Carmanah is a home-grown band that has represented the ethos of what west-coast music is at its core through the years.
On March 22nd, they announced their last show as a band would be on May 20th at the McPherson Playhouse and their dedicated fans sold out the show in mere weeks.
They’ve played some of the biggest stages on Vancouver Island, across Canada and they have even stamped their brand of ‘west-coast soul’ on the United States while on tour.
The band has released two full-length albums and gone through numerous line-up changes over the last 12 years. They’ve garnered their fan-base through positivity and perseverance.
Carmanah have positioned themselves as an integral part of the zeitgeist when it comes to the Victoria music scene in the last decade.
“It all started many moons ago,” laughed Laura Mina Mitic, Carmanah’s lead vocalist, guitarist and fiddler.
Mitic met lead guitarist Pat Ferguson at Tall Tree Music Festival in Port Renfrew. Little did the two of them know at the time, their meeting would lead to a friendship and musical partnership that would last over a decade.
“We started playing music together pretty much instantly,” Mitic told Victoria Buzz. “Then we had some friends join in and we formed a band.”
The band began as a fun and casual ‘jam-band’ project for quite a few years after they had started playing together, according to Mitic. They used the band as a way to be on stage and play at parties and festivals.
“We weren’t taking it too seriously at that point, we knew we were loving it and that was great but we had a lot of stuff kind of going on,” Mitic explained.
“Around 2017 was when we started to actually take it a bit more seriously as a potentially commercial endeavor and recorded our first professional album at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver.”
Carmanah worked with renowned producer, Gus Van Go who prior to working with them had produced Canadian legends such as the Arkells, Sam Roberts and Wintersleep.
Their first album, Speak in Rhythms earned them not one, but two #1 CBC hits. Their first single, Roots, and its follow-up, Nightmare, set the tone for what listeners could expect from the band and gave them some traction across Canada for touring.
In 2020, Carmanah once again hired Van Go to produce their sophomore record, Iris, which they recorded in Brooklyn, New York.
“We realized how much this was something we wanted to do as a career and as a passion and that we could invest our time and energy to it,” remarked Mitic.
The lineup of the band now is not the same as it was when they started playing together. Additions have been made and they had a difficult time retaining bassists and drummers in particular — a problem that isn’t uncommon in the Victoria music scene.
The lineup Carmanah has right now, has been together for five years and features Mitic, Ferguson, bassist Jamil Demers, drummer Graham Keehn and keyboardist/backup vocalist Lo Waight.
“We’ve been together for a couple years before the pandemic, a couple years during the pandemic and up until now,” Mitic said.
Mitic does the heavy lifting in Carmanah’s writing department, but says every member of the band adds to and elevates her work.
“There’s a lot of instrumental collaboration and then Pat, my first and foremost go-to when I want an opinion on something, then the rest of the bandmates really contribute in their own ways with their own kind of craft, giving to the sound,” Mitis explained.
“It’s definitely a collaborative creative process.”
What to expect from Carmanah’s last show
For those 772 fans who were lucky enough to snag tickets to Carmanah’s last hurrah, the May 20th show will feature a little bit of everything the band has done over the years.
Mitic is keeping the specifics of the show under wraps for now as she doesn’t want to give anything away.
“We are definitely looking forward to playing at the McPherson Playhouse, just because it’s such a beautiful venue and just making it a real treat for people to join us on this last performance of these Carmanah tunes,” Mitic told Victoria Buzz.
Mitic said they’d be reaching back to pull some fan-favourite songs from the past, doing several off Iris and Speak in Rhythms and they even have something new for those who will be in attendance.
The bill for the show is stacked with local folk legend Aiden Knight opening and Mitic will be pulling double duty as she and Carmanah’s keyboardist and backup vocalist Lo Waight have a new project making their Victoria debut, MIINA, who will be the finale show’s first opener.
MIINA had their first opportunity to take to the stage during Bedouin Soundclash’s last tour across Canada. The two musicians began writing songs for this new project over the last little while and are now ready to show Victoria what they’ve got.
“As we hinted on our instagram, we do have a few tricks up our sleeve, so I think I’m just really looking forward to creating a bit of an emotional journey for our audience and then riding it out, seeing how it goes and trying not to cry,” Mitic laughed.
Carmanah has been an important band to Victoria and it shows in many ways. The records sold and the sold out shows pale in comparison to the times spent with her bandmates and friends, Mitic told Victoria Buzz.
“We’re really feeling very lucky to have the support of Victoria for this last decade and it’s just a nice way to honour that, having this last show,” Mitic said.
“I’m really excited to share with those people what’s next for us too as a way of kind of including them in our next chapter.”
“It feels like the right thing to do is going out with a bang in our hometown.”