Last week, amidst his Ontario shows, I had the opportunity to speak to Will Whitwham: lead vocals, guitarist and keyboardist of The Wilderness of Manitoba. I learned about the man, the band and the Ontario wilderness. Their indie rock sound has Fleetwood influences, dreamy vocals, and tones of nostalgia. The band has been around for over eight years but has been recently getting a lot of buzz with the release of their latest album, Between Colours and their cross-Canada tour with Elliot Brood.
I spoke with Will when he was reconnecting with the wilderness at the Hamilton Aviary. It was the day after his London performance, the day of his Hamilton performance and the day before his Toronto performance at the Pheonix Concert Theatre. Naturally, we chatted about Ontario, Toronto and hometowns.
N_: How’s your day going?
Will: Pretty well, I’m standing in the Hamilton Aviary. I didn’t know this existed.
N_: It’s funny how that happens, when you grow up in a place, you don’t know how great it is.
Will: Ya, I’m realizing how great Hamilton is.
N_: Hamilton is your home town?
Will: Kind of. I lived all over. Hamilton, Toronto, and North Van.
N_: Hamilton is kind of an artistic place isn’t it? I went to an art crawl there once.
Will: The SuperCrawl, yes. Hamilton is an artistic community and it’s growing. James street has been altered and is much nicer. The venue we are playing tonight, Mill’s Hardware, used to be a male/female strip club with purple and blue florescent lighting. They are really building up the area.
N_ : And lots of bands are based out of there, right?
Will: Yes, actually one of Elliot Brood‘s band members is from here, plus a few others. It’s a good musical community.
N_: I have the ask the question I know you’ve been asked a million times. Why did you choose the name The Wilderness of Manitoba?
Will: No one has ever asked me that before!
Will: No. Every time.
N_: [Laughing] Right. I figured. So?
Will: It was actually inspired by an art project I helped work on for Nuit Blanche years ago. The project was called The Wildfires of Manitoba. I misheard it. So the band was named. I feel like it means ‘the yearning for a faraway place.’ To me, it speaks to the collective feel of the band. Collective and collaborative, male and female harmonies. No matter what changes with the band, that is the sound and it doesn’t change.
Actually, what’s funny is I’m almost never asked that question in Winnipeg. In Manitoba they seem to be the least interested about it.
N_: Maybe they just think their province is so great it just makes sense.
Will: That must be it, or they just figured it out sooner.
N_: Is there somewhere in Canada that you are most looking forward to visiting on this tour?
Will: That’s a good question, I love Canada. I love touring Canada. I think I’d have to say Victoria. I’ve been there before but this is the first time I am taking the band there.
N_: Having played a lot of the country, do you have any favourite venues?
Will: The Park Theatre in Winnipeg, The Music Gallery in Toronto, The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. Call The Office in London is great, where we just played. It’s great because it’s a dive bar but still has a ton of cred. People go there to see bands. I feel like there aren’t that many places like that left.
N_: Do you have anything crazy on your rider?
Will: Not really. Usually I just ask for healthy food, to survive a long tour you need to stay fairly healthy. So I just ask for that if it’s an option. Anthony Rose is catering The Phoenix so I am looking forward to that.
N_: Wow, I would be too. Enjoy that for me.
Will: I will.
N_: How do you know your bandmates?
Will: Actually they are all pretty new, due to the timing with the tour and with everyone’s jobs, this is going to be a whole new group.
N_: What is that like?
Will: They have a green energy. New excitement, enthusiastic. It’s a good way to start a tour. The sound is still the trademark sound: relatable, inspires nostalgia.
N_: Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Will: None yet, but maybe I should create one.
N_: You could trick the new bandmates into thinking you have a really odd one.
Will: I should, and be really serious about it.
N_: I just have one more question I love to ask people. What is the most embarrassing album you had as a kid? Or your guilty pleasure?
Will: In the 90s I had an album by Silk the Shocker – which I think I listened to once or twice before I realized I couldn’t do it. It was hard core hip hop about money and chicks.
I think my guilty pleasure would be Glen Mederios, “Nothing’s Gonna Change.”