First thing to know about The Wilderness of Manitoba is that the musicians are neither from the wilderness nor from Manitoba.
The second thing is the Toronto-based, Juno-nominated group that performs on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer, has gone through major personnel changes.
It’s now made up of nearly all different musicians than a couple of years ago.
That said, the band’s harmonic and atmospheric music, frequently played on CKUA and CBC radio, continues to be intriguing listening — even if it’s changed course to become slightly less rural sounding over the last year or so.
“It’s gone from being folk-roots to more classic prog-rock,” said William Whitwham, the group’s founder and only original member.
He admitted it’s been challenging replacing a series of band members as they decided to trade the rigours of touring for other jobs and lifestyles.
The latest musicians to join Whitwham in the Wilderness are singer/guitarist Raven Shields, of Dear Sister, and bassist Tavo de Bonilla and drummer Mike Brushey, who also work with Jenn Grant.
“At this point, there’s a lot of green energy,” said Whitwham, referring to the novelty of the new musicians playing together.
The group was started in 2008 and named after an installation art project called Wildflowers of Manitoba. “We misheard the name,” said Whitwham, but it stuck.
The group was conceived as a collaborative, so its music has always been dependent on which musicians have been involved in making it. It continues to be an evolving entity. “When a band isn’t changing, it’s not growing,” says Whitwham, the guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist.
His own contribution to the band is a 1990s sensibility reflecting his early influences, including My Bloody Valentine, the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream album, as well as the Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell albums he heard played at home by his parents.
The other musicians in the group bring a folky style, supplemented by more electric rock influences.
The Wilderness of Manitoba fourth and latest album, Between Colours, includes songs of loss that pair dark lyrics with upbeat melodies.
Whitwham admitted he’s had mortality on his mind since his school teacher mother died in 2008. “It’s become an influence in a lot of things I’ve done.”
The video for the new single Leave Someone, for instance, creates a feeling of loneliness as a camera pans around a near empty house. A bathroom faucet is running, as if someone just stepped out of the room.
“It’s the idea that you never really leave someone until you die. It’s about the idea of being committed, as a family … that you are tied together, until death do you part.”
Whitwham said he pairs melancholy lyrics with upbeat melodies to convey a sense of optimism. “It’s like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. … Even though these are songs of loss, there’s also some hope.”
Tickets for the 8:30 p.m. show, with opening guest Adam Meachem, are $15 in advance from Fratters.