Globetrotting songwriter Mark Andrew Hamilton has been operating under the coverall name Woodpigeon for the last eight years – whether he’s working with eagleowl and Withered Hand in Scotland or with his closest musician friends in Canada that evocative moniker and Hamilton’s luscious, honey-brown songwriting and tender tunefulness have been constants. A clutch of LPs, nearly a dozen EPs and too many collaborations and curios to mention have established Woodpigeon as a force to be reckoned with – albeit a gentle, sometimes somber one.
With the release of the delectable new album ‘Thumbtacks + Glue’ imminent and a rare London show at St Pancras Church coming up on March 4th Mr Hamilton was goodly enough to take the time to respond to our rather ponderous, ruminative questions with intelligence, insight and aplomb. Plus of course anyone who cites ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ as an influence is a winner in our book…
You are quite the man of the world, Mark. Calgary, Edinburgh, Vienna - which of these is home? What does each have to offer you personally and as an artist?
I think that it’s always a difficulty to figure out where home is at any given time. For now, I am making Vienna my home. Calgary offers me family and pals, Edinburgh offers me inspiration and good friends. And Vienna has given me an amazing support group and some of the most generous friends I’ve ever known.
Our first experience of Woodpigeon was seeing you multiple times over one End Of The Road festival weekend in 2010 you were covering Withered Hand’s ‘No Cigarettes’ at that time too any strong memories of that time period? Do you enjoy the festival experience?
I have such fond memories of that period given the people I was playing with. The Edinburgh contingent is always strong. (Although, I also wish we had Withered Hand there to play along with us). I enjoy certain festival experiences, and End of the Road is definitely the best one I can imagine. There’s nothing much like watching some great bands in a heavenly setting, and ending the night with a forest dance-party.
You’ve spoken of your appreciation of Ray Davies in the past; Is he someone you’d like to emulate in terms of continuing to produce music into your twilight years? Is there a highpoint of The Kinks¹s career for you - a particular point of inspiration?
To be honest, I think that forecasting something like that so far into the future is a difficult thing to do. I plan to keep writing songs and playing the part of Woodpigeon until I personally feel the well has gone dry. But I do quite admire Ray Davies for his unbreakable spirit. It’s nice to see Bowie coming back also. As for a highlight of the Kinks’ career, I’m particularly in love with albums like ‘Arthur’ and ‘Lola’ and that period. I think their run from the start all the way through to the mid-to-late ’70s is incredible. I even find some of the songs on some of the lesser celebrated records like ‘Preservation Act 1’ and even ‘Schoolboys in Disgrace’ to be totally amazing.
Who do you see as your musical contemporaries?
I suppose I’m particularly enthralled by what my musical pals in Edinburgh are doing. Withered Hand, Eagleowl, Rob St. John. What an amazing bunch of people. Otherwise, if I’m honest, I’m not so good at keeping up with current music these days. I think I spend more time looking back than sideways.
Your career has been dense and sometimes disparate it seems - many releases delivered in a variety of ways in different places and with many and various collaborators. Would you say you were a restless person? Do you purposely aim to mix things up in order to keep things interesting?
I would say that I have been quite a restless person. At this point in my life, there are moments where I really just want to sit by a river with a book. But I also love the rush of collaborating and recording, of hearing a multi-tracked vocal or a melody line that just picks you up and lifts you out of whatever it is you’re feeling at that moment. I think my desire is really to just work with a great group of people and see what happens.
Tell us a bit about the process behind making your new album? Who did you work with? What lays behind the songs in terms of
inspiration? Do you have a particular set process when it comes to writing and recording?
For ‘Thumbtacks + Glue’ I worked again with who I like to call “the original 8”, who are the Calgary-based musicians with whom I started Woodpigeon. Since our time as a set line-up, things have changed – I’m away from Calgary more than in it, and so the folks who’ve played these songs to the world have numbered over 70 by this point. As for what I was thinking about with ‘Thumbtacks + Glue’, I came to be quite interested in the idea of how a thousand little things can hold you down just as much, if not more, than one
or two major experiences or tragedies. I guess I was thinking a lot about Gulliver’s Travels as a bit of an image for life. All of these little folks with strings making a person immobile.
