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My Firsts: Mark Andrew Hamilton of Frontperson and Woodpigeon

My Dramatic Side

Nov 12, 2018 Frontperson
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My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to 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.

The band’s first single, “Tick - Tock (Frontrunner),” was shared via a video that featured various track & field events, sometimes running backwards, and was filmed at the 2018 Langley Pacific Invitational and the 2018 BC Masters Track & Field Championships. The album cover also features a track & field event and is a photograph that actually inspired the album title. Hamilton explained in a press release announcing the album. “About 20 years ago, a photographer friend of mine named Ambrose Fan gave me this incredible picture of a young girl with her fists clenched, getting ready to run a race at a track meet,” he said. “I’ve lived in a lot of places since then, and this photo has always come with me. When we started recording at the National Music Centrebasically one of the world’s best keyboard museums where we had pretty much free reign over their incredible collections of synths and suchI put the photo on the recording console, and it stayed there for two weeks guiding the making of our record. Whenever someone would ask what sound we were going for, I’d just point at that picture.”

Calder added in the press release: “The photograph is now our record cover, it was the inspiration for our album name, and it’s still guiding this record, because we decided to use it as inspiration for the video for our first song, ‘Tick-Tock (Frontrunner).’”

Although Hamilton is from Calgary, Canada, he first formed Woodpigeon in 2006 when he was living in Edinburgh, Scotland. That same year Woodpigeon’s debut album, Songbook, was released. The band’s last album was 2016’s T R O U B L E.

Read on as Hamilton talks about the first time he fell in love; his first broken heart and broken bone; his earliest experiences with movies, TV shows, and music; the car he was given that didn’t work; dancing with Aphex Twin; the Madonna song that helped him find his sexual identity as a gay man; and how he hasn’t been drunk since 2001.

First word?

It’s funny how I’m sure this is burned into the memory of my parents, but I have no idea. Let me text them…

First best friend?

I remember having several, all with amazing names. There was Dzung and Hai in particular, and we met at West Dover Elementary School. After that, my best friend became my next-door neighbor Lisa, and her older brother Jason became my brother’s best friend. Lisa and I played with dolls (although I also loved Transformers and Go-Bots) and our brothers played video games.

First pet?

I grew up around dogs, and my Opa always had German Shepherds, all named Rex. The first Rex I remember was a total beauty who looked like Rin Tin Tin. The next one was black and a bit crazier, but my Opa loved him so much that even when he bit someone who had come into their yard despite a “Do Not Enter Guard Dog” sign on the fence, ended up paying a huge fine instead of having the dog put down. Our family got a mutt named Shep, followed by a huge chocolate lab called Dakota (or Mr. Stumps). I think I should get another dog.

First broken bone?

I kicked a vacuumnot even particularly hardand broke my foot. Just a hairline fracture, but the thing turned black and swelled up like a balloon. It also hurt like hell and I thought I’d never walk again, but that’s just my dramatic side.

First time you had to go to the hospital?

I remember a class trip to the Zoo dinosaur park. I climbed up a mountain, which was basically just poured jagged cement, and once reaching the top tumbled down and landed on my head on a sharp point. I remember being covered in blood in the women’s washroom with a teacher, and my mother leaving work to come sit with me while I got my stitches. I also remember crying hysterically until the teacher smiled at me and not being too bothered when my mother was there. Stitches at that age just felt more weird than painful.

First time you fell in love?

I wrote so many songs about it that I think the entire story is out there in full, even his name. At the time it was the absolute worst, and I’d wondered if it was better to have never met someone than having had to go through the pain of lost love, but now I wouldn’t trade the experience away for anything. It’s so formative, isn’t it?

First person you kissed?

For some reason, this one stumps me. I don’t think my first kiss was anything special. There’s some kisses early on that were so special that they’re all flooding through my head right now… But maybe I’ll just keep those for me and say the first actual one is something that seems to have slipped my mind.

First time your heart was broken?

Unfortunately it’s the end of the first time I fell in love story. It’s interesting to me how getting one’s heart broken always feels so different. I guess falling in love always feels different too. You don’t really ever repeat the same feelings with someone.

