The G-Man Interview : w/ Woodpigeon

The Irish festival season ended on Monday as the last stragglers hobbled out of Stradbally with plenty of interesting Electric Picnic memories. I have one more stop on the festival circuit as I fly out to Bristol tomorrow to make my way to the wonderful End of the Road festival.

Welcome to The G-Man blog! First of at all let me say congratulations on "Die Stadt Muzikanten".

The days of The Beatles releasing four studio albums in a year are long gone (let's not mention Ryan Adams for now). Is it difficult to believe that you already have three completed and released albums in the discography especially considering there is no multi-million pound record label propping Woodpigeon up?

I think that the days of “multi-million pound record labels” is coming to an end — soon it will be time for everyone to be as self-sufficient as they can be. I’m lucky to work with labels who love what I do, and whenever I deliver a finished record to them, they’re just as excited about putting it out as I am! I’m feeling quite good right now, as the record I’ll be making in October is one that’s not even fully written yet — it’s the first time in this “discography” that I’ve caught up to myself song-wise, and that’s exciting to me.

Is there a specific part of the album that made you think "Yes, I/we are evolving as a band. We never would have done that on the last album"?

Certain things like ‘The Street Noise Gives You Away’ and ‘...Ship’ make me realize how far we’ve come as a group of friends making sounds together. That said, Die Stadt also feels like the completion of something to me as well. The last big pop statement. I tried pushing that out as far as I could — something like ‘The Pesky Druthers’ feels like the maximum orchestral pop direction I could ever guide this ship, so I wanted to go as far as we could. What’s exciting now is in finding new ways of playing, new ways of making sound.

A friend of mine who happens to be a producer one hundred percent believes in setting the tone and atmosphere as well as the mental condition during recording so much so that he will only record a band/artist that will live with him in his studio in the countryside for the few weeks or so. (He has been known to drag singers out of bed at 5am to record a specific vocal line). Would you agree with this and how do you yourselves approach the recording process? Any funny habits?

The recording process for me is largely solitary, working alongside the producer, then calling in others once I feel ready to present things. There’s full demo versions of all 3 Woodpigeon albums, and they feel just as complete and presentable as the spruced up orch-ed up records that have made their way into shops. I do like diving into something and working on it for long stretches of time — we’re actually going to do some recording when I get back home from Vancouver in the same style that we recorded Treasury Library Canada, which was my favourite recording session so far. My house is small, but converts into a full studio very nicely, so there’s going to be mattresses up on the wall and drums pounding out in the garage again very shortly ... I guess that as far as funny habits go, I usually chase after the mistakes — when someone plays a part wrong but it sounds good, that usually means re-writing the part to include that mistake! Chasing mistakes make for the best moments of the records!

Having supported the likes of Iron & Wine, Calexico and others what piece of advice received in the early years has turned out to be the most beneficial, assuming advice was actually passed on that is?!

To always do exactly what you want to, and to lay your boundaries of what you’re willing to do out solidly. I’ve met so many lovely musicians through doing this, and several heroes. The words they’ve always got for me are along these lines — but most of all, each one of them has always maintained that it’s the songs above all else that one needs to worry about. At times I get bogged down with silly ideas and disappointments over things that have happened, but that’s not the way to approach it — songs above all else.

A regular question in previous interviews always seems to centre on the number of folks in the band. The road must be a lot more fun these days as a result compared to Mark solo or when it was just Mark and Kenna? The road is notoriously lonely for most solo artists too so it must be a great comfort to find yourself surrounded by friends when touring, both emotionally and mentally?

It’s funny that you ask this given that I’m on the brink of my longest-ever solo tour! And if we were to classify this project, it’s really more of a solo thing that involves other musicians. That said, I think there’s charms to both forms of touring — I love being surrounded by my friends, but I’m also quite a solitary creature a lot of the time. Whenever we tour, I’m often the one who goes off on his own for a quiet bike ride. I love both forms of touring, and I’m really looking forward to stripping it down into solo renditions of the songs I’m working on for the next records, and seeing places I’ve not yet seen. (Performing in Vienna will also be a big moment for me, as my mother was born there and I haven’t yet performed in that city!) (I guess that another useful sidenote here is that my appearances in Scotland and at End of the Road Festival will be with Eagleowl and a couple of other Edinburgh musicians as my backing band, a line-up that I’m very excited about).

