It’s been five years since the members of Wooly Mantis came together as budding Mohawk College music students and the journey has not been without setback. But this weekend, all of their years of hard work and friendship culminate with the release of their debut EP, The Cosmic Venture.
“We started the band in first year at Mohawk — I knew Daniel Walton (guitar, vocals) in passing but he was hanging out with Vincent Bérubé listening to a lot of Yes and Genesis and they formed the band,” says drummer, vocalist Matthew Woodcraft. “In the beginning I wasn’t in the band but I heard them jamming in classrooms and I pleaded my case to be in the band. We didn't have a bass player but the two guitarists would switch to bass depending upon the song. That's how it started but David Joyner then joined the band as an effects guitarist. Vince left the band after a year and we were like to do we get a bass player or someone who can do guitar and bass. James Reich was in our favourite band, Gung Ho Catalyst, so he slid into the band and continued to do the swap. The EP we’re releasing was recorded with James but shortly after the recordings he left the band. We picked up keyboard player Nik Hirst but since then we’ve been on the quest for a bass player and luckily we know a lot of friends that can help out from Mohawk like Spencer Bridgewater. For me it’s been an enjoyable ride and I’ve just been rolling with everything and having a good time but theoretically I guess it's been quite a journey.
“There’s really a movement happening at Mohawk — there are so many people there who want to be in bands,” adds Woodcroft. “A lot of people have started a lot of projects and learning jazz was a big part of that. Taking our craft a bit more seriously with theory, there’s a lot of value to that. A lot of people are investing a lot of time into quality product and while jazz is the foundation, there are a lot of people listening to rock music as well. For my band, I wanted the best musicians at the school. I wanted to make this super group from everyone available and with Wooly Mantis we’ve got that.”
While the band has had a few recording session over the years, much of the older material has been deleted from the Internet to focus on the new music. While an EP has been assembled, the actual recordings were done some time ago but do to some health concerns and otherwise, the official release of the official debut from Wooly Mantis has been delayed.
“Being in this band has been kind of crazy really — it’s been awesome but also super dark at times,” says Woodcroft. “At the beginning it seemed like we were really good at writing tunes and things should progress really fast but then we’ve had a lot of adversity and member changes. Joyner got sick with Colitis and that was a major thing. He’s aboriginal, from a town half way up Hudson Bay seventeen hours away. When he got sick, he went home to be with his family and Joyner started teaching music and doing tremendous things up there over the last year. We’ve tried to keep the bus going since he’s been gone.”
The Cosmic Venture is a psychedelic and progressive art rock extravaganza with those early Yes and Genesis influences shining through but with an indie rock vibe that gives the songs just a little more edge.
“We all write and we all collaborate so we’ve tried to come of one mind,” says Woodcroft. “There’s some Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Rush and Supertramp influences. We wanted to take some of the music we enjoyed from the past and make it more decently modern that can relate to everyone. We don’t want our music just to be accessible to people who only like progressive rock. With Mantis, we want to put out a message and have a lot of people hear it.”
With the recordings ready to go and the core band coming together for the first time in a year or so, this weekend's release party for Wooly Mantis is like a new start on the next phase of their musical journey.
“Nik and I had the opportunity to play music on cruise ships so we took that to make some cash but I’ve quit my job now to focus on the band,” says Woodcroft. “We could have released the album technically a while ago but David wouldn’t have been here for it so we didn’t want to release it and present it the way that it should be. Joyner is in a good place right now, he’s coming back to Hamilton to study business and we’ve arranged the EP release around that.
“This weekend is the start of the new chapter for Mantis,” adds Woodcroft. “We’ve got these recordings and we’re ready to go now. it’s been a slow burn up to this point but come this weekend, there is going to be a lot of content, music, video and more coming from us. This is the strongest we’ve ever been and all of the adversity is behind us and we’ve got a decent plan into 2020. This release party is going to be an exciting show. When you come to a Wooly Mantis show, you're going to see a full band that takes themselves seriously as musicians but we also care about each other on stage. We’re trying to push some limits and really put Hamilton on the map. The whole performance is going to be a journey and we really expect you to feel different when you see us play. We’ve been working for five years on this and this show is going to be the pinnacle. We’re hoping this show is going to be one of our best.”
Wooly Mantis play this Friday August 23 at Mills Hardware with guests Shy Harry and The Ollivanders. Doors open at 8pm and tickets are $15 in advance $20 at the door. Click on facebook.com/woolymantisofficialº