Megan Hamilton See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard
Published Mar 24, 2009Toronto, ON's Megan Hamilton forces a high-pressure jet of intense folk rock through a potent blend of human emotion on her second full-length album. More stylistically consistent than her beautifully quirky 2006 debut, Feudal Ladies Club, Hamilton's sophomore release is a sonic brew powerful enough to make the head swim. Whereas her previous releases were recorded in home-built studios, Shipyard was recorded with a full band in the professional studios of London, ON audio engineering school OIART. The result is a fuller, more cohesive sound. Hamilton's long-time collaborator Mark Vogelsang engineered and co-produced the disc, using innovative sound design to give it a distinctive atmosphere and a mesmerizing sonic quality. The gently plucked guitar notes that open the album undulate like sunbeams underwater but build to a weightier, more experimental sound, complete with fuzzed-out, layered vocals and chiming organ tones that shiver with thick reverb. Hamilton's raw vocal style is counterbalanced by sweetly enchanting phrases like "the cruellest manoeuvre from here to Vancouver," which she rolls lovingly around in her mouth like Theodor Geisel's marbles. Her lyrics flirt with existential despair but her whimsical way with words ultimately reveals a starry-eyed optimism that shines through even on the disc's more subdued tracks.
Your creative partner, Mark Vogelsang, did a lot of research for the recording of this album.
Yes, Mark likes very intricate projects, so he did a lot of research into ships and the sonic qualities of ships. And he figured out all of the different kinds of rooms that are in ships and what they were made of and he applied that knowledge to the album and placed all the different sounds in different parts of a ship.
Where did this focus on ships come from?
I've always had a very strong connection to ships and water and marinas, especially at night. There's a certain feeling I get and it comes from a couple of childhood experiences of being in boatyards at night and that was the general feeling I was getting from this album. He also researched the sound characteristics of breathing in cold air and used that as inspiration for some of the reverb in the vocals.
Do you think that lends a chilly tone to the album?
Absolutely, and that was a definite choice on his part. And we had talked about that before. We talked about what are our favourite records and why we liked them so much and I was listening to that Big Star record, Sister Lovers, and there's reverb in that that I responded to and there's that cold, remote quality. Mark thought about what it would sound like if I was on deck and just singing out into the night air, so he did some research on breathing in cold air and what happens to your voice when you put it out that way.
What are you referring to with the title of the first track? What are you suggesting ought to get thrown down the drain with your morning coffee grinds?
It's pretty existential. That song came from a sense of being frustrated that maybe everything's futile. You put a lot of emotion and thought into something, and then maybe in the end none of it does matter, maybe it's all kind of silly. But I think with the title, what you're throwing down the drain is even the worry about that. Who cares? We're here anyway. Do some stuff. I went through that big time, getting into existential philosophy and really relating to it and thinking, "uh oh, I could really screw myself over if I let myself get too angsty all the time." But I got to the point where I was like, "who cares?" I like making music, so I'm going to do that. Because what else am I going to do while I'm on the planet?
Why the switch from lo-fi home recording to a more professional full band setting?
As with everything we do, it seems, that was just what was available. We don't have resources, or financial backing. Everything we do we scraped together ourselves to try and make something, which is really challenging. Mark had taken this job teaching at OIART and we'd been talking about where to do the next record. I'd really liked the idea of trying to get a farmhouse somewhere in Ontario and bringing everybody up. I liked the idea of making our own studio but Mark had access to all this equipment and because he's a teacher there he gets studio time so we thought, "let's try it this way this time."
How did the different recording set-up affect the album?
I wasn't used to thinking in terms of five people as well as myself. We had five days in the studio, so we had to be in great shape, knowing the songs really well. I really had to map out a pretty strict recording schedule. And I'm really picky about certain things. Every vocal take is start to finish. I'm really picky about things like that because I like the idea of a through-line. In the same way that I like the idea of a journey through an album, I especially like a journey through a song. So I want to do the whole thing each time, because every time you do it you create a vibe, there's a sense of movement. And breaking it up, stopping, redoing a verse, for me it just cuts it up and it doesn't give you the same kind of effect. But I also made the guys do it that way, which none of them are used to. I freaked them all out but in the end, I think it really helped to create that sense of movement, that sense of a journey, that emotional connection in each song. (Familiar)