nice to know that none of us can determine what our next record will sound like (after ‘Island Of Echoes’) when we actually get around to recording it in a year or so.”
The band seem to be endlessly touring which always raises the question of how they balance that creative element which feeds new material. Does that take place on the road or are there still moments of peaceful retreat from it all to allow that head-space to function clearly?
“Speaking personally, I think I’m always writing songs in some way. It’s just that a lot of them end up on the cutting room floor in order to sort through and pick what best suits the direction we are moving in as a whole band next.”
Of course a growing band also brings more creative inputs which also brings its own challenges, but so far, it sounds harmonious…
“We work on writing our songs independently of one another for the most part, but Stefan and I collaborated on a few of the songs on the new album. We’ve never had the volume of creative input that we have now however. We are featuring a song of Amanda’s for instance, that was recorded last winter at the house called ‘Yellow Yard’ and I’m pretty excited about that. It will be released on our upcoming ‘Delaware House’ EP.”
The roots of the band are steeped in community…to quote from their biography ‘To understand The Wilderness of Manitoba, you have to go not to Manitoba but to a music-filled house in Toronto. Long before the band got rolling, the property hosted concerts by local artists in addition to being where both Scott Bouwmeester and Will Whitwham laid their heads and practiced with previous bands.‘ The band also used to live together matching ‘fingerprints of ’60s folk music from both sides of the Atlantic – from Crosby, Stills and Nash to Pentangle.’ Despite living in such close proximity the natural use of modern technology meant they were regulalry sending ideas to eachother via email…whilst in the same house. Things have since changed…
“We no longer live together as much of our time is already spent on the road together in a moving time capsule (or van!). It’s also easiest to complete your ideas alone and in solitude before you present them to everybody else. After that, we go into feedback mode and other ideas are presented to possibly add to the song. Kind of like being in school in a way; you sometimes work on group projects but the bulk of writing you complete is on your own.”
With a busy tour schedule ahead there is always some highlights that stand-out and WOMAD must be rank amongst them.
“We’ve been excited about WOMAD for a solid 8 months. It’s an honour to be on the bill with so many great & inspiring artists. Not to mention, the unveiling of Robert Plant’s new band.”
The Wilderness of Manitoba have the rich Toronto music DIY scene deep in their roots, no easy task to stay connected to when you’re touring so hard.
“We didn’t have a lot of time at home in the past year or so, but since recording our new album and EP, we’ve played some really nice shows and have come back into connecting with the warm musical community that we call home once again. Whether it be that you’re a band, a painter or a ballet dancer, I think it’s important at times to disappear for a while in order to reinvent & creatively establish what you’re trying to accomplish. I feel that we’ve finally achieved that over a period of the end of last autumn until now.”
Morning Sun - video premiere
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Toronto folk unit the Wildness of Manitoba just dropped their latest long-player, Island of Echoes, ...Toronto folk unit the Wildness of Manitoba just dropped their latest long-player, Island of Echoes, earlier this month through Pheromone Recordings. To promote the freshly released disc, the band have unveiled a video for the album cut "Morning Sun."
The track blends shimmering guitars and a gradually building rhythm section with lush group harmonies. The vintage-looking accompanying video is appropriately pastoral, as it shows the band performing beside a lake while some of their friends dance in the light of the setting sun. Summer may be officially over, but this should serve as a good reminder of the good times we had.
Viral videos - link
Viral videos for Morning Sun and Southern Wind shot in the band's backyard
Press Release - Launch of new album, Island of Echoes
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Last year, Toronto folk outfit the Wilderness of Manitoba took a look back by reissuing their 2009 E...Last year, Toronto folk outfit the Wilderness of Manitoba took a look back by reissuing their 2009 EP Hymns of Love & Spirits. Now, they've set their sights on the future once more as they prepare to release their next album, Island of Echoes, which will be out on September 18 through Pheromone Recordings.
These 13 songs were written while on the road in the past year. In a statement, frontman Will Whitwham described the sound like this: "There are elements of folk happening throughout the album, but it is in no way a folk record although it is definitely a Wilderness of Manitoba record. The '70s was just a reference point that happens to include some of our favourite influences such as Fleetwood Mac. We were looking to bring in the kind of instrumentation you hear from that era that is heavy with electric guitars, Hammond organ, synthesizers and a prominent backbeat with lots of harmonies happening vocal-wise on top"
The album is said to boast a more full-bodied sound that reflects the band's recent live sets. It was recorded after the departure of previous vocalist Melissa Dalton, and features Amanda Balsys of the Gertrudes on vocals and violin. She contributed to the group's signature harmonies and added "effects-laden violin."
Tracking and mixing took place at Toronto's Revolution Recording studio, with additional overdubs recorded at home. See the tracklist below, and stay tuned for the album's first single.
