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Travel broadens the mind, though sometimes it can be so much more than that. For the four musicians who make-up the Great Wilderness, it can be a life-changing experience. Travelling all the way from Costa Rica, the band is in the middle of enjoying a wild adventure playing gigs to appreciative audiences in Europe and England.

On a balmy autumn Tuesday night in Manchester, a small crowd will witness The Great Wilderness rip through a powerful set at the Night and Day Café. However earlier on in the evening, Paola, Andrea, Jimena and Monserrat agreed to share a little of their time with Mudkiss, to tell us who they are, what they like and where they want to go next:

PHIL: Tell us about The Great Wilderness…

PAOLA: We started playing together about a little bit more than a year ago; we started with Andrea, Monserrat and me. Then Jimena joined and the sound just gelled together. She brought in what we were missing. So we started writing our first EP in April 2010 and released it in June 2010. It was some sort of semi-conceptual album called ‘After Images of Glowing Visions’ and when we released it people liked it so almost immediately we started writing new songs. So we decided to release another EP ‘Tiny Monsters’ in November of the same year and that received a really good response as well…

PHIL: Was that in Costa Rica?

PAOLA: Yes and also over the internet where we noticed that people outside Costa Rica were listening to our music which was really cool because we didn’t expect that. Then in April of this year we released ‘Dark Horse’ and our goal for 2011 was to leave the country and play outside Costa Rica, and now we’re here.

PHIL: Is there a big music scene in Costa Rica?

PAOLA: The scene is cool and we’re building a movement right now. There are really cool bands in Costa Rica that don’t get noticed outside the country.

JIMENA: I think it’s a small version of the scene that celebrates itself.

ANDREA: Because Costa Rica is a small country we don’t have a scene for every different rock genre, it’s like one band for each (laughs), except for metal because there’s so many metal bands. Also most of the bands are concentrated in the capital because of the limited choice of places to play. But there are scenes growing in other parts in other parts of Costa Rica and bands from the capital are starting to go on tour there so it’s interesting.

PHIL: Do you have any radio stations in Costa Rica that promotes these scenes? 

PAOLA: We do have a local radio station, but it’s not something that makes a difference because the Costa Rican audience is used to alternative nineties rock and most of the people just listen to American and English bands. But when the attention is focused on local bands the reception can be a little bit hostile because people just want to go for the safe choice. There are about three or four bands in Costa Rica that people follow because they’ve been following them for twenty years, but bands that are trying to surface right now, they’re new so it’s like ‘why bother when we have these other bands?’ It’s hard because the indie scene, if you can call it a scene, is not getting all that much recognition because the focus is on what’s been there for the past twenty years. For example the government would chose these older bands for cultural activities and big international concerts will be opened by these bands, so opportunities for newer bands are scarce. It’s a comfort zone.

PHIL: Is this your first time outside Costa Rica?

ANDREA: We played in Panama a couple of months ago at a festival. That was very close to home and the crowd and the scene was different to Costa Rica but this is even more different.

PHIL: What I find unusual is that you didn’t go north to the States, instead you decided to head east to Europe…

ANDREA: We considered it when we were planning going out of the country but there’s the visa issue which made it hard…

PAOLA: Visas are very expensive for America. To get an artist visa costs a lot of money and they give it to you for a short period of time. But we like England and we like Europe so it was the obvious choice.

PHIL: Was the tour difficult to set up?

ANDREA: We paid for this tour by playing charity concerts and stuff to be able to come here.

PAOLA: Yes it was but it was worth it. We’ve played Berlin at Lido, which was great. And then we’ve played at the Dublin Castle, the old Blue Last and the Powers Bar in London. When we were playing the charity concerts Andrea mentioned we didn’t think we were going to make it because we had to raise a lot of money for plane tickets, but what was surprising is that even if the audience in Costa Rica is not that into listening to new bands they came forward. So it was really reassuring to have people come forward for us, and we know they are supporting us back home and talking about this thing we’re doing. And right now I think it’s a brighter time for Costa Rican music because it’s not just us carrying the flag alone, there are other bands coming out of the country who are also trying to push it forward.

PHIL: Did you headline any of the London shows?

PAOLA: We were supposed to headline the Old Blue Last show but we were late for sound check so it changed.

ANDREA: We were late because we got lost on the bus. Even trying to find the bus stops in London we got lost, it’s a tough place to travel in!

PHIL: So that’s Germany, London…

PAOLA: Manchester tonight, tomorrow we’re going to Paris and then we’re going to Madrid just to relax a little bit. Then home. It’s a very short tour.

