Published Sep 17, 2014The Wilderness of Manitoba have never been an easy band to pin down. Since their 2009 debut, The Hymns of Love and Spirits, the group's sound — and the lineup that produces it — has been in constant flux, shifting from campfire folk to atmospheric chamber pop as members come and go.
Between Colours, the Toronto outfit's fourth full-length that arrived this week via Pheromone Recordings, is no exception.
"I certainly don't want to do the same thing twice," guitarist and vocalist Will Whitwham, the band's last-remaining founding member, tells Exclaim! "I'm happy with this album, and I wouldn't want to repeat it."
After the release of 2012's Island of Echoes, singer and violinist Amanda Balsys (the Gertrudes) and bassist Wes McClintock (the Paint Movement, Martha Johnson) joined Whitwham to form what is now the band's core trio — a move that introduced new ideas to the songwriting process and resulted in a notably less traditional folk sound.
"We love folk music, but I'm not certain we consider ourselves folk musicians. I think that's too much of a cornering term," Whitwham explains. "The unifying element of this band is the vocals. We could potentially do something completely electronic and just do synth and beats, but if we had the vocals there as a trademark, it would still be [us]."
Much of Between Colours was toured earlier this year and workshopped at the Wasaga Beach cottage of a friend before the group entered Revolution Studios with producer Joe Dunphy. There — aside from encounters with the Tea Party's Jeff Martin and iconic songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie — the band found an unlikely collaborator: Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson.
"He was in here one day saying that no one ever asks him to do anything, and that he'd like to do more," Dunphy told Whitwham in studio, after which the band invited him to solo on one of the album's tracks. He politely obliged, then thanked them for the opportunity. "It was completely weird — but not weird," Whitwham says. "It was actually very Canadian. This is what a Canadian rock god is like."
The track featuring Lifeson's solo, "Shift," marks a transition between the contrasting "day" and "night" sides of Between Colours. The concept originates from the album's name, which is lifted from a lyric on opener "Big Skies."
"The day idea has a feeling of extra, whether that's extroverted, outside or explosive, where the night feel is more intra, so it feels more inward-thinking," Balsys says. "They have different feels, though that wasn't part of the original plan."
A lot of Between Colours, Whitwham says, evolved in a similarly organic way, whether it was through the contributions of a rotating cast of drummers, the interplay between band members or the input of others. "When you're making something long term, it's like a computer defragmenting. Everything falls into space together. You're in control of it, but you're not really," Whitwham says. "I really like that feeling — like it's out of my hands now."
Stream all of Between Colours here and find the Wilderness of Manitoba's upcoming tour dates here.