The Wilderness of Manitoba: The TVD Interview

The Wilderness of Manitoba is a band that has a real rustic feel. Their music feels good like a fire crackling on a cold winter night; it awes like the moon’s glisten on snow. It’s as comfortable as the creaks across an old wooden floor, but there’s something new and vibrant about it, too.

We had a chance to sit down with Melissa Dalton and Stefan Banjevic and talk a little bit about how the band writes, where they draw inspiration and a few of their favorite records.

I hear the band was born in the house that you all now share. Can you recount the story for us of how you all met?

Will [Whitwham] and Scott [Bouwmeester] met when they were both looking to form a rock band. Then they began writing folk songs and decided they wanted more voices. Scott knew me (Melissa) through a mutual friend, and I started rehearsing with them—mostly for fun. At the same time, they met Stefan at a local Toronto event called Rock Lottery and liked his cello playing. He came over to the house, and we all started working on some new songs over the winter holidays. We met Sean [Lancaric], our drummer, a few months later at a comedy bar, and he asked to play with us—he played his first show with us a week or two later. In time, Stef and I moved into the house with Scott and Will, and now, even though a couple of us have moved out, we still spend a lot of time in the house recording and rehearsing.

Was music a big part of your lives growing up?

Yes! We all grew up with our parents’ music—for some of us it was predominantly folk or rock, and for others, classical music. A few of us also had early classical training in piano, cello, trumpet, etc., so it’s safe to say that was a huge part of everyone’s youth.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Picking up new instruments and listening to new music helps, spending time outside where it’s quiet, going to live shows.

How’d you settle on the name?

The name is based on Winnipeg, Manitoba artist, Noam Gonick’s installation called the Wildflowers of Manitoba.

You’ve got a very pure folk sound. It’s so organic. How do you approach the writing process?

Every song originates in a unique way. Sometimes one of us will write the whole thing and then bring it to everyone, then we’ll arrange it together, or someone will bring a riff or a melody and someone else will add lyrics. In the end, we try to make sure that everyone is happy with their parts while respecting the vision of whoever wrote the song.

Is there anyone specifically that usually initiates writing a song, or is it a collaborative effort?

Will and Scott tend to write their songs mostly in full, then bring them to the band to finish arranging. Stefan both brings sketches that other people can add lyrics to, or full songs that sometimes other people will sing lead on.

How do you feel you’ve grown as a band since your EP Hymns of Love & Spirits?

We’ve added a drummer, and really been working on our live dynamic. The past year of intense touring has really made us all much better musicians, and we’re continually adding new instruments and sounds.

You’ve been quoted as saying you’re a band that is interested in sounds. How do you decide which sounds to incorporate into your writing?

The trick is not to overdo it. The arrangements are based on being able to play the songs live, and so far we only put on there whatever we can play ourselves. As for ambient sounds, we add stuff that we collect over time rather than trying to fill every gap.

What was your first show like?

The first official show was just Scott and Will as a duo at a show held in the backyard shed. The first show with all five of us together was a few months later at the El Mocambo with our friend’s Ketch Harbour Wolves. It was a fun night!

What has been the most memorable venue you’ve played thus far?

I think the one the stands out the most right now is the Tipi Stage at the End of the Road Festival in the UK last year.

Melissa, do you ever feel awkward being the only female member of the ensemble?

I wouldn’t say it’s awkward but it has its challenges. It’s like spending 24/7 with your brothers—they’re fun and cool, but sometimes they drive you nuts and you just miss talking with your girlfriends. I think that anyone traveling for such long periods of time together, whether male or female, would probably say something similar though.

When you’ve got downtime on tour, what kinds of places do you like to visit?

Beaches, deserts, forests, ports… We are happy to get to go any place that we wouldn’t see if we weren’t on tour. On the way to our shows in Texas, we spent a couple of hours wandering the French Quarter in New Orleans.

What are some of your favorite records?

Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline, Neil Young – Harvest, Fleetwood Mac – Rumours, Joni Mitchell – Songs for a Seagull, Pink Floyd – Meddle, Beach House – Teen Dream

If you could pick any musician’s mind, whose would it be?

There are so many to choose from, but for the moment, it would be cool to chat with Frank Zappa (if he were still alive) because he was such a creative and innovative guy and seemed to be constantly generating new music.

Cleveland, if you’re looking to warm your soul, head on over to the Beachland Tavern tonight and check out the Wildnerness of Manitoba. 

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