Mark Hamilton is a humble musician with a fondness for argyle sweaters and polyester ties.
As a burgeoning artistic force in the city of Calgary, Hamilton is the shaggy-chic front man of Woodpigeon, a band that is breaking out internationally after having firmly established a local fan base.
The ensemble is off to Austin, Texas this month to play four gigs at the renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival. They will then make their way to the End of the Road Festival in Dorset, England. Woodpigeon’s latest British engagement will coincide with the UK release of their 2007 debut album, Songbook.
Hamilton feels bemused by his increased profile.
“We are trying to make something beautiful: you make music for people to listen to, so I like the attention of getting people to listen to it,” he remarks. “I also like playing to people but don’t like getting stopped on the street because of it.”
As a queer singer/songwriter, he says he feels somewhat isolated in Calgary.
“I don’t know others like me in Calgary,” he says. “But I don’t think that anyone who comes to see Woodpigeon thinks that they are coming to a gay band — or a straight band for that matter — but I don’t hide it and [being gay] is explicit in my lyrics.”
“It’s funny, every label that I have worked with now has asked if I want my orientation known or not. I don’t want to hide it, but I wouldn’t want a press release coming out,” he pauses and adds wryly, “but whatever gets me dates.”
Hamilton notes that there are many queer musicians whom he admires. He has been invited to program a selection of queer acts for Sled Island, a local independent music festival held at the end of June.
“Initially Sled Island wanted to have a queer stage, but that never felt right to me and now we are doing a queer focus instead, having the acts spread throughout the festival. The quality of the acts is the most important thing for me though.”
Hamilton is also part of another quality act, the band Spreepark. He started the group with Edmontonian Marshall Watson: a 6’5” hockey player who makes art and plays indie music.
“Mutual friends thought we would want to date each other but when we met and realized that we were not falling in love and moving to Paris, we formed a band with our friends Eric Cheng and Annalea Sordi — the Asians in our Gaysian Invasion [Spreepark’s latest record title].”
John Rutherford, Director of Music Programming at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts, speaks highly of Hamilton.
“Mark has an interesting way of approaching songwriting,” Rutherford says. “He is not trying to play by the rules, rather he is playing far more by instinct, by feel and by what he likes, and I think his music ends up being very fresh, very original and very unique. It definitely has captured the ears of both industry and audiences and there is something very intriguing about his music to a lot of people.”
Illustrating this, the CBC has approached Woodpigeon to take part in a 13-part television series on Canadian bands that are up-and-coming.
As the increasing publicity surrounding the band takes Hamilton outside of his city of birth, he says he has mixed feelings about the place.
“I have a love/hate relationship with Calgary,” he says. “I don’t think I could do this anywhere else, and I love how the city is changing artistically, but hate how it is changing economically. It does not feel like my city anymore. I have this idea that the good art coming out of Calgary is the result of artists trying to reclaim space; it does not seem to belong to us anymore.”