Band Booking: Talking Rites of Passage and Winds of Change with Woodpigeon

Woodpigeon is a sprawling, continent-hopping musical project led by Mark Andrew Hamilton, a multi-instrumentalist from Calgary, Alberta who has lived in Vienna, Austria and Edinburgh, Scotland and assembled a huge array of musical partners in his travels. Ranging from orchestral pop to more folky detours, Woodpigeon has released three previous studio albums and has developed a significant following in North America and Europe. I caught up with Mark Hamilton over the phone where we spoke about his band, his songs, and how the online world intersects with his work.

So let me know a little bit about what Woodpigeon is up to right now.

Yesterday, we just finished a project with some artists from Iceland. Something we’d worked on for three years.

So you were in Reykjavik? How was that?

Reykjavik’s great. I think it was my fourth time there. But my first time to collaborate in this way.

When did Woodpigeon start?

There are over seventy members of this band. It changes quite a lot.  There are people in Scotland and people in Canada. It’s a big group of friends.

So you’re doing a new album . . .

Yeah. It was made in Calgary. It was really great, I had this little house and we converted it into a studio. And in a way, I knew I was leaving this city, so we did one big farewell to Calgary record.

Tell me about the song “Edinburgh“.

I was living in Edinburgh for some time. And in the center of the city there’s a hill called Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh’s built around seven hills, and that’s the most extraordinary one. And if you’re growing up in Edinburgh, to become a man you have to walk up Arthur’s Seat. And when I tried this (I think I was about thirty), I went up there and I managed to stress fracture my foot. Which I took as a bad sign.

I guess that’s a statement on your status as a man.

Yeah, on my manliness. So the song came from that idea. The idea of going up on some peak to make a point to someone or something. And I wanted to add a bit of the fantastic, like what if you climbed to the top of something and just jumped right off? And the musicians are a group from Edinburgh that I work with. One group’s called eagleowl and one’s called Withered Hand. And the video artists that I was working with turned it into a seance, so that was fun.

I’m curious how you’ve used the Internet to give your music exposure and how it impacts your business. 

Because most of what I do is in Europe, I think my perspective is a little different than a band in Brooklyn. I know that recently everybody, where I do business, is pretty obsessed with the idea that HMV is going out of business and that Fnac is going to be next, and that high street shops are disappearing.

For me, I think it’s a good thing. I think it levels the playing field again. The thing with those high street shops that I find funny, is that when you go in, say it’s HMV in Edinburgh or Fnac in Madrid, the focus on music is smaller and smaller. HMV is just a video game and mobile phone depot.

And for me it’s not a huge thing because I don’t think I’ve sold loads of records at HMV anyway. And again I think it levels the playing field. Because there’s always going to be this mentality among music fans that they want something physical. And so what it means for us is that we have to make the physical object more interesting again.

I don’t know whether people buy lots of records in New York or not, but I can say that for example, I played a show in a small city in Austria called Graz. There were two hundred people there. I sold sixty albums. So if Goliath is falling I don’t think it means David’s in trouble. I know that the labels are scared.

That’s why we’ve put together an online shop for Woodpigeon. I’m even surprised by how much comes through there. I have to mail stuff off every week. So we’re trying a few things like, we just released a 7′, and we have a limited edition vinyl coming out, and we try to do something unique, make it into a special object, something people want. And when you have a presence on the internet, it’s always surprising and amazing how people find you. Getting messages from people in Turkey or Korea, wanting you to play there when you’re just making bedroom recordings.

Woodpigeon’s new album Thumbtacks and Glue comes out on February 26th on Panda/Boompa.

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