In the Calgary music community, you can't throw a rock at a concert without hitting someone who knows someone in the band Woodpigeon. The eight-member group, lead by local music journalist and general man-in-the-know Mark Hamilton, has begun to break out of Calgary and gain some international notoriety.
With a new album on the horizon and only moths flying out of their pockets after the recording process, the group takes to the stage at Emmedia Fri., Apr. 18 to play a show to help pay off the record with local luminaries like the Consonant C and Honey Bear. Woodpigeon has been a boon to many local acts, playing shows with lesser-known bands, helping to increase their exposure.
"I like to be a really active listener, so I try to go to as many local shows as I can," says Hamilton. "We were really lucky when we started out because we had a lot of support [from] the people we admire. If there's something that I like in town, I try to get to play with them."
Hamilton, a writer for FFWD and Swerve Magazine, is one of the most well known members of the ostensible Calgary music "scene." Having played a ton of shows, and seeing even more, Hamilton reminisces about some of his favourite shows that he has played with his musical compatriots.
"One of my favourite shows that I ever did was when we played with Azeda Booth and the Consonant C at Broken City," says Hamilton. "Exclaim! Magazine was there to review the concert and it was the first time in a long time that people were lining down the street to see a group of Calgary bands."
Hamilton was the go-to blogger for the CBC's Junos coverage. His reporting was marked by a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour toward the pomp and circumstance of the award show, laughing about how he remembered his first show being with the lovely Leslie Feist at the Carpenter's Hall in Kensington when she played with her punk band Placebo. As a musician, he got to see some of the more inane organizational aspects of the big-music industry that the group has yet to worry about.
"The CBC has been really good to us, so when they come knocking you don't really say no," laughs Hamilton. "I'm not really an award show kind of guy, but it was really interesting. You sometimes get glimpses of what the machine is like and whether or not you want to jump into that machine. You look at someone like Triumph and you see that they have all these handlers around them. We saw that a little bit playing with Broken Social Scene, but I saw a lot of it at the Junos for sure. It just affirms the way you want to do things."
Like the CBC, when bands like Broken Social Scene come knocking, a band like Woodpigeon doesn't really say no to playing a couple of shows with them. Not only did they play in MacEwan Hall but another date with the band in Edmonton.
"Kevin Drew just asked us," admits Hamilton. "Somehow he found us and wanted us to play with them. It was a pretty great experience. It's pretty interesting to be on [the MacEwan Hall] stage--you always think about the other people who have played on that stage like the Pixies. It's nice. It's a very 'mom' word for it, but it's nice."
The band isn't wanting when it comes to touring opportunities, but the logistics themselves cause the group to be very discriminating. With eight people, who all need to work to pay their bills; and a whole lot of equipment, it's not always the easiest thing to do an international tour. Unless you find yourselves in England.
"We've been really selective in terms of touring," explains Hamilton. "Our only American show was SXSW. When we tour in England, it's really easy--you can do it in 10 days. It's only a 45-minute drive to each place. The thing for our band is, because everyone works, our priority is choosing the best adventure for everyone."
Hamilton himself leaves in late Apr. to play a few shows on his lonesome for the U.K. release of their newest single That Was Good But You Can Do Better with the entire group coming in Aug. Needless to say, Hamilton seems very excited for his band's next big adventure come the summer.
"The festival we get to play when we get there in Aug. is really beautiful--the location is only 10 minutes away from Stonehenge," says Hamilton. "There's nothing like playing a really big stage full of people, then driving 10 minutes and seeing Stonehenge and the beautiful English countryside. Not many people get to do that."
While it's easy to tour in the United Kingdom, Hamilton admits to having difficulties while touring in Canada. While it may seem unpatriotic, he echoes a common sentiment that many Canadian bands feel: frustration at the long distance between shows that often put bands in debt after all of their expenses have been accounted for.
"No disrespect to Canada, but if it's a 15-hour drive between cities to play Canada, it's so much easier to have an enjoyable time in England where everything is so close," sighs Hamilton. "What do you pick between Paris and Winnipeg? It's pretty obvious where you'd pick to play a show."
The frustration about playing live in Canada is further compounded by the warm reception that the band receives in England. Not only do the crowds seem to be into it, but organizationally, it's far easier for the group to play shows that attract an audience.
"Canada's music industry is a strange thing," says Hamilton. "It seems like we have a much easier time in England. Over there, we have a booking agent, one of the top booking agents in all of England, who also books for Beirut, Yo La Tengo and Calexico. The shows and venues that we get to play there are in these really beautiful halls with bands that we really like."
If you find yourself disgusted with the beer gardens and general debauchery of BSD, go to Emmedia at 8 p.m. for a night of roots-pop that'll be the perfect end to a stressful school year. Tickets are $7 at the door.
Woodpigeon plays Emmedia Fri., Apr. 18 at 8 p.m.