It was a random acoustic performance at a birthday party in Calgary that changed everything for singer-songwriter Wil.
“I just fell ass backwards into it,” said the musician, whose full name is Wil Mimnaugh.
The next thing he knew, he was performing regularly at bars and pubs throughout the city.
“I played bars in Calgary five nights a week and I was doing covers for 10 years,” Wil explained.“I went from bar to bar four to five nights a week all throughout Calgary. I cut my teeth on that whole scene.”
Now a veteran in the music industry, the Vancouver Island-based singer will be opening for Burton Cummings at the Port Theatre on Friday (Sept. 26).
“It’s really cool because my dad was a massive Guess Who fan, which is like, whose dad wasn’t?” Wil said. “It means a lot because of my father and his musical influence.”
Next week Wil, who has toured with the likes of Colin James, The Tea Party and Matthew Good, will be releasing his fifth studio album, El Paseo, to Cordova Bay Records.
“I actually believe it could probably be my best work,” he said about the new record. “I don’t look at it like an item on a merch table that I can make a bit of money from. It’s a record I can be stoked about.”
Wil took a different approach to creating El Paseo than he had with his previous records.
“This one was made one song at a time … we didn’t sit down and track all the drums for all the songs. We took it one song at a time. It was very different.”
Although Wil’s musical career began suddenly, he long held an interest in music.
“I was brought up in music,” he said. “My dad was a weekend warrior, played guitar and sang and he was super passionate about music even though that is not what he did [full time].”
A decade ago, Wil found himself performing at Canadian Music Week in Toronto when he was noticed and eventually signed by EMI.
“Everything lined up,” Wil recalled. “Nobody was in the room except for the right two people you could ever want.”
“The front-of-house tech in any performance, especially when you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and you’ve got basically no line check and you go up and plug in and just give her, can make or break your shit just as much as you can,” Wil said. “He can just hate you and keep you low volume, or he can care about what you are doing and really put some effort into it. Even if it is only three songs.”
Shortly after being signed to EMI, the label re-released Both Hands, an album which Wil had originally released on his own. The record would go on to sell over 6,000 copies.
For many musicians, being signed to a major label is the point in which they’ve made it, but for Wil, making it means something different.
“Making a record is a massive accomplishment,” he said. “I think that is what making it means.”
In 2007, shortly after releasing By December, Wil was dropped by EMI after the label began downsizing.
“It’s a business where everyone will tell you what they think of you even though you didn’t ask,” Wil explained. “That’s what you sign up for. I think at the time I didn’t have any expectations.”
After a few years of being independent, Wil found success with his 2011 single, Roam, which ended up being featured in a tourism campaign.
“All you gotta do is look at one of those videos from Travel Alberta and who wouldn’t want their song against that?” he said. “It’s not just some guy with a handheld camera showing you pictures of Pincher Creek and a waterfall.”
Now with Cordova Bay Records, Wil has advice for young artists.
“Do what makes you passionate no matter if it pays or doesn’t pay,” Wil said. “Make decisions not based on money, but on how you feel and what makes you happy.”
Wil plays the Port Theatre on Friday.