16th Annual Artist Survey: Frontperson

Mark Andrew Hamilton on #MeToo, The Muppets, Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence, Stan Lee, and Scott Hutchison

Feb 21, 2019 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 16th Annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year, plus some fun personal questions. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2018 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Mark Andrew Hamilton of Frontperson (he has also released six albums as the leader of Woodpigeon).

Frontperson is a new duo that features Hamilton and Kathryn Calder of The New Pornographers (and also a solo artist and formerly of Immaculate Machine). They released their debut album, Frontrunner, in September via Calder's own label, Oscar St. The album was our joint Album of the Week.

For our annual Artist Survey we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the midterm elections, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West visiting the White House, the #MeToo movement a year later, mental health conditions in the music industry, whether or not they have Flossed, childhood birthday parties and vacations, which Muppets character they are most like, whether or not they are going to The Good Place after death, and much more.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

To start with, I have to be honest that I listen to more reissues and old records than I listen to new things. So this year I kinda obsessed over those Fleetwood Mac re-issues, yet another Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society reissue (which actually still had some great new stuff like "Time Song") and The Beatles' White Album with the 107 songs (which I loved because that's one of my favorite records of all time and it's thrilling to hear it differently, and for the first time The Beatles seem mortal because so many of those extra tracks simply aren't perfection). That and most of the albums I buy are used vinyl, or catching up on epochal albums I want to add to the collection. Anyway, here's some new records that did somehow make it into my ears, all of which sound great on record.

1. The Good, The Bad, & The Queen: Merrie LandI don't believe in orders, so I'm actually just going backwards in terms of the order in which I bought 10 records I really liked in 2018. This one was a slow-grower for me. I loved the first album, and at first listen this one seemed somewhat more obtuse-but once it grabs you, it definitely does. It probably helped listening to it while taking a walk around rainy London a couple of weeks ago and now I can't stop listening to it and missing a Britain I never really knew (although the songs convince me that I do).

2. audiobooks: Now (in a minute!)I had a tea with Nigel at Rough Trade East and asked him what I should pick up, note-unheard. He suggested this first record by a duo called audiobooks, of whom I know very little except that it's a pair much like Kathryn and I in Frontperson. I love singing along to some of these songs, like the one about wanting to take a bath with someone but not in a sexy way. Y'know, just a friend bath.

3. Cat Power: WandererI've always loved Cat Power and I love Wanderer. I live in Montréal and there are so many great places within six or so hours drive from here, and so a lot of records come alive for me when I'm behind the wheel. Wanderer came in handy shortly after it came out when I drove across the border and headed for NYC. More than halfway down was when I realized I had no wallet, no money, and no driver's license. I could only buy food using Apple Pay, and the list of available options is pretty much just McDonald's and KFC. Chan [Marshall]'s voice and songs were a complete comfort on a stressful fries-fueled drive.

4. Low: Double NegativeLow are golden. Low are heroes. I'm so happy this record is getting the attention it deserves, and that they're back on top of the world. I love how unflinching their music can become, and how cyclical it seems to be with them. They'll make something soft and pretty, then a bit bombastic and swelling and then they'll make a statement like this record that just cuts to the bone.
5. Sandro Perri: In Another Life-This man is one of the reasons that I make music. Not only is he a great friend and producer of some of my work, but also when I played my first ever show in 2005 it was opening for him in a tiny theater. I was so nervous that he asked everyone to leave their seats and wait in the lobby. Sandro turned off the lights and I sang to him alone-the thinking being, if I could sing to him I could sing to anyone. This record is so amazing, and we listened to it loud on a recent trip to Mexico City with the windows open so those synth curls could billow out and down to the streets below.

6. serpentwithfeet: soilOne of the best new performers who I've managed to see a few times, each time feeling like my heart would stop. I love the first EP so much that I still might listen to it a bit more than this debut LP, but soil is still such a solid statement of intent. It's the type of record you simply can't listen to passively, and I'm in awe of serpentwithfeet.

7. Beach House: 7 and Father John Misty: God's Favorite CustomerI group these two together because they're all over best-of lists and I didn't want to give them more space, but I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that I kinda dived into both of them. I've always loved Spaceman 3, so hearing Beach House work with Sonic Boom was a pleasant mind-blower. And I love the sounds of God's Favorite Customer, as though it's some record we've had in our lives for over 40 years already. That and he's quite a songwriter, isn't he?