Seeing as it is still the festival season what would your dream festival line-up be if you had to pick three acts for The Main Stage, three acts for The Quiet Stage and three acts for The Loud Stage?

I’d most likely put my favourite musician friends up on the Main Stage: Beth Jeans Houghton, Withered Hand, Eagleowl

For the Quiet Stage, I’d love to see: The Innocence Mission, Beach House, and Ryan Doyle

For the Loud Stage, I love: The Boredoms, My Bloody Valentine, and Sonic Youth

I will finally get to see Woodpigeon live in September when you play the truly magical End of the Road festival. Anyone who has met me more than twice has probably heard me speak of how great this gathering is and I have interviewed a number of EOTR artists in the past such as The Low Anthem. What may make it extra special for ye guys is that you are signed to End of the Road records for distribution in the U.K.. Are you looking forward to playing the festival again? How has life been so far with the EOTR team?

Playing EOTR is always one of my favourite life experiences. Our first year there, we were signed by Simon while walking off of a stage — not only could we not believe we’d been invited to the UK to play at a festival, but now that same festival wanted to put our records out! I love Sofia and Simon to the end. It’s been a truly beautiful experience with them, and they’ll both be on the receiving end of a killer hug once we’re all at the festival site again.

Every time I look around there seems to be another good Canadian band/artist releasing an album. Does any Canadian currently not play an instrument?! How proud are you of the musical exports that Canada has produced over the past 5 years?

I think that a lot of it is amazing. We’re quite geographically isolated in Canada — it takes ages to get anywhere — so we have to create. I remember a quote from Bjork saying that there’s nothing to do in Iceland but making music and fucking, and I’m often reminded of that quote when folks ask about why Canada is presenting such a varied number of great bands at the moment. I think there’s also a sense of mutual support here in Canada in the local scenes across the country. Every city one goes to, there’s such a different sense of community. I’m in Vancouver at the moment, and just love meeting musicians here — they really seem to take care of one another and those of us visiting! Otherwise, it must be something in the water that’s giving Canada such good vibes at the moment.

Following on from the last question, with so many bands touring has it made it easier or actually more difficult to survive as a band? How so?

Do you mean in general, or just in Canada? In general, there’s certainly some cities where I’ve noticed a difference in how people go to shows. In Canada, however, I haven’t toured here enough to make any sort of statement on that. I’ve be on one “major” tour of the country, and that only covered two provinces!

I ask every band/artist this but word-of-mouth is the basic foundation of the musical community. Is there a particular band that readers may not have heard of that you are currently listening to and feel are definitely worth a mention?

There’s a fellow in Calgary named Kris Ellestad who I think is phenomenal. One of the greatest songwriters I’ve ever met, and his live performance and charisma is insane. (Woodpigeon has covered one of his songs entitled ‘The Secret’ on past tours, and that song still feels new and exciting to me every time I hear it or play it).

Ever played the animal game before? (Basically you begin with one letter, eg. 'A', and everyone has to name an animal beginning with this letter. The person who cannot name an animal beginning with 'A' loses one life).

The easy animals such as 'Elephant' are always taken quite early so can ye give me a rare animal beginning with 'E' that I can use as back up for the next time I play the game myself? A description of the animal would also be helpful as people tend to try and make up names as well as using mythological beasts! The Wilderness of Manitoba said 'Degu' (a small rat) to 'D' which was far more imaginative than Megafaun's 'Cougar'.

I love getting Eagleowl as much press as I can, so I’ll suggest that for the game (despite Eagleowls’ nasty habit of eating Woodpigeons).