Interview: Taylor Kirk of Timber Timbre

TimberTimbre@MHOW – 11

Expect boom-bap and a banger of a solstice this Sunday, the 21st of June. The longest day of the year is a time for celebration, a peak of sorts, and this Weekend Roundup will recommend a few ways to properly overload all concert-goers with no less than four festivals & dozens of shows in Ottawa this weekend.

I know what I’ll be doing on June 21st. I’ll wake up at Eric Scharf’s and we’ll compare notes from my Jazz Fest & his Ottawa Explosion Saturday. My lady & I will walk our dog to Bridgehead. I’ll have a Labatt 50 and miss my dad who loved the stuff. I’ll call my grandfather to wish him a happy Father’s Day. And then my friends & I will spend the day around Confederation Park and the Canal, listening to music and watching the nation’s capital enjoy the sun. We’ll just bide our time until the sun finally sets and our most anticipated event begins…

I’m calling it right now—no pressure Mr. Kirk—that Timber Timbre‘s 10:30 p.m. show, part of the After Dark Series of Jazz Fest, will be the show of 2015. We’ve been listening to the self-titled, Hot Dreams, Cedar Shakes, Medicinals & Creep On Creepin’ On non-stop in our household. To be able to chat with frontman Taylor Kirk about his bluesy dirges and old-time folk music last week was a treat, but when see  him perform live with his band will be a true blessing.

Please tell me about your summer tour.

Summer represents a winding down off a tour cycle for Hot Dreams, which came in April last year. This definitely feels a bit like a last hurrah. We’ll be mostly in Europe, with a few festivals in Canada. We’ll go to Europe twice actually, from late June to July, then Wayhome, and back again to Europe for three days in August.

Are you looking forward to playing Ottawa Jazz Fest? It’s both Father’s Day and the summer solstice. Which one of those dates has the most significance to you?

I’m looking forward to it very much! We’ve played Bluesfest & Folk Fest before but not the Jazz Fest.

Off the top of my head, the answer would be the solstice. It’s a much more symbolic and charged date. But it’s funny because we’ve had a bunch of different shifts in personnel lately, and a lot has had to do with fatherhood.

What did you do before Timber Timbre?

I don’t know… I was playing in a couple of friends’ bands. I went to art school. I used to make films. I got into making music for films. I played drums for other people. Timber Timbre was a solo project before I shared it with anybody. At that time, the last job I had was as a closed captioner for film and television. It’s a very weird job, very odd, but it allowed me a lot of freedom to do tours in southern Ontario, Buffalo, and Quebec.

How long did it take for music to become sustainable living for you?

I quit that job in 2009 and had an opportunity to go to Japan to do a couple of shows. And then I came home and kind of hooked up with Arts & Crafts. Since then they’ve kept me on a certain momentum.

What is the key component of that momentum?

I wish I could say it’s inspiration or something, but actually I think the notion of making music and making it a sustainable endeavour is touring. That’s really it. It’s everyone’s bread and butter.

I read that you used to have trouble picturing yourself with a band. Now, do you have trouble picturing yourself without one?

Yeah! Very much so. I guess initially I was such a quiet singer and I couldn’t figure out how to work the songs for a group. After being a solo act it became a weird trio. By weird I mean it was unconventional. I was playing drums with my feet, there was Mika Posen on violin and Simon Trottier on the lap steel. I still couldn’t get my voice to sing as loud as I wanted it to and I still didn’t feel like I knew how to arrange my songs for a group.

Going back to solo… I can’t really imagine it. I think mainly because the music I’ve become interested in performing is rock n roll.

How did you meet Mika Posen & Simon Trottier?

Simon & I met on MySpace actually. That really dates us. He had a group called White Noise Ensemble in Montreal and they contacted me. They invited me to come and open for them at Casa Del Popolo. I met Mika Posen playing in other Toronto groups.

