“Sometimes I dream songs. I wake up and they’re written.”
Over the phone from his home in Calgary, Mark Andrew Hamilton is contemplating his creative process.
“It’s really a mystery to me too. It’s not like there isn’t toil. Sometimes writing songs is really easy, but sometimes I’m bashing my head against a wall. This album has both.”
Woodpigeon, the brainchild of Hamilton, recently announced the release of its third full-length album, Die Stadt Muzikanten (The City Musicians), the follow-up to the internationally acclaimed Treasury Library Canada. A band of eight permanent players, Woodpigeon is an indie folk outfit of melancholy and grandeur, not unlike The Acorn or Sufjan Stevens.
Hamilton wrote the 15 tracks on Die Stadt Muzikanten during a stay in Berlin. After touring there, he picked up some work and stayed. Immersed in the romance of Europe, Hamilton says, “the songs just came.”
Rich and cinematic, the tracks on Die Stadt Muzikanten flow like a film soundtrack. Lush, grand moments complement Hamilton’s signature “pretty-pretty-pop” style. It is the sound of enthusiastic and talented street musicians on a cobbled city corner.
“I like that comparison actually,” says Hamilton. “It makes me think of the way we fell together. How I’d play a show and at the end someone would say, “I could play flute.” They’d join the band and I’d learn only later they’d played professionally for 12 years in an orchestra.
“That’s one of the reasons this album is so special. It’s the sound of five years of us, fallen together. We’re a band of musicians with a dancing monkey. And I guess,” laughs Hamilton, “I’m the dancing monkey.”
Die Stadt Muzikanten is special for other reasons too. It is the first “concept album” that Hamilton has written. It is inspired by the story of his grandparents, who lived in Austria and moved to Canada when Hamilton’s mother was only seven.
“You are the people that came before you. So while this is a story about my grandparents, much of it is imagined too. I only knew them as a five-year-old. I had to fill in all the spaces with myself. Everything I know comes through them. I can say this record is directly inspired by my grandparents but completely autobiographical at the same time. I’m in all of those songs.”
Inspired by his grandparents it may be, but Die Stadt Muzikanten is neither vintage nor squeaky clean. Redbeard for instance, is a heartfelt ballad about gay pirates.
“I like men with beards. And Redbeard is about me swimming after a ship and wanting to kill a pirate for doing something terrible to my family. But I find him really beautiful instead. And the romance is in staying with him until his red beard turns grey.”
Hamilton’s heritage and ancestry has become connected to his creativity and songwriting. It’s a journey that he’s still on.
“The first time I ever felt like a complete person was when I moved to Scotland as a young adult. There I got to live as an openly gay person. And I started to feel and understand why people feel so tied to where they live and why they go to such great lengths to defend pieces of land.”
“That is why this album is still so very much about me. I think discovering your roots is one of the most important things we have to do. In this country it’s not terribly important to people. There’s a huge disconnect with people that immigrated here, as if our history begins when we landed in Canada. But what are we without our heritage? For me, it gives me a sense of belonging. And it gives this music a sense of history.”