Frontperson — Interview
Birds of a feather may flock together, but friends in music create in far better harmony. Such is the case with Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers) and Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon)—aka Frontperson—who are back together to share the spotlight with their latest album, Parade, available today on Oscar St. Records.
I recently sat down with Kathryn and Mark to discuss connecting creativity to nature, making music with love, and avoiding any Back to the Future II scenarios.
AH: The new Frontperson record Parade is due April 29 on Oscar St. Records. It has been quite a few years in the making, with lots of roadblocks along the way. Had the pandemic never pumped the brakes on life, would this have been a different album creatively? How much did circumstances impact the songwriting itself?
MH: These songs were actually written before the pandemic, so for me it’s a bit of a time capsule of how I was feeling and what I was doing in the months beforehand. What the pandemic did, however, was gave us a moment’s pause and the ability to put things on hold for a little bit, which had a direct impact instead on our time working on the artwork, the music videos and discussing other ideas and approaches. The record almost felt frozen in amber for a time, while the pandemic did its thing—my relationship to time changed so much that somehow this record feels both as though we made it 3 weeks ago and 3 years ago simultaneously. The time away from it also makes it new for me too. Coming back to it after our pandemic pause, I kept hearing surprise things I’d forgotten.
KC: I don’t think I have anything to add here! Pretty much what Mark said!
AH: I come from the world of publishing. Every time I release a comic book or graphic novel into the world, I still hold it and am amazed at the thought of this thing now existing that didn’t before. Do you have similar feelings when you hold a newly-pressed album? What does Parade mean to you on your own personal timeline of life?
MH: Frontperson to me feels like a photo album of one of my best friendships in life. I held a copy of Parade a little while ago for the first time and called Kathryn and we talked and laughed as we always do, and it just felt like par for the course or one of the steps of putting out a record. But I’m also not someone to really dwell on things, and we’re already neck-deep in our next project together, so it feels more like a nice punctuation mark. Like, “Oh right! Nice! They’re here!”
KC: It’s always a special day to release an album, I’m always excited for people to hear it, and it is always amazing to me too that something that starts out as nothing, turns into something! There’s magic in that.
AH: You recorded Parade just a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean. How can a location—or the vibe a location brings—impact an album, and how did Vancouver Island do that with this one?
MH: Vancouver Island has become such a haven of stress relief for me, and making our records there in a place of calm escape has been truly magical. The water, the lushness, the vegetation and the animal life wandering about have a definite effect on me while I’m there. I think you can hear the atmosphere in some of the brightness and vividness of the sounds. So, it had a definite effect.
KC: I always turn to nature, particularly the ocean, to help me feel inspired and when I want to reflect on the bigger picture in life. I think when I look out at the vastness of the ocean, there’s a broader perspective that I feel I can access, when it’s visually presented in such a grand way. It helps me access things I’m either trying to work through, or things that I’m thinking about, and those thoughts turn into my lyrics. I feel very lucky to live so close to such a source of inspiration to me!
AH: What would someone learn about you in sitting down to listen to Parade front to back?
MH: I think a power of Frontperson for me is feeling like my friend has my back, and that I can talk about things that sometimes would be a little more awkward or harder to do alone. Even if the narratives in the songs are a world away from being about our friendship, I think that by presenting these things together it’s inherently also connected to that. So maybe with that in mind, I’d like someone to hear our record and just not feel alone, or alone in their experiences. I’m a big fan of personal interpretations of things, whatever that inspires within people.
KC: I don’t know if my songs are so obvious, but I hope that someone would pick up on the fact that we are really and truly trying to send a little love and connection back out into the world. And that we really like creating music, and that the music is playful enough that it comes across that we were enjoying ourselves making it. You know that expression when someone makes a meal with love, it tastes better, that’s the equivalent of what I hope somebody would feel when they listen to this record. It was made with love!
AH: You both have taken different journeys in music, eventually finding your creative paths crossing and splintering off together. What would young Kathryn and Mark—versions of yourselves yet unfamiliar with each other—think of this record if they had a chance to listen to it back then?
MH: Something I’ve worked hard on sorting out for myself is to believe that things that have come along in my life at exactly when they were supposed to. I suppose in the past there were moments where I regretted having spent certain years with certain people, doing the wrong degree at university the first time, or not even learning the guitar until I was in my 20s. But now I’m very content and happy with how things have come along and when they’ve come along. A bit of a long-winded set-up to answer your question, but I think if young Mark heard this record, he would mostly be excited to make the record. I hope that people can hear just how enjoyable it was to make the thing. I’d also be pretty awed by Kathryn’s talents. I’d be excited and nervous. OMG. Now young Mark is just nervous about how many mistakes he’d probably make during recording.