‘Hermit’ is a really uplifting song it¹s quite anthemic too. How did you manage to exercise musical restraint on that track? It could have been so easy to slip into bombast!
Something that became important while making ‘Thumbtacks’ was the idea of focusing on certain parts and letting them breathe and do something. In the past I’ve definitely gone for bombast, and there’s still an element of it on ‘Hermit’, but I think during the process of putting the record together it was a conscious decision to just think of things needing to make sense and fit together well. I mean, it’s the first album with a track-listing of just 10 songs, which is new for me.
A few of your Edinburgh friends appear in the video for ‘Edinburgh’ – it’s both strange and quite beautiful – tell us a little bit about the experience of making that film?
I put my trust into the hands of my friend director Ben Soper and gave him free reign. We spent the day in a beautiful, darkened space in Edinburgh and filmed the hours away. There was intended to be a part of me actually riding the horse, but in getting on the stallion’s back, I managed to stay on for roughly 7 seconds before falling off into the mud and landing hard on my elbow. That put an end to that rather quickly.
Where ‘Die Stadt Muzikanten’ was maybe a little more rocking this new record seems to be perhaps more personal, a little more delicate maybe. How do you feel about it in relation to your other work? Do you feel comfortable being seen as a “confessional” artist?
I feel that in every piece of music something is being confessed. Look at someone like Beyonce – even she is confessing something every time she sings. I am most proud of ‘Thumbtacks’ than I have been of any of the Woodpigeon albums. I think that maybe the sense of delicacy you’re finding in it comes with the amount of care that was put into making all of the unwieldy pieces fall together – bits of feedback and string scraping are just as important as the actual notes.
When you were based in Canada am I right in thinking you could take advantage of government funding for artists and musicians? That sounds like a rare and wonderful thing!
I am forever a Canadian, and always will be. Arts funding here is such a vital thing, and I am pleased that my country is so supportive.
When you are writing something like ‘Sufferin’ Suckatash’ do you ever consider how people might respond to it emotionally? Is there an intent to affect people in a specific or prescriptive way with sad songs or is that just how they come out?
Typically I just let the songs come as they want. As for ‘Sufferin’ Suckatash’, to me it ends up in a happy way. It’s about working through a very dark chapter of one’s life yet finding this surprise under their own feet. Or perhaps there’s an element in there of rebuilding something, of hoping it’s OK to follow someone somewhere to see what happens.
Please tell us about your plans for Woodpigeon in the near future and also where you think Woodpigeon will be in five, even ten years time?
To be honest, I want to be as careful with Woodpigeon as I was with ‘Thumbtacks’. So I think there will be a period of very choosy touring throughout this year, and then eventually a return to making some more songs. I’m quite focused on letting it breathe, letting things speak for themselves. In the past I’ve always rushed right back into the recording studio, uniformly right around release time. Right now, this time, I want to see what new inspirations and new sounds will make themselves known before jumping back at it. As for five, ten years from now, to be honest this is something that I really don’t know. In 5 years I’ll be 40, and in 10 I’ll be 45. If what I’m doing at that time is worthy of the name Woodpigeon, we’ll have to wait and see.
Lastly who plays you in the biopic and who directs?
Oh wow. I can’t imagine anything I’d like to see LESS than a film about my life! Nobody needs to see that. The songs speak for me enough as it is!
‘Woodpigeon release Thumbtacks & Glue’ 25th Feb via Fierce Panda.
Woodpigeon – UK dates 2013
27 Feb – Glasgow at Oran Mor w/ Mark Eitzel https://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/FKH2702
1 Mar – Hebden Bridge at The Trades Club w/ Mark Eitzel http://www.wegottickets.com/event/190652
2 Mar – Manchester at Night & Day w/ Mark Eitzel https://www.wegottickets.com/event/190960
3 Mar – Bristol at The Fleece w/ Mark Eitzel http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/15751
4 Mar – St Pancras Old Church, London with support from Collectress **Sold Out**
5 Mar – Rough Trade West, London (6pm) http://www.roughtrade.com/site/instore.lasso
6 Mar – St.Stephen’s Church, Bournemouth tickets
7 Mar – The Hope, Brighton tickets