What’s on deck for Megan Hamilton?
TORONTO — When it comes to fate, whether an unseen hand guides us through the coincidences and occurrences of our lives, Megan Hamilton says she remains uncertain … except when it comes to her own story of becoming a singer-songwriter.
“I am really on the fence about whether everything we see is what we see or whether there is some predestination. I will change my mind hourly. But if I believe things conspire to shape how we go through life, it all fell into place very interestingly for me,” says Hamilton, whose third recording, See Your Midnight Breath In The Shipyard, is officially released this week via the indie label Familiar Music.
And to hear her story is to wonder about the unlikely constellation of circumstances that can steer a life into unpredictable but rewarding directions.
Hamilton confesses she was not someone driven from an early age to become a recording artist. Her creative spark initially found an outlet in acting, which she studied and practiced for several years, but by her mid-20s she had grown dissatisfied with scrabbling for work and the hassles and compromises that were part of the profession. She shifted to playwriting, then theatrical production and privately turned to music.
“I picked up a guitar and started writing songs. It was a private thing I did just for myself. I didn’t want it to get tainted like acting did, turned into something I didn’t like.” Occasionally she would perform her songs at a weekly writers’ series she started in Toronto called My Word. Musician/producer Mark Vogelsang, who Hamilton had met through her theatrical work, saw her sing at a My Word soiree and he asked if she’d mind serving as a singing guinea pig; Vogelsang had a new microphone he wanted to try out. The subsequent mic-testing session yielded a demo tape and a new creative direction for Hamilton.
“Everything felt right,” she says. “As soon as I made that decision (to shift to music), all this stuff happened. I got positive feedback for what I want to do, and suddenly all these great things happened.”
What great things? For starters, a casual online and after-show friendship she started with the members of My Morning Jacket translated into an offer to open for the band at their Toronto show – all this before Hamilton had even managed to assemble a backing band. She rallied some musicians and opened the show. “I’m surprised I didn’t have a heart attack,” she recalls of opening for her favorite band.
Then there are the two albums she recorded with Vogelsang. Feudal Ladies Club (2006) was made in an old community hall in Saskatchewan. They followed up the next year with how we think about light – both characterized by a sound that reflects their creation in non-traditional recording environments. By contrast, See Your Midnight Breath In The Shipyard was recorded by Vogelsang in a traditional recording studio, but with an unusual twist. The producer cast different songs and sounds on the album as if they were recorded in different parts of an old boat.
“I have always been into water and especially the sounds, the sway of being on a boat. I like swimming,” Hamilton says. The song “Wherever You Are” had an overt aquatic theme and she had composed for the CD liner notes a memoir of a summer camp night sitting on a dock. “That feeling summed up how I felt about the album and the experience of recording it. I can’t explain it other than to say it is evocative of that feeling.”
Vogelsang was energized by the nautical concept and immediately set to work researching the reflective sonic properties of various textures aboard a ship, then mapped out his findings in a diagram that resembles something out of Wes Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and he applied those effects to elements of Hamilton’s songs.
Producer Mark Vogelsang’s ocean-going sonic production diagram for Megan Hamilton’s record
The result is the most fully realized set of Hamilton’s young career. It’s the first time she arranged, rehearsed and played in the studio with her backing band, The Volunteer Canola and their support on new numbers like “Cat Tail Legs” and “Sprout Through The Load” rock convincingly. But Hamilton’s evocative wordplay and winsome delivery is still her ace, best displayed on “Wherever You Are” and the luminous, devotional closer “Moth.”
One might assume music as intensely emotional as Hamilton’s would be draining to perform, but the singer says it’s actually the opposite. “I could be having a really, really bad day, and if I have practice that night, I leave after and I am totally rejuvenated. Something about singing and playing guitar wipes that stuff out. Maybe that is something I didn’t consciously know back in the day. It just made me feel good. It wipes everything out. You put everything that is happening into this release,” she says.
“I always felt if you do things that feel comfortable to you and you have a sense of yourself and a sense of humor and you have a hand in all your dealings and you are grounded, then you are going to be okay.”
Megan Hamilton’s release party for See Your Midnight Breath In The Shipyard takes place Thursday, April 9 at the Rivoli, Toronto.