Olivier Fairfield, Taylor Kirk, Mathieu Charbonneau & Simon Trottier=Timber Timbre. Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Toussaint
Olivier Fairfield, Taylor Kirk, Mathieu Charbonneau & Simon Trottier = Timber Timbre. Photo Credit: Jean-Baptiste Toussaint

Nowadays Simon is still your bandmate, along with Mathieu Charbonneau & Olivier Fairfield. Can you talk about Simon & Olivier’s Last Ex project, which is based off an abandoned ambient soundtrack Timber Timbre began and never finished?

Yes, we had been commissioned to score this horror film directed by a Canadian filmmaker. We got to a certain stage with it but what we were making the director thought was “too cool.” He said, “This is great but it’s just kinda… cool music.” He didn’t feel it served film. I think he wanted something more traditional, a bit more genre…

I think the film bottomed up and the producers went back and had to restart. We were severed from the project. Olivier & Simon took the recordings and reworked them into something vey different which became Last Ex—experimental instrumental rock music. It’s very sci-fi.

What was it like to work with someone as explorative and driven as Simone Schmidt, who helped you write a couple songs on Hot Dreams?

She helped me with “Curtains?!” & “Bring Me Simple Men”. She’s done lots of artwork for me as well. She has a really refined aesthetic, as a writer and a visual artist. She was just very, very generous. It almost seemed effortless for her to finish these songs. I felt that she did them for me, they were really tailored to my voice. I’ve never ever done that before.

I’ve done a song with Leslie Feist before, but it wasn’t collaborative the same way. “Homage” came out on a compilation album called Arts & Crafts X.

I know you really enjoy playing with this group, but who are some of your other favourite musicians besides your bandmates?

That’s a tough one. There are lots of things that come to mind… I just bought a bunch of records of a group called Broadcast. They’re a British group and their recordings were just repressed by Warp Records on vinyl. Trish Keenan passed away when she was very young. This is a group that I really, really admire. I’ve immersed myself in that.

I once became obsessed with Lee Hazelwood, his recordings, and how they were made. I wanted to make my voice sound like that even though I don’t have it at all. Lou Reed is one of my favourites. Nina Simone is one of the most important. And not just for singing but also song-writing, production, and instrumentation. Kind of all of it.

Did your parents help you develop your taste in music?

Yeah, my parents had a pretty great record collection and when I was young I found Led Zeppelin & Pink Floyd in there. I can’t really get away from Pink Floyd. I mean I don’t sit around listening to Pink Floyd but every now and then I listen and realized just how I’ve ripped them off!

I was really into Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hendrix but for some reason I knew that Pink Floyd was different. It’s subtle. More nuanced.

How did the video for “Beat the Drum Slowly” come to be? Were you a fan of Chad VanGaalen’s music or art before, or did he contact you?

I’ve been a real fan of Chad’s music for a long time. I don’t know when I discovered his videos but he started making his own animations for his music. We just reached out and he was super friendly. I guess we had played a couple shows with him over the years. Very nice man. It’s such a labour intensive thing as well. Everything’s hand-drawn.

I would have him do every single video.

What did you think when you first saw that video?

I was totally astonished. I thought it was extraordinary. I didn’t tell him what the song was about—I just said what I was thinking in a very vague way. I think it was all kind of crystallized in that video.

And so are you working on a new album?

Songs have been sort of starting to come together only just now. Really it’s in the fall that I’ll sort things out. I find it very difficult to be creative that way while touring. It’s a very polarizing thing: you do one or the other. I know a lot of people who aren’t limited by touring and can just write all the time. I really don’t have that.

Will the next album be similar to Hot Dreams’s geographical reflection on parts of California?

It could be, yeah. That was such a potent thing. I don’t think any of the other records really have that specific relationship to the environment in which they were written.

If I went to Iceland or something, to another severe landscape I think it would be likely.

I strongly suggest you go to Iceland, then. But perhaps your recording name is another title that has that kind of relationship to a place. Timber Timbre comes from a cabin in Bobcaygeon, correct?

It’s true. It seemed an apt title for a bunch of songs written in the woods. I was banging on the wood floor and banging on the walls. I didn’t really have any instruments.

Have you been back there?

I haven’t. It belonged to friends of the family but I think they sold it… I’d be very curious to go have a look…