Calgary singer-songwriter Mark Hamilton admits he has an obsession with the notion of finding a home.
When the Straight reaches Mark Hamilton at home in Calgary, he’s fresh from having his mind blown. The singer and songwriter, who performs under the name Woodpigeon, has just finished taking a course in “indigenous ways of knowing” at the University of Calgary. “It’s pretty intense,” Hamilton says in a telephone interview. “It’s a class of 32, and I’d say roughly 16 people cried in class today. I recommend it to everyone.”
It seems a group project has left Hamilton with an acute awareness of his surroundings. “My group and I presented this idea that if you find yourself somewhere, it’s really important to make sure you create some sort of meaning as to why you’re there and get some sort of relationship going with the building or the land or the trees—everything that’s around,” he says. “Otherwise you’re just kind of living this empty shell of a tenancy.”
This line of thinking dovetails nicely with his work as a songwriter, in particular the new Woodpigeon album Die Stadt Muzikanten. Inspired in part by the experiences of his immigrant grandparents—the Scottish Hamiltons and the German-Austrian Hammerlings—the album takes its title from “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten”, a folktale from his maternal grandmother’s hometown of Bremen. Hamilton has altered the spelling of stadtmusikanten (German for “town musicians”) for a reason. “When people bring their culture to a different place, it changes,” he explains. “The place where you go changes you. You lose pieces of yourself. I guess I kind of wanted to talk about that because everywhere you go, you’ve left something behind. I mean, nobody’s ever going to get that out of a spelling except for me.”
Die Stadt Muzikanten, Woodpigeon’s third album, was released on January 12 by Vancouver-based indie label Boompa. That’s not the act’s only West Coast connection, though. When Hamilton kicks off his first cross-Canada tour with a show in Vancouver this weekend, he’ll be backed by local musicians including members of the Salteens and Love and Mathematics. The new record is a lush and layered affair, its melodious folk-pop numbers brimming with enough stirring strings and choral backing vocals to please fans of Sufjan Stevens. It closes, however, with the relatively spare “Our Love Is as Tall as the Calgary Tower”, a sad duet with Jamie Fooks (aka Jane Vain) that could be read as an ode to the thing that keeps Hamilton in Alberta’s largest city: love.
Calgary is where his family and friends are, but the songwriter notes that he could easily feel just as at home in Edinburgh, which is where Woodpigeon was born when Hamilton shifted his creative focus from filmmaking to music. “I’m maybe a little bit obsessed with the idea of finding the right place to be,” he admits, “because I guess there’s a lot of reasons that keep you in a certain place and make you convinced that that’s the right place for you.” Indeed, past Woodpigeon albums have included songs with titles such as “Home as a Romanticized Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always and Forever” and “I Live a Lot of Places”.
One of those places could soon be Montreal, if for no other reason than that’s where a lot of his cohorts are heading. La métropole has of late become something of a mecca for Calgary artists seeking greener pastures and more receptive audiences.
“I’ve thought about it,” Hamilton says of making the move east. “My good friends in Montreal keep inviting me. Not pressuring me, but almost to the point of saying, ”˜You should be here. Things are happening here.’ Part of me really believes that, and part of me really wants to go. I guess we’ll just see where life takes me when I’m done school in May.”
Woodpigeon plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (January 16).