Telling a songwriter you don’t really know what he’s on about is perhaps not the most politic way of beginning an interview, and as a part-time music journalist himself, Woodpigeon’s Mark Hamilton agrees.
“It’s like, ”˜Hi! I don’t get you!’ ” he says, on the line from his Calgary home. But he’s laughing, and he quickly admits that a certain amount of obfuscation is part of his game plan on the Alberta-based band’s latest release, Treasury Library Canada c/w Houndstooth Europa. Yes, he does keep a daily journal, and his songs are mostly autobiographical. But his diary entries are for his eyes only; when he turns them into song, he’ll usually switch some things around.
“I kind of take a few steps back,” he explains. “I mean, I can think of the exact location I’m writing about, and the identity of the precise person in whatever house. But I’m really fond of the idea that maybe even the people that it’s about wouldn’t totally figure it out—unless I put their names in the title.”
That’s a strategy he employs several times on the Treasury Library Canada portion of the Woodpigeon double disc. Originally a limited-edition release meant to be sold from the stage, it features songs called “A Moment’s Peace for Mary Christa O’Keefe”, “Anna, Girl in the Clocktower”, and “Emma et Hampus”, all named for real-life acquaintances and all based on real-life occurrences—slightly modified, of course.
”˜With the song called ”˜Emma et Hampus’, for example, we were just friends that lived together in Paris in a tiny flat,” Hamilton notes. “The song makes it sound like some sort of ménage í trois, but you know, that never happened. And it’s not something I would want to happen, either, but the song sort of embellished itself in that direction.”
In contrast, the songs on Houndstooth Europa are more travelogue than fiction, and they were written, quite literally, on the road.
“Houndstooth was all based on a trip that I took with some friends and a ukulele,” the Woodpigeon singer reveals. “Actually, as we walked around Paris and Berlin and all those places, I had the ukulele with me, and I was playing constantly, all the time. So if the title of the song is ”˜Oberkampf’, then it’s because I was in Oberkampf in a hotel room, on a balcony, writing that song.”
Although the two discs vary wildly in sound—Treasury is lushly orchestrated dream-pop, while Houndstooth is essentially an acoustic home recording—a sense of immediacy is one aesthetic constant.
“When I read about Leonard Cohen spending two weeks on one line, I can’t imagine that,” Hamilton says. “I’d rather write 14 songs in two weeks, and hopefully one of them will be good.”
The 24 tunes collected on Treasury Library Canada c/w Houndstooth Europa suggest that his success rate is a little higher than that—even if it isn’t always easy to figure them out.
Woodpigeon plays Little Mountain Studios on Friday (February 6) and a Club PuSh showcase at Performance Works on Saturday (February 7).