If you go to Queen’s chances are you’ve heard of The Wilderness. Since the band’s conception at Musiikki Café in Kingston just over 3 years ago, The Wilderness has played nearly 400 shows, gained 2 new members, and garnered quite a following. They frequent the Brooklyn every Friday night – you may even recognize their lead singer, Jonas, as the guy serving you beer at MOD Club. Jonas Lewis-Anthony, Liam Neale and I sat down to talk about their biggest inspirations, what it’s like performing to an empty room, and the release of their new EP Seminary Road.
BY LUCIE QUINLAN
You guys got your start in Kingston; do you notice a difference in the crowd when you perform here?
Jonas: Yeah for sure. I think we’re really fortunate in that – I’ve noticed there’s a lot of bands in Kingston, who are either exclusively Queen’s bands or exclusively Kingston bands and I think that we got really fortunate and kind of straddle a bit of both, because you know all the guys went to Queen’s except for me. We’ve ended up staying here, so we’ve kind of been able to integrate ourselves into the wider Kingston community which is really nice. So, when we play in Kingston, I feel like we can almost always get a really good crowd that’s a bit of a cross-section of the city. Cause we have the locals, we have our Queen’s student friends. Playing a hometown gig is the best because it’s not as often that you get to play shows, at all, to many people. It really is the luck of the draw sometimes. Especially if we’re on tour – like is anyone going to show up tonight? Probably not. We played a show one time where the bartender fell asleep.
Liam: Followed immediately by another show where we were like how the fuck did we get 25 people out – this is crazy!
Jonas: We did a show in Halifax where the sound guy left. There was like 3 people there: him, his girlfriend and our friend who we were staying with that night. And the sound guy and his girlfriend left – so we were just playing to our friend Matt. So, coming home and playing in Kingston, where I’d say semi-confidently, we can almost always guarantee that we’re going to fill up the room with people there because they want to see the band, not because they’ve stumbled into some bar and there’s some band playing. It couldn’t be a better feeling. And when people sing along to the songs that you wrote in your bedroom, it’s – it’s the fucking best thing in the world.
Liam: Even on the shorter timeline, from my first show with these guys at The Brooklyn to 3 months later in September ‘til now, I’ve seen a trend upwards. My first show with [The Wilderness] there was a lot of people. It was like a half-full house. And then, in September, it was like – suddenly we had sold out The Brooklyn. And now, every Friday that we go there, there’s a full crowd. Like Jonas said, it’s weird to see people you’ve never seen before. Like I know friends of ours know all the lyrics to our songs – but like complete strangers, singing choruses back to you to the point where like – Jonas will stop singing, and the crowd can just carry your own song. It’s a really, really amazing feeling.
When you are performing and there’s no one (or a small number) of people in the crowd – how do you keep going?
Jonas: Each other. On the last tour we played, that really got to me, because we put so much into playing that tour and I was just so fucking miserable after each show… and then I don’t know what it was – I had a bit of a realization that that was a bad attitude to have.
Liam: I forget who gave us this description, but it was the idea of us having the energy of playing in a stadium of 10,000 people even if there’s 5 in the audience. That’s something I’m really proud of. If there’s 3 people in the bar, we’re going to make sure that none of those people forget that night. They’re going to walk out and be like wow I went and saw this band and there was no one there and they were like, right in my face and they were screaming at me and they completely gave it their all. I think even if you get that reputation amongst a few people, that carries on, and I think that’s a really important thing. And like Jonas said – before we were like oh this sucks, there’s no one here. But now it’s like, you know what, we can still make this fun for us, we’re still here there’s no point in being pissed off about it.
Jonas: At the end of the day, I’m still on tour with my best friends. Like livin’ the dream, man! The fact that I could – even for a minute – get disappointed that I’m playing a show on tour and that the show isn’t how I want it to be. My 17-year-old self would punch me in the face. All I wanted to do when I was younger is play in a band and go on tour, and now I get to do that a lot. And so, what if some of the shows suck, it’s the best thing in the world.
Liam: Perspective is kind of everything. You can’t go into this job – if you want to call it that – without having the perspective that you’re going to be really disappointed a lot of the time and its often not going to live up to your expectations…but at the same time, we’re still lucky enough to do the one thing that matters most to us, so you gotta make it fun and no matter what gets thrown at you, you just gotta roll with it and make the best of any situation. Which is pretty much what we do on a daily basis.
On your second most recent tour, you guys were joined by French Filmmakers Celine Klien and Lucile Memin. Can you talk a bit about what that experience was like?
Liam: It did. That tour especially, the two filmmakers that came along with us ended up becoming very close friends with us. That whole tour was strange for a couple of reasons. It was the first time we had ever toured with Nick, we decided to go to Northern Ontario in the middle of February because – why not. Gotta make it fun somehow. It was also very, I want to say emotional, because I can’t think of a better word, that tour just felt like we all became very close on it.
