SXSW: The Wilderness of Manitoba

There is a special place in my heart reserved for the majestic autumnal folk of The Wilderness of Manitoba. After hearing the band’s song “Hermit,” I immediately sought out a Canadian release of their debut album When You Left the Fire (they would not be distributed in the states for another seven months) and kept it on repeat throughout the fall and winter months. The band’s wandering compositions manage to capture a romanticized idea of nature in a way that no other modern folk can.

I saw The Wilderness of Manitoba for the first time at The Black Cat in Washington D.C. while they were touring in support of the American release of their album. Their performance, as expected, was phenomenal. The band performed songs off of their album as well as a couple of songs from the Hymn of Love and Spirits EP. After the show in D.C., the band was gracious enough to give me an interview. We discussed the differences between festivals and isolated shows, the origin of their name (a museum exhibit), and the differences between American and European audiences, among other things. This was my first interview and I was anxious about whether I could actually interview well, however the musicians were so chill and thoughtful that we ended up talking for almost twenty minutes and I was sad to leave.

After all of this, there was no question that I would be at their SXSW performance at the Velveeta Comedy Room on Thursday, March 15. There couldn’t have been more than 30 people in the audience, a fact that was both infuriating and exciting. On one hand, it was frustrating to see that the band was not getting the kind of attention they deserve, however I couldn’t deny the intimacy this small size lent the performance.

I was thrilled to see that The Wilderness of Manitoba had not lost its magic. The band performed a mix of older songs and songs that will be released on their upcoming album, which the band has just recently finished recording. At first the newer material was a total shock: Electronics! Who would have thought that a band that could produce music as beautifully as The Wilderness of Manitoba would turn to electronics? I admit, it took me a little bit to adjust to the idea. Once I did, though, I found myself enjoying the new material just as much as their older material — not only because it sounded great but also because I was curious. How could electronic aesthetics fit into the ethos of The Wilderness of Manitoba?

After the show, lead vocalist and guitarist Will Wettwham was kind enough to share some of his thoughts. Also, he remembered me from the last time I had interviewed the band. What a great guy. Click more for the interview.

Will, during the concert you guys said that you guys played in Austin before but is this your first time at South By Southwest?
WW: Yes it is our first time at South By. We played in Austin last summer and it feels like just yesterday we were here but there’s way more madness. There’s so many more people and so many more bands and just a lot of everything.

What do you think of the festival so far?

WW: Actually it’s sort of super-saturated, everywhere I turn there’s something else going on. It’s kinda been like ADD, I haven’t been able to focus on anything. I did see Choir of Young Believers last night from Denmark and they were amazing. I plan to see more but I have to rest a little because we’ve been awake for a very very long time.

How would you describe your sound?

WW: I guess the easiest way to describe it would probably be folk-rock but we do a lot of instrumental jams and incorporate electronic and atmospheric aspects too.

Awesome. So you guys released your first album earlier last year but you’ve also played some newer songs tonight. How have you guys been adjusting to the newer material?

WW: Well, we just finished recording a new album in January and did the whole thing in about two months – we finished the album we’re putting out in a few months from now. We really didn’t have a lot of time to sort of take that out of the studio and into rehearsal. We had about six rehearsals or so before we came down here to actually play some of those songs. But it’s been really great otherwise. It’s been inspiring and exciting to play that way and also move away from the old things that we’re kind of used to doing.

Well you definitely couldn’t tell you’ve only had six rehearsals with the new material so far. What have been some of your musical influences?

WW: Our influences have ranged from Joni Mitchell to Crosby Stills and Nash. We love St. Vincent. I love AA Bondy, so great. I don’t know, maybe some newer bands and some newer albums that have come out: that Wye Oak album Civilian was really great. Some stuff I’ve been listening to recently is The Barr Brothers, which is this great band from Quebec, Plants & Animals, which is also from Montreal.

Can you recommend some songs that you’ve performed that really capture your sound?

WW: I love all the new songs but those aren’t out yet. But some of my favorite older songs are one song called “Manitoba” that we put on our EP, you can probably find it on the internet somewhere, “Sea Song,” and I really like the instrumental jam at the end of When You Left the Fire called “Reveries En Couleurs.” “Orono Park” and “Hermit” are floating around everywhere. It really depends on who you ask.

So what’s your favorite song to perform?

WW: It’d have to be this new song called “Echoes” that you’ll probably hear down here in couple of months when the new album comes out. And “Morning Sun;” “Morning Sun” and “Echoes” are two new songs we like to play.

Post and interview by Matt Mastricova