by Daniel Emberg
Raine Hamilton grew up in Winnipeg and has been in music her whole life. Her expertise in theory and technique were largely earned by way of the violin, but she has recently added guitar to her toolbox and is forging her own path through the singer-songwriter forest.
Her debut EP, Small Packages, is something of Hamilton’s “howdy” to the world. A short collection of songs that are simultaneously earnest and mature, Hamilton is already preparing to take Small Packages on the road with an extensive tour planned through British Columbia later this summer.
First things first though: a release show will be taking place on Monday, June 9 at the Exchange Community Church (75 Albert Street). In advance of that event, Stylus found Raine Hamilton waiting at a picnic table in the middle of the city. To call the space a “serene oasis” would surely be taking it too far, but a little pocket of calm amidst urban bustle seemed perfectly appropriate for the conversation, and here’s where it went.
Stylus: Would you care to open with a few words to introduce yourself to the Stylus community? Maybe a bit about your musical background?
Raine Hamilton: Well, I grew up in a really musical family. In fact, my parents met in a Winnipeg band called Nighthawk that was really active in the ’70s. My dad has always been a really active, awesome songwriter and performer so that’s where I learned music and sort of had it modelled in my life.
From a really young age, I was starting to tell my parents, “I think I need to play the violin, I just have to do this.” I remember it being a really profound feeling, it wasn’t just something I thought it was cool. I recognized a thing I felt like I was supposed to do, so it was like, “Maybe let’s get on that!” (laughs)
So I was very persistent and after awhile they made it happen for me. I started playing violin when I was seven years old and have kept it up my whole life so far.
Stylus: So are you playing violin with your current project?
RH: Yes, some. My main role in the project is songwriter, guitarist, and singer, but I will play some violin during shows and I did all the violin that’s on the recording.
Stylus: Can you say a bit more about the recording? You had a full band for it, right?
RH: Yeah, I had Quintin Bart on bass, Julian Bradford on cello, Donovan Locken on mandolin, Daniel Jordan on drums, and Daniel Péloquin-Hofner on the banjo. Then I’m singing, and my dad Bill Hamilton is playing guitar. My dad is also my sound engineer!
Stylus: These are pretty personal sounding songs. Would you like to say anything about the specific songs on Small Packages?
RH: The first song is called “Time,” it’s a bluegrass-inspired folk piece that I wrote out of simple exasperation with having to find time to do this work I feel is so important, that I feel is why I’m here! The tasks of life can be so overwhelming, so I like to sing that song because it helps me, like, prioritize. [laughs]
“January” is a song about ending a relationship, and the process of seeing that’s what had to happen, leaving, and healing from that. I was going to grad school at the time, so I was heading to Ottawa and just leaving everything behind.
The other song is called “My Own Way,” and that is about just living really authentically, letting go of any fears that had me living some old way that wasn’t really true for me. To me the song is about leaning into the fringe-dwelling kind of life that I really want.
Stylus: How can people get the release?
RH: It will be up streaming on my website in its entirety. If you want to download it, the best way is to come to a live show and buy a download card. I’m going to figure out an online purchasing option, but right now there’s no time—I’m still in the time quandary! (laughs)
Stylus: But there will be no physical release just yet, you’re building up to something down the line?
RH: Yeah! I’m still working on a full-length project. The recording will be done by the fall, and then it should be ready for release by maybe June 2015. These three songs are kind of like a preview of the full-length record, and will all be on it too.
Stylus: Where else will you be playing in the near future?
RH: I’ll be at McNally Robinson on June 13, one in Steinbach on June 20, a daytime show on Canada Day at Into the Music, then my next series of shows will be a BC tour starting July 18.
Stylus: That’s interesting to me. What has your experience been like as an emerging artist trying to book a tour three provinces away, before you even have a record out? How do you go about that? I’m sure others would love to know!
RH: I went about it with a massive spreadsheet, and found that persistence has been a great friend to me in this process. It did take a lot of time and work, but I feel like I was successful just in booking, so I’m really excited to go do those shows now. I’ve got 14 of them.
Stylus: What kind of venues are you getting out there? House shows, coffee houses, bars?
RH: A lot of house shows, but also some coffee shops, festivals, theatres. Nanaimo has this festival called Bathtub Days orsomething…I can’t tell, they make go-karts or boats out of bathtubs and it sounds super fun! I’m also really excited to play the Edge of the World Festival on Haida Gwaii.
Stylus: Lastly, is there any story behind the title Small Packages?
RH: One aspect is that the EP is a “small package” in that it’s only three songs, even if it’s still huge in my life. Then there’s the fact I am a small-statured person and that seems to be what people remember me for! [laughs]
Stylus: Ah, the curse of anyone whose size is more than a standard deviation off the mean!
RH: Exactly! I feel like I’m a couple of standard deviations away so it’s pretty memorable and I might as well capitalize on that somehow. I’ve started using the line that people describe me as a shorter, funnier Joni Mitchell crossed with a shorter, more musical Tina Fey. (laughs). I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to be sharing this, and that people are enjoying it.
Raine Hamilton releases Small Packages on Monday, June 9 at the Exchange Community Church.