Prairie sounds

The Wilderness of Manitoba brings the sounds of the Keystone Province to life

Amanda Balsys, Kingston resident and Queen’s grad, talks about the origins and direction of the band.
Amanda Balsys, Kingston resident and Queen’s grad, talks about the origins and direction of the band.

The crunching snow at the end of their track “Echoes” is reminiscent of chilly winter nights in Manitoba.

The Wilderness of Manitoba, though not actually from the province, captures its essence perfectly.

The band got their name four years ago from the Winnipeg-based artist Noam Gonick and his small gallery in Toronto.

Vocalist and violinist Amanda Balsys said lead singer Will Whitwham was inspired by the artist’s work.

But he got the name wrong.

The gallery was actually called The Wildflowers of Manitoba. Nonetheless, The Wilderness of Manitoba stuck.

The band consists of Whitwham, Sean Lancaric, Wes McClintock, Stefan Banjevic and Balsys, all of whom are Toronto-based, save Balsys who resides in Kingston. She did her Master’s of Education at Queen’s a couple years back.

The songstress is locally recognizable for her involvement in The Gertrudes.

“It’s really exciting to be part of both [bands],” Balsys said, “even if it means being quite limited in one.”

She joined the group in 2012 after sharing a bill one night in Toronto. The Wilderness of Manitoba saw The Gertrudes’ set and asked her to sing harmonies on their latest album Island of Echoes.

“So I took the Megabus every weekend [to Toronto] while I was in Kingston going to school and would learn their songs throughout the week,” she said.

After Melissa Dalton, their former vocalist, left to focus on jewelry-making, Balsys became a permanent member.

After the new addition, they toured across Europe to promote Island of Echoes.

Since 2012, the recently re-figured group released an EP, The Leslieville Sessions, and is currently working on a fourth record.

The band spent last weekend writing at a cottage in Georgian Bay, accompanied by pouring rain.

“We just wrote and wrote and wrote,” Balsys said. “We shut ourselves inside and only stopped to eat.”

This is the first time she’s written an entire album with the group, showing her passion and excitement for the project.

“To hear everything, it’s like you’ve given birth to this thing and now it has all these different components and personalities,” she said.

Everyone brings everything they can to the table in terms of the songs’ barebones, Balsys said, bouncing ideas off one another both lyrically and musically.

“Sean, the drummer, responds musically through a lot of feel rather than a lot of cerebral thinking,” Balsys said. “He’ll sense this kind of energy coming through a song.”

Before The Wilderness of Manitoba starts recording, they have a bunch of cross-Canada gigs to play, including a stop at The Mansion.

The band’s Kingston tradition is grabbing breakfast the morning after at the Sleepless Goat.

But they won’t be doing that this time around.

They’re nominated for two Canadian Folk Music Awards and are set to play the show in Calgary the next day, and set to release a new 90s-esque album in the spring.

“We’re still maintaining this dream quality, atmospheric folk.” Balsys said. “But there’s way more groove in the stuff we’re making now than in previous albums.”

The Wilderness of Manitoba is playing The Mansion on Nov. 8.

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