Analogue Music | Frontperson


By Matt Conner

The second record was always going to happen.

As accomplished and busy as both Kathryn Calder and Mark Andrew Hamilton can be with other projects—including their primary outlets in The New Pornographers and Woodpigeon, respectively, among others—the pair was always going to come back together for another record as Frontperson. The chemistry, the joy, the music was simply too good the first time around.

There's something magical about the right collaboration, as difficult as it may be to find, which is why Calder and Hamilton speak so glowingly about their sessions together to record Parade. There's a mutual respect and an appreciative push from the other, but the studio remains a "fun" environment—even as Calder says that term can feel superficial or reductive.

We recently sat down with the members of Frontperson to hear more about their process and why this should remain a musical commitment for quite some time.

Analogue: Let me ask about this collaboration. You've both been down this road before, but you've also made a lot of music with other people. My assumption would be that there’s probably a list of people to whom you have said, 'We should do something together,' and it still hasn’t happened. Was it always safe to assume that you two were going to come back together to do this again?

Mark Andrew: Yes.

Kathryn: Yeah, a hundred per cent. We made the first record, and it was super fun. I think that at this point in my life, that’s what I’m looking for in projects that I’m doing. It is rewarding, and effort is put in but it doesn’t feel forced or difficult. That is what has been so lovely about this project. It just seems to come so easily, in terms of a partnership.

"That is what has been so lovely about this project. It just seems to come so easily, in terms of a partnership." -Kathryn Calder

Musically, I guess we just have very similar tastes, and we like the ideas that each other sends, so there’s not a lot of 'Uhh, I don’t know about this.' I think that that is a bit of a magical thing to find. It isn’t present all the time, just because people have different ways of being in the world. I feel very lucky, because that exists in The New Pornographers, and it also exists in Frontperson, so it’s a nice thing to find when you find it.

Mark Andrew: Ditto. It’s great. The fun thing is the most important part. We’ve both made a lot of records, and I don’t think I’ve ever really felt stressed out. I’ve been stressed in my other recordings, for sure. But this one, even if it’s a serious song, and I don’t want to take away from that, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed this much recording.

Another thing is that I propose things to Kathryn, and she’s like 'uh-huh.' We were both doing so much stuff during this. You know the idea that you carve out time for things you want to do. It never feels like a struggle to find time for it, even though it feels like the busiest I’ve ever been.

Kathryn: We talk about the project being fun, and Mark, you said you don’t want to take away from the seriousness of the songs. I feel like that’s a problem with the word 'fun' for some reason. It makes it sound like, 'Whatever! Anything goes. We’re just having a great time!' That’s not how it is. But it is fun.

I think there’s something you can hear in records that are made when people are having a good time making them, despite the seriousness of the content, so I believe that yes, of course, there are going to be times when things aren’t working or coming together. You put the work in and that also can be satisfying when you’re like, 'Okay, now! Now, this is sounding good. But man, that took a long time to get there.' But I think there’s also something beautiful about things that come together, that feel effortless and that hopefully comes through in the music in a way that makes people feel good when they’re listening to it. That is what I mean by 'fun.'

Analogue: Was there a cutting room floor that you could go back to and pick up pieces, or were these completely fresh ideas?

Kathryn: It felt very linear. We started with demos, and we built on those demos. There were decisions being made as we went along, but we built on those decisions. There wasn’t anything where we got to the end and thought, 'We’ve got to go back and revisit this.' There was some navigating along the way. Maybe that’s the experience of having done it for a long time, where you know what feels right to you in your gut. You’re like, 'Yeah, this sound is cool. We like this.' And for someone like me who struggles with decisions, it’s amazing that I can do that, but it’s a gut instinct thing.

Mark Andrew: In terms of writing, it’s all pretty much new. There’s one quite old thing on it, which was a song I guess I’d struggled with for at least a decade, and then Kathryn put the best close on it that it could possibly ever have. But otherwise, everything was new. It felt like a call-and-response thing. I guess we sort of write that way, where I wouldn’t say it’s competitive in any way, but there’s this standard of Kathryn sending something to me, and I have to send something that’s equally as good. 'So here's this old song from 12 years ago. What do you think?' [Laughs]

Analogue: I love that. I think that says a lot about your mutual respect for one another other. Like I know if I send this, it has to have a level of thoughtfulness and diligence. The other person’s going to hear it, so it creates a filter for excellence.

Mark Andrew: Like Kathryn, there are three songs by her that I can say are among my top songs ever. So the fact that I get to work with that person is great. I think of those songs when I’m sending her something, because I can’t send garbage.

Also, when you asked about the cutting room floor, we had a few songs last time that we didn’t chase very far, but this time no. We got to ten, and we said, these are the right ten.

"There are three songs by her that I can say are among my top songs ever. So the fact that I get to work with that person is great." -Mark Andrew Hamilton

Kathryn: [Laughs] I’m laughing because the way I wrote for this record, which is unlike any other record that I’ve written before, and I’m going to keep writing like this because I think it works for me, is in an almost panic—right before Mark arrived for the recording session. He was scheduled to arrive on a Friday. I think I had one song written, and I was like, 'I’ve gotta write these other songs.' I wrote them the week that he arrived. Which is not to say that they were throwaway songs. They just came out of me, and I didn’t have time to overthink it, and I just had to trust my gut on a lot of things, and I have just sort of discovered that I think that’s the way to go. Trust your instincts.

Analogue: I love what this says about your relationship with the muse, for lack of a better term. You have all this experience, and yet you’re able to continue to be surprised. You’re learning that there’s no mastery and maintaining humility before it all. On a project like this, is it continuing to teach you about the mystery?

Mark Andrew: What your question made me think of is you do have this sort of sense of confidence in terms of your taste but maybe not always in terms of what you’re writing. But with this project and this friendship, I’ll send Kathryn things that aren’t for this project, just to use her ear. I can think something’s good, and it’s probably fine, but the second Kathryn says it’s good, I feel like I know it’s good. In terms of the muse, I’m just glad she still shows up when I need her to. It’s those two things working in tandem.

Kathryn: I used to have a really hard time figuring out what to write about. I found that way into songwriting very challenging. It was already boring before I even started. I didn’t feel like I ever had any ideas, so it was a block right out of the gate. I’m talking about when I first started. It took a long time for me to realize that my way in was by getting out of the way. The longer I thought about it, the more blocked I would get, kind of. That’s a personal process I just discovered after having written a lot of songs and being really happy with the ones that come from that kind of gentle, just being open to what’s going on.

Analogue: I wondered about whether that call-and-response style of writing is always complementary, or were there moments of wrestling to get it to marry some of these things?

Mark Andrew: I think a fitting visual answer to that question is that for the video for "Ostalgie", midway through we decided we would sing each other’s lines because we’re kind of a united front. Something I love about this project is that I’m not afraid to sing about anything, and Kathryn’s not afraid to let me do that. Our first record has this epic song about gay cruising, and she was like, 'Great! Let’s put some harmonies on it.'

Kathryn: Something that I particularly admire is that Mark has this really cool ability to visualize, and he has a vision for songs. For "Ostalgie" in particular, he really guided me through the melodic part that I was doing there. If I were to have done it, I would have taken it upstairs, away from him, in my little space, and I would have come up with something, but it would have separated us. I have a really hard time writing in front of people. But when we were in the studio for that song, we just came up with these little melodies that are counting. He wrote lyrics for me. It would have taken me a couple of hours on my own.

VISIT: Frontperson

Photo: Eva Blue & Steve Calder