Jonas: They were really good at capturing those moments that would like kind of go unseen. No one really sees me pacing right before we go on stage, or like that feeling of elation in that 5-10 second window between finishing that last song and getting off the stage, that no one really sees. But it’s like one of my favourite feelings in the world. They were really good at capturing those moments – and also prodding: why do you do this, and what’s this song about. It was a really, really fun tour, and it was a big learning curve for us.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Liam: There’s a little semi band prayer, before big shows. I wasn’t there for the origin…
Jonas: It was our first show at the Horseshoe Tavern, and I wanted to say something like really inspirational for the guys – like “we’re going to get up there and just show them what rock and roll is”…I don’t know what the fuck I was going to say. So, we all gather round – and we’ve got this on camera too because my friend was filming for some reason. I gather them around and I’m like “umm guys, uh…” and I just said, “someone’s fucking” and I couldn’t finish my sentence because I was too nervous. And then everyone was like “ya someone’s fucking man, it might not be us – but someone’s fucking”. And 4 years later that’s become our thing before we get on stage were like “alright, someone’s fucking! Cheers Cheers… Someone’s fucking”.
Can you guys talk a bit about this EP and what led you guys to the release of it?
Jonas: We, kind of by accident, wrote a concept album. The album is my way of making sense of my parents getting divorced as an adult, how that has impacted my own relationship, which I’ve had for 5 years. It’s about trying to make sense of a lot of anger and rage if you will, and disappointment. It’s kind of about realizing that your parents are just human beings who can let you down and make mistakes too, like you. It’s a pretty heavy album, but I would also like to think that the songs are kind of uplifting in a weird way if you listen to it from a different perspective – you can assign your own meaning to it. And if someone has also experienced the same shit that I have, it might bring them some comfort.
Liam: Making a very personal story universal.
Jonas: Yeah, and I think we try to do that. We try to be like; these songs are about heartbreak and about hurting and about sadness and grief – if you will. These are things everyone experiences, just from my perspective.
Liam: On another side of it – the way we chose to do this release as a 5 song EP, as opposed to a full-length album. Singles and EP’s fit more of the format about how music is consumed today – it’s a lot more rapid fire, you need to be putting out music all the time and if you do a 5-8 song EP, if we had all our studio recordings in a row, we could have recorded the entire thing in probably a week – maybe less. It allows you to have a quick turn-around to put the music out. Also, if you’re only doing 5 songs, you can do concepts as we did here. It gives you the freedom to try a lot of things since it’s a small, snack-sized piece of music.
Jonas: It’s an album snack.
Liam: It allows you to sample a lot of things, like us as a band – one of our strengths is that we come from a lot of areas of musical influences. Jonas comes from a big folk/singer-songwriter background and big rock and roll stadium stuff, I grew up listening to heavy metal, Henry, our drummer, is jazz and world music, our guitar player Sacha is really into funk, Nick can play any genre of music on any instrument ever conceived – I don’t understand how that kid does it – and then Karl also came from a very metal background. Because of that, we get to synthesize a lot of different ideas and influences that wouldn’t normally be put together. Doing EP’s means we can kind of make this one a little heavier, make this one a little more acoustic and folky – you can try all those things and put them out more consistently and more quickly and so in a lot of ways it’s a lot freer, than trying to record 10, 12 or 15 songs that all fit together.
Do you guys have a group that’s an aspirational group for you as a band?
Jonas: Glorious Sons.
Liam: They’re another Kingston band.
Jonas: They’re guys around town, and the fact that they’re so successful right now and they’re doing so well makes it feel really achievable. Which I love. I think it’s great that another band from Kingston doing a similar thing is doing so well. And the fact that these are guys I know, not someone so far removed, through a TV screen. These are guys I know and I love that they are doing it. That means that we might be able to do that too.
Liam: It’s also nice to be proud of people from your hometown being really successful. Which is also weird to say that it’s our hometown cause – none of us are from here.
If you had one piece of advice for yourselves starting out – what would it be?
Liam: I would give myself the same piece of advice that I’ve gotten from a couple of people, and I think it’s the best piece of advice… It’s just “don’t give up”. Just if you really want success, however you define it to yourself, don’t let yourself give up on it until you get to that point. Put as much as you humanely can into it – cause my biggest thing with this band is were all in a lot of ways living kind of a childhood dream and at the end of the day we all want to be successful and we want this to be our careers, I guess our legacy to the world if you want to call it that. I guess for me, even if that doesn’t happen, as long as we can all walk away at the end of it and say that we put our entire hearts and souls into trying to get there – that’s all you can really ask. Cause nothing is guaranteed in kind of the music game. Like you can work as hard as you want and you have to but sometimes it is a little bit of luck that is the difference between major success and the local success that we’re kind of experiencing now.
Lucie Quinlan is the Editor in Chief of MUSE Magazine.
Photos by: Bobbi Shewchuk