The Wilderness of Manitoba stands at that raw, exciting point of a musical career where they’re still a treasure shared by (a relative) few. With today’s freakishly fast spread of trends online, feeling like you’ve “discovered” a musical talent is rare—and often disputed in YouTube comment sections. The Wilderness of Manitoba has indeed been growing since its creation in Toronto, especially through the success of their album, When You Left the Fire, but they’re still a band listeners somehow “find” online and like to keep to themselves for safekeeping.
The Wilderness of Manitoba consists of Scott Bouwmeester, Will Whitwham, Stefan Banjevic, Sean Lancaric and Melissa Dalton. Currently on tour with Rasputina, the band has been reaching out to crowds in the U.S. with their unique, beautiful combos of banjo, cello, guitar and heavenly vocals. They’re already at the point where they’ve played music festivals in Europe and have been compared to the likes of Fleet Foxes, but their audience remains a close bundle of listeners who appreciate an original, untouched sound. Melissa Dalton took some time from her busy schedule to talk about music, the great outdoors and touring with boys.
How did you guys meet, and how did the band come together?
Dalton: Will and Scott were already in another band, and they started writing songs—some which eventually made it into our repertoire. Then I met them through mutual friends, and I was doing solo music at the time. And then we met Stefan through a music event that was happening in Toronto around the same time I started playing with Scott and Will. It was the four of us for a few months, until we decided we wanted a drummer, and that’s when we met Sean.
What’s the process like when you’re making music as a band?
Dalton: Usually it depends on who’s writing the song, because we all do writing separately. Well, four of us do the writing. With some people, they’ll write just the bare bones of the song, or Stefan will write a banjo line, and we’ll kind of add other things in. Most of the songs we wrote for this album started out just as a banjo line, and then Will wrote a guitar part around it. I think there’s one song that started out as a cello line, and then another, with Will writing the guitar part and the vocals together. So it depends on who’s writing the song, and we work our way around it. I don’t know if that’s weird or not, that’s just the way we do it.
When did you become interested in music?
Dalton: Since forever, I think. Even as a small child, I used to write songs and I’ve always sung. I remember once when I was around four years old, I was at the grocery store with my uncle, and started singing this song that I had just made up. And we got back to my grandparent’s house, who we were visiting at the time, and he said, “OK sing the song!” But I couldn’t remember it anymore. So clearly I was writing songs even back then. But I know everyone else in the band has been really influenced by the music their parents listened to, which is why we have this kind of folk sensibility, because we grew up with it.
What did you listen to growing up?
Dalton: I remember I grew up with a lot of Simon and Garfunkel. I remember Neil Young and another band, I’m not sure where they’re from, they’re called Little Feat. And of course, Fleetwood Mac, I remember my mother listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac.
Do you guys have a lot of the same musical taste?
Dalton: There are a lot of other things that each individual person likes that nobody else likes, but there are also smaller areas of crossover between two or three of us. For example, Will and I really like Joni Mitchell, but Stefan and I are really into Feist, and Will is not. And when we do have some crossovers, it really helps.
Many of your videos are shot outdoors, in beautiful, natural landscapes. How does nature influence your music? How does living in Toronto influence it?
Dalton: Well, Toronto’s a very urban landscape, so it’s always nice when you’re living in a big city to be able to get away and go somewhere really peaceful and serene and quiet. So in a sense, we do idealize the idea of being out in nature, which does come out in our songs because the outdoors can be such a good place to gain perspective on life and relax—and relax enough to figure out how you’re feeling about things. It’s a nice little rest, to put ourselves in the mindset of being out in the woods somewhere or by a lake. And I think we all love being outdoors, and as Canadians, it’s pretty popular to go camping or go hiking, so you kind of grow up with it a little bit.
When you’re on tour, does it get frustrating to not be able to get away, and to always be on schedule?
Dalton: Sometimes, along those lines, we usually try to find nice places to go in between shows—if we have time—like today, we went to Pensacola Beach, ‘cause we were in Pensacola last night, playing. So we had time to go to the beach, stand in the sand, go swimming, and we took a lot of photos. And it’s always so nice to be able to do that, and we try to do it as much as we can while on tour. Sometimes it’s hard to do it, like when we’re on a nine-hour drive, you just kind of drive by really beautiful places. Just the other day, we were driving through Asheville, N.C. by the Smoky Mountains, and we wished we could go out, but we had a show that night. So we just drove by it. But it’s nice to stop and just breathe, and it does help elevate everybody’s mood.
Tell me about your tour with Rasputina. What’s been your favorite show so far?
Dalton: Well, we played in Huntsville, Ala. on Saturday night, the same night that LSU and Alabama were playing that huge college football game. And Alabama, they’re crazy about football, you know? So we were kind of worried there wouldn’t be that many people at the show, but there were. And more and more came, throughout the course of the evening. Even through the second half of our set, more people were coming in. It was just a wild night, people were really enthusiastic. It’s been going really well, and audiences are responding well and there are super nice people. We always have people coming up to us after the show. And even when people don’t buy the CD, they still come over and it’s really great to hear their feedback.
Do you work on new material while you’re traveling?
Dalton: I wouldn’t say we write songs and tell each other about them—maybe we’re all writing, but we don’t really let it out until we have a chance to get home and work it out on our own. It’s hard to do that on tour when we’re all sharing rooms and are with each other 24/7. But we do have some new material that we’re working on collectively. We’ve been trying to form a couple of songs on this tour because we’re going to be recording a new album in December. But we don’t really share much in terms of song writing when we’re actually on the road.
What do you guys listen to when you’re on the road?
Dalton: We listen to a lot of things, and we all have very different taste, but there are things we all agree on. We’ve listened to the new Feist album a couple of times, but we also listen to podcasts from iTunes University, cause we’re kinda nerds. We’ve been listening to a podcast called “The History of the Middle East,” which is pretty interesting. Sometimes we listen to NPR, but otherwise, if we’re listening to music, we all have our own headphones.
Has it been hard being the only girl on tour?
Dalton: It can be hard, yeah. I love my bandmates, they’re like my brothers, in the best sense and in the worst sense. But I guess the main thing that I miss is being able to talk to my girlfriends back home. I try to keep in touch with them as much as possible. I know we all try to keep in touch with our friends and family as much as possible because it helps keep you grounded.
If you could share the stage with one band or artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Dalton: Well just the other day, we were talking about Radiohead, like, how do we play a show with Radiohead? How does that happen? ‘Cause this band that we played with is opening for Radiohead, and I’m really happy for them, ‘cause it’s such a big thing. So we were like, well, how do we do that?
What’s next for you guys?
Dalton: We’ll be recording a new album in December, but we still don’t have a specific date for the release. And we’ll be back on the road in February, possibily going to Europe for a month. But it’s exciting, and definitely overwhelming.
What’s been the most surreal moment you’ve been through in the past year?
Dalton: Maybe being in England last September, when we played a festival called the End of the Road Festival. We played in front of over 700 people and they were all just quiet, listening. And I think that moment was really huge for all of us. We were all, like, “Wow, there are over 700 people here and they are all listening to us.” It’s not a lot of people, but at the time, that was the most people that we had played for, so it was a pretty big deal.