8. Fever Ray: PlungeI was lucky to be at The Knife's last ever show in Reykjavik, which still stands out as one of the best performances I've ever seen. I went to see Fever Ray earlier this year in Montréal and it was so great to see so much of the same energy and creativity on show, and just being pummeled by queer power like that is a pretty transformative experience unlike any other. How can one person be so scary and sexy at the same time?

9. Belle and Sebastian: How to Solve Our Human ProblemsI love how these songs were approached, as something they'd just get together and record together in Glasgow whenever inspiration hit. I especially love the bits that sound like they're made in the old church again from the early days. I can't say I love every direction that Belle and Sebastian has gone in over the past couple of decades that I've been listening to them, but I always find something to swoon over on every release. These three EPs have some real stunners on them too, especially that one where Sarah [Martin] sings a great clapback to Stuart [Murdoch], "I am not an idea/I'm not a melody." My friend Justin and I drove to Portland, Maine to see them play a show in a theater, and it finally truly hit me how much a part of the indie firmament B&S are-we were two of the youngest people in the room (although Snail Mail opening is half of my age) and everyone there was just losing it, clearly having waited over 20 years for this to happen.

10. The Breeders: All Nerve, Pod, Last Splash, Title TK, Mountain Battles, Safari and The Amps: PacerFirst off, All Nerve is such a fun record and I'm still thrilled that the band is back together. Those shows they did a couple of years back were the best thing ever-I got to see a show in Glasgow where they played all of Last Splash in the main set, then came back and did Pod and some B-sides as the biggest killer encore of all time. As for all the older records listed here (and The Amps, who effing rule) they all got some sweet vinyl represses this year which made me so dang happy. I remember having an argument in junior high school (or was I already in high school? Maybe!) that "Cannonball" was the greatest pop song ever written and Last Splash was the ultimate album. The guy I was debating with called The Offspring's Smash his "bible." He also had the first tattoo of anyone in our class, a chili pepper wearing a sombrero with fire coming out of its mouth. I rest my case. Totally won that one.

What was the highlight of 2018 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point?

I think the high point for us as a band was having our record coming out and hearing sweet things about it from people we love and trust. You spend so much time putting an album together and once it's out there, it's like all the hours of stress and toil just kinda evaporate off your back. To me that's been the best. I think our low point was probably scheduling some crazy tour drives on the little series of shows we did in Canada around the record's release, during which we mostly just laughed while listening to records and pulling over for naps. As a low point, that's not so bad.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. midterm elections have played out? What do you think the results mean for the Democrats' chances of taking back the White House in 2020?

As Canadians we look south with trepidation and worry. But I have faith that something has to come into play and help start getting the balance back to somewhere that makes sense.

Despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and sexual assault allegations from other women, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in a Supreme Court Justice and many Republican women didn't believe Ford's story. What does this tell you about the general state of the #MeToo movement in 2018?

That unfortunately as strong as the movement is, and has been, and all the good it's done, there's still men out there who are untouchable. As a queer cis-man in a band, I think it's my job to make sure that everywhere we play is a safe space for women, biological or trans. I can't speak about those experiences, but I've gotta do my part to make sure there's space for women to speak.

A year after the #MeToo movement, do you feel things have gotten better or worse in terms of issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in the music industry?

I think it's good when people feel they're safe and strong enough to say their piece and to me I'm grateful that the #MeToo movement is there to say it's okay to speak up, and for those who commit these assaults to realize that voices can now be heard.

Be honest, did you Floss in 2018? (Meaning the dance craze, not the dental care.)

I floss every day. In other words, I have no idea what dance you're referring to. But speaking of dance, some of my best moments in 2018 were working with some amazing figures in the Voguing scene like Precious Ebony, Chi Chi Mizrahi, and Twysted Miyake-Mugler on some really great events in Montréal.

Which Muppets character are you most like and why?

Fozzie Bear, obviously. My friend says I should say Rowlf the dog, because "he plays the piano and he's ridiculous and cute." I'd say [my bandmate] Kathryn [Calder] is very clearly the one that looks like Joni Mitchell [Janice].

Are you less of a fan of Kanye West now that he's visited the White House and has in other ways supported President Trump?

Didn't he recant this stuff? I love some of those records. The rest just confuses me.

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit tragically took his own life this year. What should be done to improve mental health conditions for musicians?

I met Scott a couple of times. He was friends with a lot of my friends in Scotland, and I could tell how saddened the whole scene was by his passing. I think we have to realize when our friends need our help, or let them know that they're not alone. In my own depression, just having people around who wouldn't let me do anything are pretty much the only reason that I'm here. My friend Patrick Doyle of Veronica Falls, Boys Forever, and Basic Plumbing also took his own life, and I wish I'd somehow been more there for him. It was an awful realization to find an email in my inbox from him that I just hadn't managed to get to yet.