PHIL: Have you made many contacts while you’ve been touring?

ANDREA: Yes. Contacts are a valuable thing; experience is good or course, but contacts are very useful in trying to set up  system for exchanging bands and bringing some back to Costa Rica and helping bands from Costa Rica get out. Even if we don’t play with the bands, people can recommend other bands and set up a band network…

SHAY: Maybe if you get some of our bands over to your country then maybe more Costa Ricans will understand what you’re trying to do.

ANDREA: Exactly! We’re not looking for all this to be only for us but to help bands inside Costa Rica get out and bands outside Costa Rica get in.

JIMENA: What we’re doing here is throwing ourselves into this new wild thing, just to get our guitars and bass and drums and go across the world. But we’re also doing this because we must. There’s a lot of bands in Costa Rica who deserve to be listened to and it’s a shame they’re not so we’ve been talking with almost every person to tell them how important these bands are and people should listen to them. We were saying yesterday that we hoped what we are doing will be left to later generations because we’re trying to grow a whole new movement and perhaps what happened in England in the sixties will happen in Costa Rica.

PHIL: Musically do you all share the same influences?

PAOLA: We like Joy Division, Jesus and Mary Train, Spiritualized… 

ANDREA: I have all the wrong influences! My dad’s Cuban so I really love the Latin percussion rhythms but I’m very open minded to different kinds of music, even the metal bands or the romantic pop artistes or whatever. But that’s the thing; good music is good music.

JIMENA: No they’re not wrong, they’re just different! Of course we’re a four-girl band and we can’t all be the same person, but by chance we’re into really similar music though Andrea’s more….tropical.

PHIL: So your band mates are trying to play dark and intense music while you’re playing a happy beat?  

ANDREA: Yes! They basically tell me to calm down.

PAOLA: She’s like, samba dancing, and I’m like, “Simmer down!”

JIMENA: Only today I was saying I wish I could be in a town where Joy Division, the Stone Roses and the Smiths started.

PHIL: What is it that appeals to you about those bands?

ANDREA: The darkness. I like the darkness of the sound and the beauty you can find in it,because it’s a mellow beauty. You take it in and you can discover things about yourself and lots of things about people around you just by listening to a chord, and that chord just reminds me of everything.

ANDREA: It’s easier to relate to, or to feel, ‘mood music’ I call it. I think everyone has been in a dark place at least once in their life, but happiness is very different to everyone, so the thing that most people can relate to is that feeling and it’s really strong in that kind of music and that’s what gets to you and something that everyone can share.

PHIL: Why do you choose to sing in English rather than Spanish?

ANDREA: It’s an issue in Costa Rica.

JIMENA: People have criticised us because we prefer to sing in English. Maybe they think we are not proud of being of being Costa Rican…

PAOLA: But it’s just by chance. We didn’t really start singing in English to ascend in the globalised world; it was basically I cannot write lyrics in Spanish.

ANDREA: It’s phonetics. It’s very hard to get Spanish to flow with music and the language is more complicated.

PAOLA: It was just by chance. I've had journal since I was a little girl and when I was about eight my mom started reading them so I thought I'm going to have to write them in English because my mom doesn't speak English. So I started writing my journals in English and one thing led to another and I started reading more things in English so I could write my journals better and suddenly my brain forgot how to write lyrics in Spanish. But it's just a language, you say whatever you want to say as long as you really feel it, it doesn't matter if it's Swahili or English.

PHIL: now you're had a taste of playing in Europe and England, has it crossed your mind to relocate?

PAOLA: Yes! We love this town and we would love to take a plane and come live here and work here and make music here. I don't know if that's possible but it has crossed our minds. We have the internet which is a good resource that bands in the past didn't have. In the nineties it was hard to know what a band was up to and what a musician was really like and what they preferred and their point of views. The only way to find that out was through magazines or newspaper articles or TV and radio interviews, but right now you can put up a blog and you can put your music up on Bandcamp and email your contacts whenever you release something to let them know and people will download it...

ANDREA: We were talking about it today! 

MONSERRAT: I think that there's a precaution in that because before it used to be hard, putting yourself out there and having people hearing your music was harder because there was no internet. Now we have the internet but there are so many bands you don't even know where to start. So it's the same; finding a good band is like finding a jewel, and it's hard because you're trying to make it and there's twenty thousand million bands trying to make it as well.   

PAOLA: When we play a gig, even if one person likes our music, that person might go and tell a friend who tells another friend and word goes around and that's what we're looking for.

Download all The Great Wilderness’ recorded output free from:

Interview by Phil 13/09/11
Photos by Shay Rowan

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