Northern Transmissions catches up with Mark Hamilton AKA ‘Woodpigeon’.
NT: You’ve played live and recorded with over seventy musicians. Do you find that playing with so many people drives your creativity?
MH: It certainly inspires me. I think if you’re not playing with friends and having adventures within the context of this crazy job, you’re not doing it right. I think at the moment, I’m up now to almost 100 folks I’ve worked with on these songs, and this January will add another 70 to the total at a special festival show with a great choir in Vancouver. This sort of thing is also exciting for me because everyone plays and hears differently. I’m fascinated by the way I can hum or sing something to someone and in finding out how that particular part works for them using their own voice or instrument, it often changes in a very interesting way.
NT: You are almost as well known for being a Ray Davies fan as you are for your music. Where does this admiration come from?
MH: It comes from Ray’s amazing albums as leader of The Kinks (well, up until about Misfits is where I start getting lost … Can’t really handle anything Low Budget or beyond). I love how he tells stories and build characters, but how it’s also very personal to him. Even when he’s singing as someone else you know it comes back to him (‘Sweet Lady Genevieve’ is one of the most bittersweet pop songs I know, and while it’s sung from the viewpoint of a character in the Preservation musical, it’s still clearly all about Ray and his troubled relationship at that point …)
NT: How much fun was it playing The Meltdown Festival?
MH: I remember it being kind of stressful, to be honest. But the best part was riding an elevator with Ray Davies and getting to talk with him for at least a few moments. I particularly loved when he introduced himself. “I know who you are,” was all I could think of in my head.
NT: Thumbtacks And Glue has quite a few different song styles on it, from choral arrangements to full blown rockers. Was this an experimental record for you?
MH: I think every record is an exercise in experimentation from start to finish. In a lot of ways it also feels like the end of a chapter in whatever it is “Woodpigeon” means. The song ‘Hermit’ in particular was an important exercise in getting together the original 8 folks who acted as “Woodpigeon” when things started happening. I guess in a way, given geography, marriages, job restrictions, and real life in general, that song is kind of a denoument on that whole era of Woodpigeon as a band vs. this collective gathering of musicians it’s since become.
NT: While living in Scotland, you spent some time as a street musician, what was the experience like?
MH: I’ve never been a street musician in my life … The original Woodpigeon/Antelope=Squirrel did one “performance” in the street where we played one song and then smashed my guitar in the gutter. Beyond that, I don’t have any experience of life as a street musician, I’m afraid. (Although I do always throw some coins in when I wander by a street musician who’s doing something amazing and unappreciated).
NT: Where did the idea to do a full tour of Canada by train come from? Sounds like a pretty good time.
MH: The idea actually came from the Buster Keaton NFB film The Railrodder. Just thought it would be a great thing to do. I wish it had gone a little better, to be honest, as due to a derailment on the line we actually had to fly from Winnipeg to Toronto and then drive the rest of the way. I’d still like to attempt it again, though…
NT: After curating Sled Island, and more recently The Reykjavik-Calgary Musicians Exchange Project, are there any plans to work on more festivals?
MH: I’m presently working with the PuSh Festival in Vancouver on curating an event in November featuring Vancouver-based artists performing works by other Vancouverite songwriters. I’ll be doing something by Destroyer and another which is a bit of a surprise at the moment… It’s been a sweet way to meet some artists from that part of the country and I’m looking forward to it.
NT: Which five albums are still inspiring you?
MH: At the moment I’m kind of obsessing over: The Crying Light by Antony & The Johnsons, Yeezus by Kanye West, Drums & Guns by Low, a lot of Beatles (great for driving across Canada), and that new Basia Bulat record is pretty sweet on the first couple of listens.