KC: I hope I’m making young Kathryn proud, because young Kathryn has a lot of expectations and ambitions! So hopefully she would listen to this record and think, “Yeah, that’s cool!” And she might be surprised at how much she likes synthesizers. Initially when I was younger and just starting out as a keyboardist, I really identified as a piano player, and I found synthesizers extremely intimidating. I didn’t trust myself to know what a good tone was, and I would find one sound that I knew I liked and just cling to it for dear life. So young Kathryn would probably be pleasantly surprised at how many different sounds there are on the keyboards on this, and I hope she would take it as inspiration to explore a little bit more, and that it’s OK, it doesn’t always have to be perfect, perfect, perfect.
AH: For me, it’s in my comfortable chair, surrounded by my dogs, with whatever I’m listening to trickling out of the somewhat-terrible speakers of my record player. What is your ultimate listening experience when you’re trying out an album for the first time, and, how is Parade best enjoyed?
MH: I listen to music either in my living room while I’m working, preferably on a record player. Alternately, my entire house is linked up with 6 Google home speakers, so when I listen to music on that while I’m walking around, it’s all synced up in every room. It’s like living in a stereo. I also love listening to music while I’m walking around. The best way to enjoy music, for me, though, is to lay back on a summer evening on a blanket, headphones on, eyes closed.
KC: I love sitting on the couch with my husband, in our upstairs nook with some nice lamp lighting, no distractions, and hopefully when my little girl is older, she’ll join us too. It’s rare to have time just to do that these days, but that’s my favorite way to listen to music.
AH: How do the songs that make up this album translate to the stage? What will we hear differently being front-and-center at a Frontperson show in 2022?
MH: This is something presently in the unknown…we haven’t heard most of these songs live either! (Although, on some previous shows, we did a couple of the songs, in particular “Parade” and “Calgary ’88”, which are great fun to play).
KC: Yeah, TBD!
AH: What do the two of you get out of writing together that you cannot experience on your own? What is it about working with each other that sparks things creatively that may or may not have existed without the partnership?
MH: This is a big question, that can really only be answered with ‘everything’. I don’t think I’d have made any of these songs if I wasn’t playing off of Kathryn and what she was bringing to the table. I will say, though, that when I’m just fussing about with little bits of music, I often know what’s perfect for this band and what’s maybe better suited for something else. Frontperson allows me to access a certain part of my musician brain that other things don’t.
KC: What I love about writing together with Mark, is that he always has really interesting ideas, I really trust his taste, and he comes up with ideas I wouldn’t think of. I used to be a little bit more strict about what I wanted things to sound like, and Mark loves keeping the character of sounds, and something I’ve learned to embrace more from working with him is just because something isn’t exactly perfect, that doesn’t mean it needs to be redone. Sometimes the small imperfections are part of what makes something really special.
AH: Highlight of your career thus far? Go!
MH: Oh my. One of them would definitely be riding in an elevator with Ray Davies after a performance at the Meltdown Festival at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He introduced himself with, “Hi, I’m Ray,” and then complimented my set. I was somewhat speechless.
KC: I would have to say an emotional highlight for me, what immediately comes to mind, is the third show I ever played with The New Pornographers. It was in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, there were thousands of people in the crowd, it was a gorgeous summer night in June of 2005 and I was 23. My mom (who has since passed) was in town, she traveled to NY to watch the show. It was such a magical evening. I was nervous but mostly excited, there were bright lights and a cool breeze, I was on stage with this amazing band, and I just could not believe my luck.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
MH: Sure, why not? Even if it stays at it is and I’m making records with my friends, that would still seem pretty sweet, no? (Also, hopefully it wouldn’t be too much like Back to the Future II, because the present is enough like that already.) Second question: If I didn’t like what I saw, could I also make changes now to switch things up?
The more I think about your question, the heavier the ramifications are, though…I’d find out people I loved were gone, or maybe I’d see myself injured somehow and then live the next 10 years in abject fear of everything. Now look what you’ve done! You’ve asked a sweet, honest question and I’ve gone and made it all dark and depressing!
KC: I worry about time travel too, for many of the same reasons as Mark, so no! I wouldn’t dare do any future jumps. I want the surprise, no spoilers.
For more information on Frontperson, click here.