WOODPIGEON at the Drake (1150 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, June 7), 11 pm. $5, free w/ $28 NXNE wristband. 416-531-5042. Rating: NNNNN
"Cute" is not a word Mark Hamilton takes lightly.
Yeah, yeah, it's easy to get that initial impression from his Woodpigeon collective's winning Songbook album, released on Calgary's Rectangle label last fall. The delightful disc is packed with full, airy orchestral arrangements, wittily wordy song titles (The Alison Yip School For Girls, If Only I Were A Painter I'd Paint For You The Moon) and artwork that seems ripped from a 1940s picture book.
But listen more closely to Hamilton's vulnerable lyrics and you'll realize "cute" doesn't quite cover the sound of a man who's had his heart rudely ripped out and pummelled.
"I know the word is usually used in a positive way," insists the wry Hamilton from his Calgary home, "but a lot of this isn't exactly easy to sing, cuz it's not happy stuff and it's hard when I'm pouring my heart out and someone calls it cute or even worse charming."
Got it? As a way of avoiding the cute factor, Hamilton's newer material gently nudges his band toward full-scale rocking out. While unreleased songs like Anna, Girl In The Clocktower still hinge on delicate frameworks of harpsichord and weeping violins, they're shot through with ragged swaths of distortion and feedback and urgent guitar riffs reminiscent of Weezer in their prime.
Could be that Hamilton who founded the band as an instrumental project and only started singing after a boy broke his heart in Edinburgh is entering a new stage of greater self-confidence.
"Amos Garrett told me to get therapy," laughs the singer/songwriter, who initially couldn't even sing in front of his own band.
"I was part of this songwriters series with him, Lullabye Baxter and Steve Pineo, and all of us were supposed to talk about our writing process. I don't have one! Lullabye talked about how she asked Atlantic to let her work with Tom Waits's band, and Amos about writing with Emmylou Harris and playing on Stevie Wonder's good albums, and I basically confessed that I didn't know how to write songs.
"Afterwards, I mentioned my nerves to Amos, and he snorted and told me I should get myself into therapy or risk ending up freezing for good like Robbie Robertson."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Mark discusses the early stage fright around singing in front of people and how he got into writing songs by accident
How using his friends' names in the titles of songs was a form of self-protection for Mark and why he's given it up now.
Music from Woodpigeon
Home as a romanticized concept where everyone loves you always and forever