Island of Echoes:
1. Balloon Lamp
2. Morning Sun
4. The First Snowfall
5. The Aral Sea/Southern Winds
6. Chasing Horses
7. White Woods
8. Golden Thyme
9. A Year in Its Passing
10. Glory Days
11. The Island of the Day Before
12. The Escape
13. Northern Drives
When You Left The Fire review
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Please make room on your big list of great Canadian country/folk/pop bands for The Wilderness Of Man...Please make room on your big list of great Canadian country/folk/pop bands for The Wilderness Of Manitoba, a young outfit who hail from the wilds of Toronto. While their debut EP, Hymns of Love and Spirits, quietly introduced the quintet to unsuspecting masses, their first full-length will surely widen the spotlight on the band, who have already garnered a great deal of European exposure. Recorded in both their basement home studio and the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, When You Left the Fire captures the raw power, emotion and considerable skills of the five multi-instrumentalists (four of whom sing).
When You Left The Fire Review
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When You Left the Fire marks the first full length release from Ontario's The Wilderness of Manitoba...When You Left the Fire marks the first full length release from Ontario's The Wilderness of Manitoba, and despite their relative inexperience as a collective, this group of Canadian musicians toil in a sound arguably as lush as their namesake.
Though the band traces its roots to a common folk background, they project much more than the musings of simply another generic folk band. In fact, folk seems almost too sparse a word to categorize the group's verdant soundscape. Instead of dwelling in such a broad-yet-constrictive genre, The Wilderness of Manitoba take a note from the ambient pop sound that's so well done in their homeland, and apply it to their own mix of brilliantly atmospheric alt-folk.
There is somewhat of a fantastical nature at the heart of When You Left the Fire. Whether it be the eerie guitars and ethereal vocals the band so excels at, or perhaps even the oddly serene feeling that goes along with them, but whatever it is gives rise to a sense of euphoric wonder. Standouts "November" and "Hermit" illustrate that, despite some darker musical segues, serenity and ease are the undeniable strength of the album. Meanwhile, harmonies seam in and out of "White Water" with a fervent desperation that only adds to the album's deep layering. From there, the band eases into a few less distinct numbers, before finishing off on mellow instrumental "Reveries En Couleurs".
When You Left the Fire sees the melding of a layered folk output, with a tinge of pop sensibility. Essentially a mix of the style that spawned Fleet Foxes (QRO album review) and Midlake (QRO album review), with the accessible sound of names like Grand Archives (QRO live review) and Band of Horses (QRO live review), the band's music is intriguing as it is invigorating. Though the album runs a bit long, and can be a tad indulgent, it truly is one of the best folk albums to come out of the great white north in 2010, and perhaps even longer. Though it may not have wooed this years Polaris Prize Panel, the childlike marvel surrounding When You Left the Fire just may captivate you if you let it.
When You Left The Fire Review - Hear Ya blog
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Shirk (our live session producer) once coined The Low Anthem as “Masters of Restraint.” I thought th...Shirk (our live session producer) once coined The Low Anthem as “Masters of Restraint.” I thought that was a funny label to stick on a band, but as I delved headfirst into my obsession with The Low Anthem, it made more and more sense. The Low Anthem create space and tension and always leave you wanting more. After each listen, you begin to appreciate this restraint as their tunes become more beautiful in time.
And while it may seem ambitious to lump an up-and-coming band from Canada in with one of the best American acts around, The Wilderness of Manitoba exhibit many of the same qualities that make The Low Anthem so special. Their EP, Hymns of Love and Spirits, was a solid listen but in no way prepared me for what their full length debut had in store.
While their EP was more traditional and built more around vocal harmonies,‚ the full length sees the five piece from Toronto spreading their wings and challenging themselves. On the EP, there were two principle songwriters. On When You Left The Fire, band member Melissa Dalton says “Everyone had input on the new songs from the very first listening, sometimes on the same day that the song had been written.”
The more communal effort has given the band a much fuller sound. The second track, “November,” features a mournful lap steel over an elegant folk song. “Hermit,” a tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Low Anthem’s Charlie Darwin, features a harmonica riff that gives the tune a nice bounce.
Midway through you are greeted with another standout track in “Summer Fires.” The song slowly builds as an acoustic and banjo dance around and then the percussion crashes in at about 50 seconds. I had asked Melissa if it was about the changing of the seasons. She elaborated on my thoughts with this:
I think also about how the seasons can really affect how you see the world and how you create or when you create. Spring is can be hopeful but slightly depressing when there’s too much rain whereas Summer is full of action but maybe isn’t the most creative period and for some reason Fall seems to be a really fruitful time because you slow down and have more time to think.
I am itching to see these guys live. They’re doing a big Cross-Canada tour this summer and hope to hit the States sometime in the Fall.
Typical set list of 10-12 songs
Song List -
In The Family
Forest City Love
Free Man in Paris - Joni Mitchell
There are no upcoming dates at this time.