Interview: Wilderness of Manitoba, “Across the Dark”

Wilderness of Manitoba - Across the Dark

No matter who the artist or what type of music, when one of your favorite bands are set to release a new album, the pulse always accelerates a little at the thought of finally getting to hear some new material.  Dependent on your artist(s) of choice, you may be of the belief that some are painstakingly slow in this regard, seemingly taking an eternity to put those fresh cuts out there.  I know that I can certainly name a few, but will withhold such personal sentiments at this time.  For fans of the Canadian folk group The Wilderness Of Manitoba, go ahead and extinguish any such concerns.  2017 is proving to be a banner year for this band, with not one, but two brand new releases to date.  Fresh off the heels of the “Tin Man” E.P. (released last spring), the band promptly followed up with the recent full-length “Across the Dark” album.

Making its debut on September 15th, the album shared a release date with numerous other albums from across the Canadian folk community, as highlighted in our article to coincide with these releases.  And as alluded to in that review, we were incredibly intrigued by the completely unexpected change of musical direction offered by The Wilderness of Manitoba on this project.  Au revoir to the slow and moody folk tunes, and HELLO to a vibrant and upbeat throwback to the sounds of decades past.  Having to scratch the itch that was ‘this new sound,’ Team GDW reached out to WOM founder Will Whitwham to find out more.  Amidst his very busy tour and promotional schedule, Will graciously took time to chat with us about both the origins and inspirations for “Across the Dark.”

We last saw you back in early May during the promotion of your newly released Tin Shop EP.  In just a few short months since that time, here we are again looking at an all new ‘full’ release: “Across The Dark.” Our initial impression upon hearing this album is just how vastly different it is from your earlier material.  Gone are the somber undertones, making way for a more upbeat, dare I say ‘pop influence’.  What inspired you to change direction and go with something outside of your conventional influences?

Any move I’ve made in another direction with WOM over the years has been wholly unintentional and strictly reactionary. I’m a product of whatever I happen to be reading or listening to at the time and if/when creativity should strike, have an openness to it and lastly, the good fortune or luck enough to be in the right mood. I might also edit myself in some way to make an album more cohesive as a result and ‘Across The Dark’ was spread out a lot more over time than anything previous so I probably ended up pairing the songs together that felt the most emotionally connected.

Both “Head to the Hills” and “Echoes” had me drawing instant comparisons to the sounds of earlier Fleetwood Mac material.  I recall hearing early Simon and Garfunkel sounds on a ‘new’ release from another artist very recently too.  Are these ‘nods to the past’ coincidental (at least for you), or are they simply etched in your musical DNA?

Probably etched in my DNA to some degree as it’s the music my parents were listening to before I was curating my own playlists. But both Simon & Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac have such archetypal classic songs, it would be sacrilege to deny a nod to the past and their influence on the present.

Many of these new tracks allow both you and Raven Shields to share harmonies through both verses and choruses (“Dead End Eyes” is a prime example here).  Your voices complement each other very well.  Was this an intended direction to take the material, or did it just seem to come together when putting the tracks down?

I’ve always been careful about the female voice in this project because it’s one half of the lead and is an integral part of what I’m trying to communicate in the songs. Every voice has a different colour to it and like Amanda’s voice on the previous album, Raven’s is the colour on this one. Jenny Berkel has recently stepped in to handle the tour cycle of this album and I’m fortunate enough at this time in my music making life to have been surrounded by such great singers who’ve really helped to bring these songs to life.

Wilderness of Manitoba

I recall Raven performing “Easier” during your Tin Shop shows (kudos for road testing material for a future album while promoting another new album – I admire such foresight).  This is as close to a ‘traditional’ WOM song that we get on “Across The Dark”, and bridges the gap perfectly between the two albums.  Any reason why this was held back for this album, and not included on Tin Shop?

I’ve actually included an unplugged version of ‘Easier’ on the Bandcamp page that is a bonus track on ‘The Tin Shop’ EP. The full band version was how the song came about but was obviously kept for the ‘Across The Dark’ LP release.

“Run From The Dark” and “Cindy Runs” are like ‘time capsule’ tracks.  These could easily be on a classic early eighties radio station play list, yet are fresh and modern.  While I want to focus on the new music, tracks like this prompt me to veer off course a little and ask: just how much ‘fun’ was it to conceptualize, write, and then record and master this unique sound?

It was a fair bit of fun to record but I usually feel that if a song is doing the opposite and is laborious to capture etc., it might not be the best idea to pursue it any further. These songs were also intended to have a 70’s/80’s feel but presented in a modern way so hopefully that comes through.

With “Safe From Sin”, you return to your roots and bring out that more recognizable style.  Even with the slight upbeat nature into the chorus, it retains your trademark sound.  The harmonies dominate once again.  The solo is pure ‘retro’.  What were the origins for this track, and how did you decide on the musical direction and instrumentation for this one?

I’m not usually able to determine this with any song just because its origins are always multiple. I do recall thinking however, that when I was writing it, the arrangement could have a completely stripped down Simon & Garfunkel feel and be finger picked throughout but opted for the bass and backbeat ending with the fuzzy guitar solo in order to tie it in with the rest of the record. It would be fun sometime to release a ‘Retrospective’ and reintroduce some of the songs from over the years in their opposing forms.

With “Clovers”, Raven once again takes the lead, and had me drawing instant comparisons to the likes of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”, albeit with a slight old country twang.  The pedal steel is a fantastic addition here.  The alt-country sound returns for “On My Mind”.  How did you determine that these tracks deserved this kind of feel?

Alt country is something I’ve been exploring more of over the past few years and these songs are from the beginning of that time. The Mazzy Star reference also makes sense to me. We felt that these particular songs were Side B cuts as they opt for a slower burn than earlier songs on the record. Lap steel is also a favourite of mine to record.

We see you are touring once again in Ontario.  What can audiences expect this time around from you? 

The live show is always a bit of a revolving door when it comes to set-list, personnel, and arrangement (sometimes we play the songs as a duo). The intent has always been to play to the space we’re in and in that way, keep things fresh and interesting. I think that sort of mentality has always been a main key in keeping this project going. I’ve realized over the years that as a songwriter, WOM is merely just one outlet for me but one that I can always revisit from time to time. For instance, I’ll go through phases of having nothing to give to this project creatively speaking but then realize that a flood of music comes to me from a place that is hard to articulate or even access on purpose. Out of and back into the ether so to speak. I think this ultimately dignifies accepting the duality of it all as well as just trying to be open to creativity and all of its existential circumstance.

~ M

Visit The Wilderness of Manitoba’s website.

Buy “Across the Dark” on your platform of choice.



Tags from the story