First movie you saw in the movie theater?

I’ve been told that this was Superman, which came out the year that I was born, in 1978. Parts of the first three Supermen films were shot in Calgary, so it was something I think just about everyone did. There’s some old family folklore suggesting that the scene with the missile atop the flatbed truck has us driving behind it (well, my pregnant mother, father, and brother at least). I know Superman III was shot at my Dad’s work, which stood in for Lex Luthor’s offices.

First TV show you were obsessed with?

I think it was Muppet Babies. I think I was also obsessed with Transformers and The Smurfs. And I was fascinated by things like Der Sandmann which we didn’t get to see often, but would catch glimpses of once in a while at the Austrian Canadian Club.

First record your parents played for you?

This I’m not sure of, but I do remember picking Thriller as the first tape I consciously chose to come along on our family vacations. My mom grew up buying garage rock records. Things like ? and the Mysterians and The Easy Beats and other groups you don’t really hear about anywhere at any time. We listened to a lot of stuff that none of my friends knew, and even still have more of an underground reputation. Now she loves The Cure and Austra.

First album you bought?

I remember paying for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 with my allowance money, and I still think that’s one of the best records of all time ever. The next one I remember buying was a cassette single for Madonna’s “Vogue” which made me feel so gayI kind of trace that back to the first moment of my sexual identity really coming out and getting acknowledged by me. I tried learning the dance from the videoand now, all these years later, I help put on Voguing events here in Montréal.

First favorite band?

My first obsession band-wise was R.E.M. and I bought everything I could find, which wasn’t particularly easy in Calgary, Alberta. I was signed up for Kids for Saving Earth and there was mention of “Fall on Me” by R.E.M. and once I heard it I was in for life. I started going to the library and searching through the music magazines to find any mention or interview with R.E.M. and secretly tearing the pages out. I had a full envelope of stuff from pretty much the early 1980s to the Monster album and kept them in a scrapbook at my parents’ house. I actually just recently packed them all up into a big envelope and mailed them off to Colin Stewart, who produced the Frontperson record.

First favorite song?

“Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel is the first song I remember standing up and saying, “This is my favorite song,” to. Although I remember also feeling the same about “P.Y.T.” on Thriller and “Say Say Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. I think there was a brief dalliance with The California Raisins in there somewhere too, but once I loved them my mother just showed me Motown and I forgot about them right quick. There was always The Beatles around too.

First musician you had a crush on?

Probably Michael Stipe. There are some embarrassing ones too, for sure. Marky Mark probably made 100s of thousands of us gay boys consider underwear in a different way for the first time. At some point I had a crush on Canadian rock star Edwin from I Mother Earth too, and I’m a bit red in the face to admit it.

First actor or actress you had a crush on?

There was so little gay content available to someone growing up in Calgary when I grew up, so I would stay up late and watch things like the Showcase Revue, which was a cable channel that showed “foreign films” that all had some sort of nudity or sexual content. I remember watching things like Jamón Jamón and falling for Javier Bardem, but I never saw two men kissing or had any examples besides hetero stuff. And that definitely added to the confusionI knew watching two people having sex was exciting, but I couldn’t exactly figure out at an early age why I was so drawn to taking the woman’s spot in those scenes. Once I kissed a boy, though, I finally figured out that no, I’m a boy too and this is good. I had a huge crush on Paul Schneider at one point, once I saw All the Real Girls.

First concert you went to?

Our parents took us to see things like Gordon Lightfoot (who I hated then, but adore now) and The Everly Brothers. I also remember going to a huge stadium performance by Bill Cosby in the Saddledome and just laughing along not because I understood the jokes, but because 20,000 other people were. I do wish I’d said yes to more of the concerts they went to, but at that point in time the idea of seeing Bruce Cockburn or Murray McLauchlan or other folkie stuff didn’t appeal to me.

First music festival you went to?

I think I went to an Another Roadside Attraction and a Summersault Festival, but the first festival that really blew me away was End of the Road Festival. A beautiful place and a beautiful line-upand they even released a few of my records as Woodpigeon when they were operating a label. If I could play any festival again, it would be EOTR every year until the end of my ability to play.

