A&E » Arts

Breakin' strings and making' music

Wil Mimnaugh returns with material from two latest albums to road test on the Whistler crowd



Who : Wil

When : Friday, Jan. 21, 9 p.m.

Where : Dusty's

Cost : $15

Wil Mimnaugh may call Vancouver Island home today, but he's no stranger to our mountain town's music scene. In case you've missed the posters, Wil's upcoming Whistler show is being billed as something of a "homecoming" and it feels like just that for the singer/songwriter.

"I've spent many years playing Whistler, a lot through a friend of mine, Joe Kovacs who owned The Crab Shack," he chuckled during an interview late last week, "So there was definitely a little scene that built, especially in early 2000's."

"There was kind of a locals' New Years that kind of stands out for me, too, which was the New Years that Joe would put on, not on New Year's Eve, when all the locals had to work. Those were pretty awesome, because we always packed that place beyond the legal capacity," he recalled.

"I remember one night, I think I played for three and a half hours, and it wasn't even self-indulgent, it was because we were having so much fun!"

Though he managed to build a loyal little following and fan base here, part of Whistler's charm is that there always seems to be a fresh sea of faces in the crowd, and new people to introduce your music to.

"Being such a transient place, its either tourism or the locals that kind of switch over and change the guard every five years or whatever," said Wil.

"I guess there would have been a time where a lot of locals would have known who I was!

"It was definitely a really cool chapter, musically. It was when I was pulling out more of my stuff, still doing a lot of covers and things, but I was becoming more and more confident with writing songs and conveying them live."

Sadly, the Crab Shack is no longer, but Wil is now set to take the stage at another beloved local hotspot, Dusty's, this week. This is actually Wil's first show of 2011 (he's been busy in the studio, working on a new album).

Wil has been making music essentially his entire life, and if his website name is any indication - www.ibreakstrings.com - he's pretty tough on his weapon of choice, the acoustic guitar.

"I always play to how people are," said Wil.

"In a theatre, I play much softer and much more dynamically. In a bar, where people are drinking, I play aggressively," he reflected.

"Doing shows with someone like Corb Lund, I'll probably be with my drummer, which I've done and be a lot more aggressive and blow through some more strings. Then, doing a theatre date with Feist, I played mostly with a thumb and it was very dynamic, and I didn't break a single string!"

The room, he explains, often dictates the number of strings that will snap beneath the flurry of finger and fretwork.

"I think back in the day, when you play kind of half-drunk and full of piss and vinegar and a lot of tequila, I'd probably go through between five and eight individual strings in one evening," he said.

All this snapping meant that Wil learned the fine art of restringing and tuning a guitar on the fly, in front of the crowd, without losing them. (Legend has it he can perfectly tune a guitar to any configuration in less than 10 seconds. But according to Wil, that's a bit of an exaggeration: "Yeah, that's kinda bullshit").

"Having done it for a lot of years, you just get good enough to keep it going and the key thing about entertaining people when you're up in front of them is that you never stop.," he laughed.

"You never slow a song down and you never stop, because you did something wrong."

He released his debut album, "Both Hands," back in 2007, and though it was entirely an indie affair, that project actually brought Wil to the attention of EMI, a major label, which worked with him to release another new album, "By December."

"It was great because they picked up that record with me and allowed me some time to write another one that I recorded with them, so it was something that I'm glad I did.," he said.

"It's something that everybody has to experience if they're going to be professional at one point - small or big label - essentially as an artist, you're going to be a part of some sort of governing body where there's actual commerce at interest."

Wil stayed with EMI for five years, making a solid record in the process. Hell, he even had the opportunity to work with Ron Sexsmith.

"You don't get that just because you run up and ask him," Wil laughed, "There's a little more credibility when you've got a label behind you."

Now, Wil has broken off on his own again, going the independent route with the help of some talented friends and family members, who help him keep things running behind the scenes. With their assistance, Wil released a third full-length album, "In This Together," last spring. He worked with a good friend, producer Bruce Leitl, and started out writing in a log cabin. They eventually moved into Calgary's Audities Studios to refine the tracks and then moved onto Quad Studios in Nashville, Tennessee to add in accompaniments from some top-notch studio players.

"I wrote songs with his brother Jeff, who I've known forever, and my manager was involved with people who helped finance it that loved me as an artist. That's why it's called 'In This Together,' really. So, it was a record kind of made out of the love of it, and no big expectations or massive deadlines to meet. We just sort of made a really cool record and had an amazing time doing it in Nashville, and the experience was unbelievable."

The end result is a very honest and intimate collection of songs, like "UhOh!," "Together," and "Baby Baby," tunes that shy away from the heavier side of life and love.

This time around, with his fourth album, Wil's approach is a bit more off-the-cuff: "Now this process that I'm doing now is like, I came down to Victoria, jumped in the studio with my drummer (Jason Cook), banged out a bunch of songs, and we're going to have them done in two weeks."

Now, it seems like Wil has covered a pretty wide range of recording approaches. So, what has he discovered in the process?

"You can make a record for $1,000 or $100,000, and neither one of them is a surefire bet for success or failure," he said.

"It's always going to be a gamble."

"This is one I'm doing strictly for me and I'm doing it just because I wanted to produce my own record."

Wil's upcoming Whistler show is a chance for people to discover or rediscover his music. For a sneak preview of what's in store on Wil's next album, come check him out live at Dusty's; he figures at least two strings will be broken at the show!