Winter has yet to hit Toronto in full. If it ever does this season, The Wilderness of Manitoba’s third album Island of Echoes could be its unofficial soundtrack, wonderful in the way it evokes both a hushed Canadian climate and our perpetual daydreams of someplace warmer, and sunnier.

This past October I met with WoM frontman Will Whitwham, for the second time, on a fine day in a Toronto cafe. Having already covered his songwriting process and hopes for the band in the past, our conversation drifted toward the things that bring us contentment when the world outside becomes unwelcoming; art, literature, the quirks of social networking, etc. My feeling that Whitwham is among the most easygoing and well-spoken of local musicians was confirmed.

Have you noticed any changes in the Toronto music scene since your last album?

It’s gotten a lot younger - but that doesn’t make sense, that’s just about me, because I was younger then ...

But is the next generation of indie rock / folk takings its first steps, so to speak?

Yes, and that’s what I mean. A lot of new bands in two years. But you still hear more about a band three albums deep than you do about one just releasing their first EP.

You always hear about a “new sound,” but there’s no such thing. In the 2000s, and now, there’s no definability. The ‘90s had a things, the ’80, contemporary stuff is just a mish-mash of inspirations.

Going off the first part of that, it seems like it takes at least one album before small bands decide they need a competent publicist.

And a lot of those bands don’t find a manager, for a long time. It’s an investment to be made. [A career in music] means asking yourself when to take certain steps, and there are thousands of steps.

Some bands are so much better at selling their music than actually writing / performing it, I wonder why publicity is not a more crowded field of employment.

I completely agree. I have younger friends born in ’88, and their social savviness [impresses me.] I’ve never Tweeted! I remember reading about the journalist Robert Fisk, one of the only Westerners to have interviewed Bin Laden - at the end of his bio it says “He has never voted.” I always thought it would be funny if my bio ended with “He has never Tweeted.” I’ve been told how important it is, “A lot people think this is important, so do it.” I got into music and art so I didn’t have to conform - I always hope I’ll be the opposite [of the people described above]: a horrible salesman, but able to make something I’m happy with.

You mentioned [before the interview officially started] that you recorded demos on your iPhone. How high is the quality of those recordings? Is it comparable to lo-fi stuff that some indie rock groups released as a final product in the ‘90s?

That stuff was put to tape, so there’s a warmth that’s missing with the iPhone. There’s more of a low-end on tape, as well. There’s a higher frequency with digital. I did record a song in a hotel room last year and tried to re-capture the sound when I got home, on like an SM57 lo-fi mic, but it didn’t sound the same. I took the recording off the iPhone and did overdubs over it instead. The iPhone is really great for capturing sounds wherever you are, say, coyotes on Elk Island. It captures spaces, even with the limited capacity of its mic.


I’m only getting a good look at the album cover now - What is the story behind it?

It was painted on wood, originally, by OCAD artist Sean Lewis. He did T-shirts for us years ago, which we’ve been selling ever since. We’ve been friends for a long time. He’s the visual artist, I’m just the appreciator of aesthetics. I used to be good at art, back in Grade 10.

A pro at cutting and pasting?

Yeah! Collages? I’m on it.

But yeah, Sean is a great illustrator. He was born to do that. He does comic-book style art, and he did a project on dark things - serial killers, these paintings that weren’t violent but a different take on the subject. When he listened to the album he said he felt like he was ‘falling backward into water.’ We took the Scarborough Bluffs as a visual idea, we asked him to capture that.

It’s interesting that you commissioned a specific artist, when it’s much less time-consuming for some bands to just source an already existing piece.

It’s gotta be personal. After our album Hymns of Love and Spirits, with the cover image of a woman hugging a caribou that we found even before we started recording, every cover has come after we’ve made the music, based on what was happening with the sound.

Are you inspired by narrative as well as visual art?

I was an English major, so entirely. I love Raymond Carver, Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallas.

Short-form writers.

A lot of short story writers. That’s also because of commitment - I read a lot of full-length novels but I like being able to put down a book and pick it up again six months later.

I have this thing where if I start a book I have to finish it. I have friends who can read one page and put it down, but I can’t do that. There has to be something in a book, some redeeming quality, or why else would it get published?

You give the benefit of the doubt.

I guess, yeah.

Do you keep up with contemporary fiction as well?

Chuck Palahniuk. Invisible Monsters - I loved that. I really need to read Bret Easton Ellis. I finally saw American Psycho a few nights ago, call it late. The movie was okay, I could definitely see how much better the book must be.

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