Megan Hamilton

Call & Response: Megan Hamilton

Toronto-based singer/songwriter Megan Hamilton has gradually eased into the "Canada's best kept secret" club. Ever since her debut album Feudal Ladies Club came out in 2006, she has been gathering a solid collection of fans and critical praise.

I last spoke with Megan back in July 2007, prior her to the release of her how we think about light EP. A great deal has happened to her since then, including a more rockin' sound, lots of touring and more high-profile shows like an opening slot for My Morning Jacket at the Guvernment.

See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard is title of Megan's second full-length album (out across Canada April 7 via Familiar Music and Scratch Distribution). Megan and producer/engineer Mark Vogelsang recorded in a proper studio for the first time, but Mark mixed the songs to sound like different rooms on a ship. New lead guitarist Craig Browne (of Young Contrarians) has added his multi-pedaled guitar sound to Megan's increasing powerful vocals (she quit smoking last year).

Megan & The Volunteer Canola play their album release party Thursday at the Rivoli. I spoke with Megan and Mark about the unique recording and mixing process, and Megan opened up about a number of other things - including cleaning up her act for some kids in Alabama.

blogTO: Why is your new album called "See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard"?

Megan Hamilton: There's a little mini-story on the inside of the CD cover that tells a (very enhanced) version of a night I had at camp when I was a kid, coming back after going across to the boy's camp for a dance. I was trying to think of an interesting way to say "cold, night, marina". I have a strong connection to certain sounds, temperature and the sway of water.

Is it a concept album at all?

It was meant to be a concept album, but I didn't have the resources to create it the way I'd wanted to. I will still make a concept album one day - and by that, all I mean is that I'd like to be able to write a string of songs from start to finish, with a planned out arc and themes given from the beginning. We are very careful about placing the songs in an order that creates a journey, and I am always into leaving on a positive note - leaving the listener safe and hopefully feeling good.

Your lyrics on this album seem more poetic and abstract than on your last two releases. Would you agree?

Really? That's interesting. It might be more abstract because I was trying to work with more real events, but keep them universal, and not invading or divulging anybody's privacy. Mostly my own, of course.

Has your songwriting process changed at all since you released your EP in '07?

I don't think so. I still write the majority of songs on my bed, at night, usually with the lyrics first, usually all in one fell swoop. I have not written a song since "Moth", though. Purposefully. I have lots of ideas for songs, but I want to wait until we've let this one breathe a bit before I get back into the writing process. If I can stand it, that is.

How does the release of this new album feel different than your EP and first album?

I'm a lot less frazzled this time - I'm much more calm. Probably having a publicist (Sari Delmar from Audio Blood) helps. Probably being in love helps. Probably the experience of two previous releases has informed me of what to expect, and let me know what I needed to do. It's not out, yet, though, so who knows. I will say that it's neat to think that this is now the 5th release from Familiar Music. I feel proud of us.

Who did those quirky black & white illustrations?

Jenny Joyal - a wonderful artist in Boston, MA. I met her on a music forum a few years ago, and have always been in love with her drawings. I was so glad when she agreed to work with me!!

This album was recorded in a proper studio. After working in a school house and a church in Saskatchewan for your first two records, was this a weird experience for you?

Yes and no. It was still Mark, it was still the way we like to work, I was allowed to bring stuff from home to put around so that I could feel "home-y". Mark brought his box of Sask sage that was picked from outside the Feudal Hall (the first place we recorded), so I gave that a whiff every once in a while. It was different to have the boys (Craig Browne, Steve Puchalski, Adam White and Andy Sadoway) there laying down their parts. I work in a different way than most of them are used to - I like through lines - laying down your line from start to finish - not stopping if you make a mistake, and rarely fixing them. I like an emotional through line. I think that made a couple of folks nervous, but they really pulled through. The drum tracks were recorded first - but with the whole band, so that Andy could feel the dynamics. We kept most of the bass from the initial sessions, too, if I remember. I had to really organize the sessions - it was like being a Stage Manager. Thinking about the whole beast, and then working out the specifics to make it all happen, as well as think about feeding everybody, etc. It was a good exercise, but somebody else can have that job next time!

