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Words by Arash Torabi
www_woodpigeon_mark3Canadian folk collective Woodpigeon are simply amazing. I played two shows with them recently in Germany (I was there on tour, playing in Phil Wilson’s band) I’ve also reviewed their awesome new album, ‘Treasury Library Canada’, for 247. They’re in Exeter on 14 May, as part of the Phrased & Confused tour, which blends spoken word with music. Woodpigeon main-man, Mark Andrew of The Hamiltons answered a few questions about the tour, and generally what’s going on in his busy schedule.
Hi Mark. Firstly: tell me about the limited edition bonus disc, which comes with your new album, Treasury Library Canada – titled Houndstooth Europa.
Five of the tracks are from the ‘Houndstooth EP’, which we recorded with Jamie Fooks (amazing Canadian musician). The others are home demos and things I didn’t expect to really put out there. ‘Houndstooth’ was originally recorded in London, Paris, and Berlin, and the songs were all written while in those cities. I did the initial tracking in Paris and Berlin, including a soundscape called ‘Paris Du Monde’, made up of scraps of public music and spaces melded together into a rather beautiful blur of sound. I flew back to Calgary with everything on my digital recorder- but I lost the recorder. Comically, the ‘Houndstooth’ release show was already scheduled, and I had to rerecord the entire thing in a single night and get it pressed up the following morning. I think it turned out even better than the original: desperate late nights sometimes make for some of your best work. Every copy was gone before I even took the stage.

Why do you think folk music has become popular of late, particularly amongst younger people?
I think it’s always had such a presence in music that it’s never really been unpopular. It’s a more noticeable trend at the moment, given the original approaches by artists like Grizzly Bear, Final Fantasy, Joanna Newsom and others. Folk has an inherent and continual power of rebirth and redevelopment. Throughout the history of modern music, we’ve returned to it time and again, usually following a period of excess. In today’s climate, young people are looking for something honest that they can engage with. I think the major labels’ notion of young folks only listening to polished pop princesses is incredibly misguided. All that said, folk music is also the root of much of Western music as a whole, incorporating and branching out styles as varied as blues and even hip-hop poetics.

Which current folk bands/ artists do you like?
I’m mostly blown away these days by people we’re lucky to know and work with. Beth Jeans Houghton from Newcastle is amazing – I can’t wait to hear her album. And we’ve been talking about doing a collaborative EP for ages. Ryan Doyle from Brooklyn slays me with every song, and he releases his albums for free via his MySpace. Here in Calgary, we’re lucky to have folks like Laura Leif (who’s releasing an EP soon as The Secret Brothers), whom I think has the potential to be Canada’s next big export. Same for Kris Ellestad, who also releases music via his website for free- one of the best performers and songwriters I’ve ever met. Props too to Knots, whose first album is coming out soon and is totally beautiful. And also INDIENSOCI, a solo artist from Montreal who builds astounding loops and also plays in BRAIDS, who are damned incredible too.

What artists have inspired you as a songwriter and musician?
Ha! This list changes all the time, but in terms of my development as a songwriter, I’d say I’ve undertaken close study on Simon & Garfunkel, The Velvet Underground, and The Kinks above most others. I’m also obsessed with the Girl Groups box set that came out a few years ago- it’s possible to put so much power into two and a half minutes.
I too love the Velvets. I also like your unusual song titles. Tell me about Anna, Girl In The Clocktower.
‘Anna’ was for a friend who was dating a fellow I wasn’t particularly into, who lived in Halifax while she lived here in Calgary. He was an arts student there, too poor to even buy paper. I went shopping with her to buy artists’ paper, which she then sent to him. I thought it was such a kind gesture, regardless of what I thought of the fellow. Things get a little skewed in my head sometimes, so suddenly, instead of a post office mailing paper, we were in a clocktower on some rocky cliff, looking out over a raging ocean, waiting for her man to come back to her. I take a lot from what’s around me, but occasionally embellishment takes over. I was also writing a mini rock operetta about gay pirates at the time, and ‘Anna’ is a chapter in that story. We’ve only performed it as a whole with narration and visuals just once, but it was a great experience.
I’d love to see and hear that soon. I’ve heard you described as a ‘collective’. What will be the Woodpigeon line-up when you play in Exeter?
I’ll be playing with a couple of members of Eagleowl from Edinburgh, another great folk group. Clea Foofat, our cellist will be along for the ride again, as will Arran Fisher, our producer. We’ll have a bit of fun with loop pedals, clarinet, ukulele, and some other things.

You’re all involved in other bands and projects. How does it work out, when there are Woodpigeon dates to be played?
For lack of a better term, I’d say that Woodpigeon’s pretty much everyone’s main bitch at the moment. That said, there’s some interesting stuff going on within the collective. Scars and Scarves (our keyboardist Annalea Sordi and her husband Garrett McClure) are making some lovely music, while the WP girls have also banded together as The Mai Pangs to make fast-paced surf rock. My other band Spreepark has recorded another record- but I’m not sure when it’s coming out. I’m also starting up a couple of other projects- one’s called The Queen’s Manners (loud, largely drum-driven), and another’s called Dorothy (more traditional folk-based).

What’s going to be Woodpigeon’s input on Phrased & Confused tour?
I’m sure we’ll be taking a shot at some Treasury Library Canada songs, as well as some new stuff, which the organizers of Phrased & Confused are excited about. I’ll also be writing on the road, and we’ll present a song or two hot off the press that way. The plan at the moment is to record an EP of new stuff similar to Houndstooth- it really helps to have your producer around.

Please list your 10 most favourite albums of all time.
This is the first 10 records that come to mind, in no order.

The Kinks – Arthur
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground
Nico – Chelsea Girls
Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
Radiohead – OK Computer
Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
The Supremes – I Hear a Symphony
The Beatles – Abbey Road
Deerhunter – Cryptograms

That feels like a nice list. Thanks, Arash!

Definitely. I have the Nico and the Velvets albums myself. Thanks for your time, and see you in a few weeks.

Woodpigeon perform at Phrased and Confused on Thursday 14 May, with Murray Lachlan Young, Aoife Mannix & Janie Armour & Dead Poets at The Exeter Phoenix , Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS. Tickets are £10, call 01392 667080 to book.

Woodpigeon also have a new single, “Cities Of Weather”, out on 18 May on End Of The Road Records. The single is taken from the album ‘Treasury Library Canada’, also on End of the Road.