The G-Man Interview : w/ The Wilderness of Manitoba

Tipped for 2010 success by The G-Man blog back in December (see article here), The Wilderness of Manitoba are yet to make much of a splash in European waters. Quite a good excuse for this is the fact that they are yet to release an album over here with debut album When You Left the Fire just after seeing release in Canada.

Comparisons to The Low Anthem, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes etc. are plentiful and a few of us will get the chance to see what all the fuss is about this Autumn with a dozen shows booked for the U.K. including the wonderful End of the Road festival in Dorset.

A Canadian five-piece (Scott Bouwmeester, Will Whitwham, Stefan Banjevic, Melissa Dalton & Sean Lancaric) who have just finished a tour of Canada, Melissa took some time off recently to answer a few questions for the blog.

Welcome to The G-Man Blog folks! First off congratulations on the release of your first full-length record. How much of a relief is it to have the recording process done and dusted for the Summer with the emphasis now simply on playing live for a few months?

Touring has been pretty amazing so far; we drove 18,000 km across Canada and just got back a couple days ago. You get to really perfect the live sound, and work on all the little subtleties that make the songs what they are. Having said that, we live in the type of house where half the time you have to be really quiet because someone is in the basement recording something so it feels odd to not be constantly writing and recording new material. The day after we got back home and finally got a bit of a break, we were already back at it.

Was there a particular song that changed drastically from the time you entered the studio compared to how it now sounds on the album?

Most of us write songs with very specific ideas in mind at the outset - or the songs grow live and that's what gets captured on the recording. November, which is this sad campfire tune, had a completely different drum filled, almost theatrical, ending that we scrapped. And we weren't sure about including Reveries en Couleurs when it was a 7 minute piano jam. Then it ballooned to 9 minutes and we loved it, and finally it became 13 minutes of droning noise.

Would you say the recorded songs differ much in a live setting as regards arrangements, instruments used etc.? Obviously it differs from show-to-show but what kind of atmosphere do you set out to create in your live shows?

The lapsteel is hard to bring on the road, so those parts get covered by other instruments live. And some of the songs have a bit more kick to them live than they do on the recordings if we have drums and bass with us. Or we play stuff stripped down as a four piece, so it has a much more intimate feel.

Describe your perfect venue for your own live show and, landing back in reality, what is your favourite venue that you have played so far?

We played a bunch of campfires and living rooms on our last tour, and those are often the best; no microphones, no monitors or gadgets. Massey Hall in Toronto would be pretty amazing though. It's an old concert hall where Neil Young did some gorgeous live recordings.

There is an interesting photograph of Stefan introducing himself to a goat accompanied by the caption "Seconds after this photo, Stefan was bitten by this goat". I reckon you all will have a good laugh about this one for a while yet. Well maybe not Stefan but can you share any other funny/interesting stories experienced on the road?

Our van broke down in Northern Ontario and we were stranded in this little town for the weekend. We spent the first night depressed in our hotel room, then the second night, three of us went out and got very drunk in this empty bar and ended up hanging out with the cab driver that drove us there. He told us about some Native cultural traditions, then drove us to our motel for free, and we hung out in his car, in the motel parking lot, and he played us his music (cause he was also a musician) which was amazing. But it was so loud, and it was 4 am; the hotel manager had to come out and tell us to keep it down. We also got swarmed by a herd of bison in Alberta. You just had to sit there in the car and wait for them to get off the road.

A number of articles compare you to The Low Anthem (who I interviewed for the blog not so long ago). Obviously this is a huge compliment. How does it feel to be compared to other bands, especially a band that have recently found so much success?

We always seem to get compared to music we really like - like The Low Anthem (interviewed by The G-Man blog earlier in the hear. Check it out here.) or Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver. But also older bands like the Mamas and the Papas, or CSNY. It's a huge compliment every time. It definitely helps that these bands have found a huge audience, since it gives people a starting point when hearing us for the first time. But it's also great that most people also appreciate the things we do that are different from those bands.

I can understand the comparisons but if I had to compare The Wilderness of Manitoba to any band it would be more Fleet Foxes than anyone else simply because your vocal and harmony lines are very clean and distinct. The fact that there are so many bands currently touring these similar styles show Americana/Folk rock (and all these other genre names that are usually applied) is really at the forefront of alternative music at the moment. How does it feel to be involved and what do you think of the "genre" yourselves?

Even though we all listen to different types of music, our common interest centre around folk, so it only makes sense that we play this kind of music. And there's an amazing folky scene in Toronto, so we're just playing the stuff that we and our friends all listen to. It's also great that most bands are staying away from strictly traditional folk and roots, because experimentation is what keeps things fresh and interesting. And to play strictly traditional roots/folk you kind of have to be amazing banjo/mandolin etc. players. Which most of us are not...

What bands/artists are mostly warming your ears right now? (Who are you listening to most at the moment?)

We love a variety of stuff. Stefan's been salivating over the new Arcade Fire record, and before that the Joanna Newsom triple LP, as well as lo-fi stuff like Real Estate. Scott and Will have been into Kathryn Calder. Sean just picked up Bungles and Billy Idol records on tour. We've all been listening to Beach House's Teen Dream.

Is there a particular band that we may not have heard of over here that you feel are worth a mention?

Timber Timbre, Evening Hymns and Snowblink from Toronto and Leif Vollebekk and The Barr Brothers from Montreal are all amazing people and musicians. And most are touring the UK in the fall so people should definitely check them out.

When You Left the Fire was released to your Canadian audience in June. Are there any plans as of yet to release the album in Europe?

We're hoping to release it in the States early 2011, so hopefully the same should happen the other side of the Atlantic around that time.

Besides End of the Road in England in September are there any other European tour dates currently being cooked up? A certain island to the west of said country perhaps?

We'd love to make it to Ireland. But right now it seems like we'll have to be content with England and Scotland where we'll be traveling around for about 3 weeks. We are making a stop in Estonia though...

Ever played the animal game before? (Basically you begin with one letter, eg. 'A', and everyone has to name an animal beginning with this letter. The person who cannot name an animal beginning with 'A' loses one life).

The easy animals such as 'Dog' are always taken quite early so can ye give me a rare animal beginning with 'D' that I can use as back up for the next time I play the game myself? A description of the animal would also be helpful as people tend to try and make up names as well as using mythological beasts! Megafaun said 'Cougar' to 'C' which was not very imaginative. The pressure is on...

A degu - it's like a small rat... Or a diplodocus - it's that really big dinosaur, like in the land before time movies...