Rollo & Grady Interview // Mark Hamilton Of Woodpigeon

Rollo & Grady Interview // Mark Hamilton Of Woodpigeon
Mark Hamilton (Image Courtesy of Frank Yang/Chromewaves)

Mark Hamilton is a renaissance man; a novelist, a music critic, and he fronts the hottest band in Canada. The Calgary based Woodpigeon is a super-group of eight members, scaled down from fourteen, that has received critical international praise for their latest album “Songbook”. They have opened for Andrew Bird, Broken Social Scene, Calexico and Iron & Wine. Hamilton creates what I would describe as “Summer of Love” breezy pop music, but when you look under the surface, the lyrics are sometimes dark. According to Hamilton “If you look at pop music, most of it is really kind of sad, most of it is about someone not loving you or desperately wanting something you can’t have.”

Woodpigeon recently signed with Boompa Records and have double CD coming out in February.

The band was originally named Woodpigeon Divided By Antelope Equals Squirrel? When did you decide to shorten it?

Mark: That was what it was called in Edinburgh and all we did in that city was play a couple of instrumentals, and I smashed some guitars in the street. Then I went back to Canada and it just kind of went from there. That’s a really boring re-telling of the story, I guess. [Laughs]

R&G: Yes, very boring. [Laughs] You have seven other members in the band.

Mark: Well, it started with just Kenna [Burima] and myself. I asked her to play with me, and then as that went on, we kept on asking more people to play with us. The first show I ever played was me by myself. The second one was with two people. The third was three people. At one point we had fourteen members because people would ask to play with us. We’ve narrowed it down to the same eight for the past two years.

R&G: So I assume you’re easy to work with?

Mark: Yeah. I’m a dream.

R&G: Your lyrics are deep and unique. Some are funny and some are complex. You’re also a novelist. Did you originally plan to write songs for a novel or did you first write a novel and then move to songwriting?

Mark: No, I had this stupid idea that I was going to be a Renaissance Man, so I decided I would write one song. The truth is that I went to film school and started out making films. None of them really turned out the way I wanted them to, so after fifteen films there was one I liked, and that was the point when I went to Scotland to live for a little bit. So I decided I was going to write one song, and people reacted to it really well when I played it for them. It prompted me to write more and now I haven’t stopped.

R&G: You’re a journalist and a music critic. Is that correct?

Mark: Yeah, yeah, I do some of that. I hate the word critic, though. I don’t know. I probably hate it because every music critic I meet is so high and mighty. I’m a listener who can string a sentence together.

R&G: You guys have been compared to Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire. Do you agree with the comparisons?

Mark: Yeah. I think they’re both amazing. I’m not really bothered by comparisons. You know, if it was five years ago every single thing you’d read about us would say that we were Belle & Sebastian, because there were a lot of us, and I sing like a girl. So everybody’s got reference points that are really easy.

R&G: Do you really think you sing like a girl?

Well, I sing like a gay gentleman, I guess. I have a high voice for a man of my disposition.

R&G: You recently played with Calexico and Iron & Wine. How did that come about?

Calexico called me at my home because we don’t have a booking agent in Canada. We were offered the Iron & Wine shows based on the work we did with Calexico.

Did you get to spend any time with Joey Burns [Calexico – Vocalist & Guitarist]?

Mark: Yeah, Joey Burns. The little bit of time we spent with him he felt totally like a mentor. And we just really had these great conversations with him and got our heads on straight in the process. I mean, he’s been doing this for a long time and knows all the crap that you have to go through. He, and all of Calexico actually, was so supportive and wonderful to us that we ended up onstage with them a few times. So, it was all eight of us and all seven of them doing Bob Dylan and Thelonious Monk and the Velvet Underground. It was incredible.

R&G: Did you get any quality time in with Sam Beam [Iron & Wine – Vocalist & Guitarist]

Mark: A little bit. I had a similarly eye-opening conversation with him.

R&G: When you say “eye-opening” can you elaborate?

Mark: When you get these really great opening slots for people, I think there’s always this kind of preconceived notion that you must be making lots of money. But in reality, when you’re opening for someone you’re making less money than you would headlining at a club. Merch certainly takes you over the top. Just talking to Sam about how when he was starting out he would do entire tours for free and just realizing very early that if something is meant to happen you can still make it happen on your own terms. He wanted to tour for like two weeks a year, and so quite early on he said, “I’m only going to tour for two weeks a year.” Just the realization that you can actually set your own terms and just do what you want to do.

R&G: You released “Songbook” in 2006 in Canada and you released it in 2008 in the United States and UK.

Mark: We released it in Japan in 2007, and then just the timing for it to come out in England in 2008 was just how it worked out, really, and we were over there for the tour. It was perfect timing because we have another record coming out in February and then another one coming out next September, so within a year we will have released three records. It’s a really strange feeling to have “Songbook” come out right now and to have people writing about it because I didn’t even remember a couple of songs that were on it. I hadn’t actually listened to it in about a year-and-a-half, so I just listened to it the other day. There’s a lot of stuff that we’ve kind of moved onto that I’m excited for people to hear.

R&G: Is “Treasury Library” one of the records?

Mark: Yeah, it’s coming out in February.

Can you tell me a little bit about signing with Boompa Records?

Mark: They’re an indie label from Vancouver that has been active in Canada for quite a while. They were pop-oriented for a bit, and it was one of those label stories where they were doing better and better all the time, and then they signed some big kind of deal with EMI and then EMI downsized so Boompa restructured. We are extremely excited to be working with them.

MP3: Woodpigeon – Home Is A Romanticized Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always
MP3: Woodpigeon – Knock Knock
MP3: Iron & Wine & Calexico – Dark Eyes