First time you got drunk?

I don’t drink, and I don’t remember the first time I tried something and knew it wasn’t for me, but the last time I was actually physically drunk was at Sonar Festival in Barcelona around 2001. I remember drinking a load of cava at a private partyjust downing a bottle they were giving out rather quickly, in factand then there’s only flashes left of the rest of the night. I remember dancing with Aphex Twin and his girlfriend (he nodded at me the next day on the street), then being in a taxi with two guys from London who said we were going to a private Björk performance (apparently she performed all of Vespertine with just her harpist, but I don’t remember any of it if I was even there at all), John Peel DJing at the party (putting a record on and walking away to a cup of tea, coming back just in time, “Teenage Kicks” of course), and then waking up in my hostel which was run by a rather large drag queen and staffed by handsome young Spaniards in Speedos. Not too long after that I found out that I don’t have the enzyme, so I’m basically a 12-year-old Japanese girl inside when it comes to alcohol consumption.

First job you had?

We were raising money to do a semester abroad in France in junior high. We worked as a group for a farmer who wanted us to clear a field by pushing some old bare trees down. I remember spending all day and pushing down all the trees and making a pile. We saw a horse boner and everyone laughed. Then the farmer refused to pay us.

First time you got fired?

I’ve only been fired once, and in that case I was Terminated Without Cause. But it ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. My editor at that time was a mess of a person, and getting away from them was so, so nice. I went back to school. I jumped head-on into music. I never worked a regular office job again. I guess I owe her some thanks in the end!

First car you owed?

Some friends gave me a car for my birthday while I was living in Brighton [England] in my early 20s. They were Australian and moving back to Australia and so the car was transferred to me for a pound. They were in Bristol, so a group of us went to pick it up and drove it right back to Brighton where it promptly died in the parking spot right in front of our flat in North Mews. I gave it then to a teacher I worked with at Habitat for a pound, but it never ran for her either and shortly thereafter it was crushed into a cube. I never drove it, and I haven’t owned a car since.

First country you visited outside of your own?

Besides the USA that would have to be France. Talk about culture shock. I was 13 and we were traveling as a group of students alongside a group of American college students. I think it was a pilot project gone wrong. The less said about the shenanigans that went on, the better.

First computer?

An IBM 286 that took a week to load up. We had dial-up Internet eventually too. I remember waiting minutes for a single photo to load and thinking we were in the future. Then going outside to walk the dog instead.

First email address?

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) followed shortly thereafter by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) which I haven’t been able to get into for years, although there’s something in there that I would like to see again. Sadly I don’t have any of the right answers to the security questions, so c’est la vie.

First social media account?

Friendster. I met so many guys off of Friendster while I was a European backpacker for a couple of years. You could search for friends of friends who were also gay and just go from there.

First roommate?

I lived in an apartment on Morrison Street in Edinburgh with a sweet artist named Laura. I still have some drawings she gave me, and she was such a talent. We kind of lost touch, but I’d love to find her again.

First instrument?

I started playing the accordion when I was five to please my Austrian grandparents. There’s a photo somewhere of me not wanting to take it off, so I’m practicing while sitting on the toilet. My mom always threatens to pull that one out whenever I bring someone home to meet them.

First band you were in?

Angels of Insanity at high school. I didn’t know how to play guitar, but I somehow figured out [Metallica’s] “Enter Sandman” and went to a practice and then thought that was enough. The first proper band I was in was Woodpigeon.

First time you performed in public?

I did a show with my friend and life-raft Sandro Perri way back in 2005. It was in a tiny theatre in a basement in Calgary. I was so nervous before playing that he asked everyone who was in the theatre to wait in the lobby and then sat in one of the back rows. The idea was if I could sing to him I could sing to everyone, and once I passed that test he brought everyone back in and we did it.

First bad review?

A lad magazine in the UK reviewed one of our first singles with the suggestion that I “grow some bollocks, mate.” I always wanted to get that printed up on stickers and put on the album. Otherwise, I don’t remember many of the bad ones.

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kohls myhr
November 12th 2018

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