Alone in a crowd

According to The Wilderness of Manitoba, even a metropolis can feel like the middle of nowhere

The Wilderness of Manitoba hails from Toronto, not the Land of 100,000 Lakes. But even in Canada’s biggest city, one can feel like they’re drowning in loneliness.

On a break from recording its newest album, the folk band’s violinist and vocalist Amanda Balsys explains how the band mingles endless stretches of physical space with the feeling of isolation.

“We’re all based out of Toronto… It’s impossible not to be immersed in the bustling city, we don’t live in the wilderness,” Balsys says with a laugh.

“But we are evoking feelings that aren’t there, feelings of vastness, solitude, alone, not being lonely, but the choice to be alone. These are associated with vast, open, maybe even abrasive landscapes, but it is also in crowds and crowds of people, the feeling of being one person in an anonymous crowd getting on at Union Station.”

The band’s name comes from a film by Winnipegger Noam Gonick that was projected onto a geodesic dome in a Toronto art gallery. The installation, Wildflowers of Manitoba, was mistaken by one of the band members as “Wilderness of Manitoba.”

Balsys appreciates artists who use a non-traditional approach to understanding identity. 

“It’s overdone, this imagery, this nationalistic, Group of Seven romanticization of landscape after landscape imagery,” she says. “[Canadian author] Alice Munro rarely talks about landscape. Rather, she uses the push and pull of people having to deal with one another, the loneliness, solitude, those sorts of the things.”

Balsys said the band’s new album is shaping up to be a more collaborative effort than past releases.

“Our last album, Island of Echoes, was primarily composed by Will [Whitwham, the band’s vocalist/multi-instrumentalist]. On this one we’re all collaborating heavily as songwriters,” she says. “Our low end, the rhythm section of our bassist [Wes McClintock] and drummer [Sean Lancaric] feature much more prominently than in previous albums. There are also more backing tracks, synthesizers, and more prominent female vocals.”

Balsys says the lyrics are mainly written by Whitwham and herself. 

“Will and I, we really like evoking feelings through imagery, ones that are mysterious, evasive, there but not quite,” she says. “They are ghostly. They evoke a presence of loss. They are the in-between feelings.”

Balsys states she’s excited to return to Winnipeg, and would love the opportunity to visit the physical wilderness of Manitoba, but timing will probably prevent that. However, she is excited to see the fonts of our store signs.

“Winnipeggers might think, ‘What the hell is she talking about?’ I took so many photos of interesting, neat looking fonts last time. Toronto is all updated. Every font here is that cursive, handwritten font. I love seeing those old fashioned ‘70s and ‘80s fonts.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 29, 2014)

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