In 2018 there were more dire predictions about climate change and we witnessed some of its likely effects firsthand with various deadly storms and forest fires. What should touring musicians be doing to better offset their carbon footprint? How bad do you think it needs to get for governments and corporations to take stronger actions to fight climate change?

That's always the rub about touring, isn't it? In order to take the music somewhere, we're pretty much beholden to airplanes to get us there at least part of the way. That said, I've tried in my own career (and it's something we've spoken about in Frontperson) to do most of the between show travel on tours via train.

Are you ready for artificial intelligence and a more automated future? Some predict that it may come sooner than we think and will lead to massive job losses.

There's also the other side that talks about all of the new jobs it will create in fields we don't even fully understand yet. But for me, there are some things I don't think will disappear. I'll always want to drive my own car. I like reading a physical book.

What's your favorite birthday party memory from childhood?

My mother's cakes, which were a mound of walnuts and peanut butter icing. Holy craving.

What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? What was your least favorite?

We took the same trip every year, to Vancouver. Every second year we'd go to Seattle. I remember being so enthralled and in love with Expo 86 that I cried when they showed the closing ceremonies on television.

What's been your most surreal experience in the music industry?

Riding an elevator with Ray Davies, who introduced himself to me as "Ray."

When you die, do you think you're going to the Good Place or the Bad Place?

I think my energy will be re-absorbed into the ecosystem. I hope there's a nice party with some sweet videos and cute photos. I do my best to live in the Good Place now while I'm alive instead of worrying about somewhere that I don't believe in.

Tell us about your first job. Also, what's been your most disastrous job interview or business meeting?

Friends and I were hired to push over rotting trees on a farmer's field in order to raise money to move to France for a semester in junior high school. We pushed them all over and watched horses get erections. He refused to pay. I took a job interview at a design firm that focused largely on sports, and knew from the first bro-y hello that I was so in the wrong place.

Beloved chef, travel TV host, and music fan Anthony Bourdain died this year. If you could have appeared on his Parts Unknown show, which city or country would you most have wanted to travel to with him?

Georgia or the Russian Steppe. What a fascinating man. It's so sad to me when these high profile people are so alone.

Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee also passed away this year. Which of his characters (Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc.) meant the most to you/did you most identify with?

I think comics, in at least some part, made me gay. I'll unashamedly admit I had a crush on the Hulk when I was figuring myself out.

If you were Nancy Pelosi, what would you do with the Democratic control of the House over the next two years?

Impeach.

Where do you stand on social media in 2018, is it uniting humanity or ruining the world? And which platform do you find most useful and which one do you think is doing the most harm?

I use all social media as my diary. I think it's healthy to not really scroll that much. I can also love someone in person and not like them on social media, so my finger hovers over that unfollow button more than I should probably admit.

If you were to have a hip-hop side-project, what would your rapper name be?

MC Lesben Haarschnitt.

This year The Doctor in Doctor Who was played by a woman for the first time in the show's 55-year history. Which other established character would you like to see switch genders?

I think they could all do with a gender recharge. Or instead of switching genders, why not make them non-binary?

What turns you off the most on a first date? And what's the most disastrous date you've ever been on?

Breath is very important to me. Coffee + smoke breath just doesn't really work for me. Most disastrous date ever would be getting set up after a show with someone in another band I'd been crushing on for a long time. I was wearing all white, as I did a lot at the time. When he walked in, my friend who had arranged it got excited and dropped a full pint of Coke into my lap and on my shirt. The white was pretty instantly brown transparent, leaving nothing to the imagination. The guy was pretty obsessed with his phone and basically just tweeted on several accounts the entire time we hung out.

Did you ever sneak out of the house as a teenager? If so, to do what and did you get caught?

No, but I sneak out of the house often as an adult.

What do you most hope planet Earth and humanity will be like in 100 years? What do you most fear life will really be like in a century?

I wonder how they'll look back on us. If humanity manages to turn things back around again, we'll probably be one of the most hated groups of humans in recorded history. I hope things work out for our kids' kids' kids' kids' kids' kids. I wonder about this stuff a lot, but also wonder about things like how The Beatles will sound when they're as far away from the listeners listening as we presently are from someone like Mozart. I just hope there's somewhere people can listen.

www.frontperson.bandcamp.com

www.facebook.com/frontperson

www.woodpigeon-songbook.com

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