Mark Hamilton discusses music, lyrics and life

Canadian born musician Mark Hamilton is the brain-child behind Woodpigeon.

Canadian born musician Mark Hamilton is the brain-child behind Woodpigeon. Sounding similar to Sufjan Stevens or Arcade Fire, Hamilton sings soaring harmonies. His melodies and guitar arrangements are a mix of folk and layered song arrangements. Hamilton creates truly raw songs, often about life and death, love and heart-ache. 

“I think that what I’ve been doing from the start is simply fumbling along, trying to follow a muse which appeared to me as a surprise,” Hamilton said.

Indeed, Hamilton’s journey into musicianship seems to have a connecting thread—accidental. First a script and book writer, Hamilton decided to try song-writing in efforts to become a self-proclaimed “full renaissance man.” He wrote Feedbags, his first song, and really never looked back. 

His first instrument was an accident as well. “My first guitar I received as a gift, stolen from one hostel and brought to me at another,” says Hamilton. “And now, somehow it pays for my life and keeps me going. I’m always pretty wide-eyed and amazed about that.” 

And after being gifted the guitar and making the jump from books to songs, Hamilton decided it was time to form a band. Woodpigeon came to life in 2005, and now years later, Hamilton still describes it as a constantly shifting project. While he’s most often a solo-performer, his initial Calgary line-up consisted of 8, and many of his recordings have included these members. But when it comes to touring, Hamilton hits the road on his own, often using technology to achieve a multidimensional sound and sometimes inviting friends to come along. 

The band name in itself is almost as interesting as how it was chosen. When Hamilton was just starting out as a musician, he also worked in graphics at a design firm. And looking back he sees how this job and part of his life has come to inspire several songs. While working with typefaces and graphics, Hamilton became very invested in the visualisation of written words. “Woodpigeon was the most beautiful word I’d ever seen,” Hamilton says.

The past 2 years have been quite busy for Hamilton. In addition to the recent album, he also released full-length Balladeer in 2010, produced a tour-only album called Diamonds and toured North America as support act to Patrick Wolf. After two years of many EP’s, singles, tours with Andrew Bird and Junip and headline shows, Hamilton unveiled his latest project.

Released in February of this year, Calvary-recorded Thumbtacks + Glue is his fifth full-length album. Critics say this is Hamilton’s best work to date and his “stunning, heart-wrenching orchestral pop is the sound of a songwriter just hitting his stride.”

But the gifted song-writer admits the writing process is sometimes difficult, and never twice the same. “Occasionally, there will be a song which simply comes and is entirely set the first time I sit down and play it through,” Hamilton said. “On the other hand, there are also songs I’ve worked on for ages to get just right. Some are more work than others.”

Drawing inspiration from artists that can make things resonate and shimmer after the note’s been hit, including Veda Hille, Angela Olson, and Sandro Perri, Hamilton doesn’t look for inspiration with tunnel-vision. In fact, he seems to feel that inspiration is really all around us, always.

“This question [of his inspirations] for me is always a difficult one, because I believe it’s easy to be inspired by anyone and anything at any time,” Hamilton said. A prime example is his track ‘Death By Ninja’ which was written into a mini-disc recorder late one night. “I had no idea of chord structure or lyrics but just sang whatever came to mind thinking of a particular experience which was still quite close to me,” Hamilton said. In fact, all of Hamilton’s songs have a very distinctly personal element attached. 

And yet, at the centre of Hamilton’s music is the driving force that made him want to write that very first song, and a second and a third. “I’m still in love with harmony and melody, and the way things can play together,” Hamilton said. “I still love the feeling of standing on a stage in front of a listening audience,” which he did in March, as he headlined at London’s St. Pancras Church.

The beautiful church backdrop was the perfect accompaniment to Hamilton’s melodic sounds. His calming voice and guitar melodies rang through the church with conviction. Hamilton stood alone on the stage but crafted a multi-faceted sound, like that of a quartet, all by himself.  His live shows are definitely intimate, as he explains pieces of songs and meanings behind his lyrics all throughout. 

Yes, Hamilton is a story-teller, crafting lyrics that read like prose. The Woodpigeon front-man tends to tell a story even through his lengthy song-titles likeHome as a Romanticized Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always and Forever andIn the Battle of Suns Vs. Curtains Sun Wins. To him, titles are just another opportunity for creativity. “When you’ve written a piece of music and bestow a title upon it, for me, it’s always just been something which happens and seems to fit”. 

What’s next for Mark? Definitely another album, he says. “I’m thinking of the inspirations behind the next album, many of which are pulled from a 1917-published omnibus of collected stories for Canadian boys and then reflected through my own life and ideas.”

It seems that Hamilton never stops, as he’s always creating. “I guess I still have a few things to say and sing, and if that maybe sounds like a bit of a limp answer, in truth, it’s a really strong feeling for me,” Hamilton said. 

Perhaps Hamilton’s journey to musicianship, as the “accidental musician,” wasn’t much of an accident after all.

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