Songwriting is supposed to be a calling: a vocation whose lure is inescapable for the talented minority. That wasn’t the case with Mark Hamilton, the songwriter behind the Canadian act Woodpigeon. A self-styled Renaissance Man, songwriting started off as just another component of his artistic dilettantism. “I just wanted to write one song so I could call myself a songwriter and then go back to drawing pictures and writing books,” he confesses.
But Mark’s musical hobby became a full-blown habit. He now has enough songs to fill a whole album: the first one he ever wrote (‘Feedbags’) along with thirteen others are featured on ‘Songbook’, out in September. The album was recorded in a series of borrowed weekends over the course of a year in Cantos, a keyboard museum in Calgary, which is home to hallowed musical artefacts such as one of Elton John’s pianos.
The bespectacled pianist doesn’t appear to have been a major influence on the album. With its erudite lyrics, flecks of brass and wispy female backing vocals, the most obvious antecedent of the band’s sound is Belle And Sebastian – perhaps a hallmark of the two years Mark spent living in Scotland. Hamilton is reasonably happy with the comparison: “Well there’s eight of us and I sing kind of like a girl sometimes so it’s not totally out of the picture.”
But Hamilton claims it’s actually an older, English act that exerts the biggest influence over his songwriting: The Kinks. Woodpigeon certainly shares The Kinks’ penchant for very specific lyrical references to people and places – the generally uncelebrated London district of Stepney Green even gets a mention on one number.
Although the Canadian landscape hasn’t had a discernable interest in moulding Woodpigeon’s sound, its supportive musical network certainly has. The big-ish but isolated city of Calgary currently provides a base for Mark. Situated in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, Calgary is probably best known to the outside world (well, to this writer at least) as the host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics. But indie rock could soon displace winter sports as the city’s main claim to fame. Mark speaks excitedly about fellow Calgary acts such as the hotly-tipped (and wholly male) Women, the Sub Pop signee Chad VanGaalen and Deerhunter support act The Neighborhood Council.
Woodpigeon Is Taking Off..
“The Calgary scene is really supportive and wonderful and that’s why we’ve stayed here,” Mark enthuses. “It’s really amazing to watch a scene start from the beginning and become something. You hear all these amazing records and every time you bump into your friends on the street they’ve signed a different record deal… it’s just all really exciting.”
Although Woodpigeon is taking off (if you’ll excuse the sole avian pun), Mark hasn’t completely abandoned his non-musical interests. An upcoming UK tour - which includes headlining dates as well as some cushy support slots with Calexico - should give him ample time to finish off his novel.