Mark - talk to me about your ship acoustic concept.

Mark Vogelsang: The ship idea was a result of not being able to record in our usual sonic Saskatchewan rural hall environment; therefore I had to create an alternate sonic journey and destination for the listener using other means as I was unable to extract unique room qualities from the tuned acoustic studio we recorded in.

Megan: It fit with all of the mixing ideas we'd talked about - what era we wanted to put the album in, what kind of sound and feel we wanted to wrap it in.

Was this a complicated process to get right?

Mark: Upon introduction to the ship idea, the process and I were enemies; by the end we were lovers. It was incredibly challenging to maintain continuity between sound and songs in the big picture. I was always referencing to the ship diagram to remember what I had done previous in order not to overdo the sound of the album and to create a seamless flow from start to finish. If I had ignored this diagram entirely the album would have sounded quite different and most likely would have teetered on the word 'inharmonious'.

Megan - your new album and live shows are more "electric" now. Craig's guitar playing adds quite a bit to your songs.

Megan: We became friends, but I never saw him play guitar until one night when I was singing/tambourining/glocking in Shelby Lamb's band and Craig was playing guitar with Talladega. I remember saying "Holy Shit!" when I saw Craig play. And Craig one time had said to me that if I ever needed a guitar player, he would love to play in the band. So when I needed a guitar player, he was the first person I called. I really appreciate his ideas and feedback, and I love playing with him. He's very creative.

You spent some time in Alabama not too long ago and I heard you had an interesting time performing at a school down there.

I went down to Alabama a few years ago to record some demos with my dear friend Corey Hannah (who plays banjo on a track in the first album). He and his wife asked me if I would be down with being kind of a "show and tell" item for their son's Kindergarten class - I was going to be a "Canadian". I thought that might be cool, I'd answer a couple of questions about Canada and play a song for them. I tried to think of a Canadian song that might be neat for young kids, but it was HARD to come up with something atypical. I ended up picking Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain", but instead of saying "and it's your first cigarette", I replaced it with "and you're thinkin 'bout your pet". I ended up playing guitar for kids who wanted to sing - we did a lot of songs that kids made up on the spot, but one kid sang "Folsom Prison Blues". Before we realized what was happening, there was no turning back and we witnessed a five-year-old sing "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die". Guess I didn't need to worry about the cigarette line as much as I did...

What do you like best about the neighbourhood you live in? What do you like least?

The one thing I HATE about where I live (Dundas/Ossington) is that you can't find a decent place to get a goddamn drink. Seriously, though, Communist's Daughter had PBR in a can for $1.85 last summer, and if they bring that back, you will know where to find me. I don't really have any complaints about where I live, but I can see that gentrification is changing it quite a bit. I still prefer the Dakota on a weekday than a weekend. There's a great park just down the street (Trinity-Bellwoods). Two good coffee places close by - I Deal on Ossington or Ella's Uncle on Dundas. I guess some of the newer restaurants aren't my thing, but The Lakeview is open 24 hours for late-night cheeseburgers and poutine. And Get Real has the most delicious brunch. We have a deck. My rent is cheap. I am pretty into with where I live.

What can people expect to see/hear/feel at your show this Thursday?

I've said this several times, but I couldn't be more stoked that Kathleen Phillips (comedienne) and Olenka & The Autumn Lovers (from London) have agreed to open up. I can't stress how amazing both of these opening acts are. We have some nice surprises in store. Ones that will probably make you feel good. I'm probably going to get a haircut for my brother's wedding this coming weekend, so you will see that. But you probably won't notice it. I meet lots of folks in this city who say that know me but haven't been able to make a show, yet: this is the one to come to.

Megan Hamilton's CD Release Party
w/ Olenka & the Autumn Lovers, comedienne Kathleen Phillips
Thursday, April 9
The Rivoli
334 Queen Street West
Doors 8pm
Cover $7

Call & Response is a series of Q&A's with bands/artists from or playing in Toronto. Photo: Milton Ghaname.


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