by Sheldon Birnie
Timber Timbre crept onto the Canadian music scene like a thief in the night, capturing the imaginations of audiences and critics. Their 2011 opus, Creep on Creepin On, was nominated for the Polaris Prize, and spawned a series of five mind bending cinematic short films (or, “music vides,” if you prefer). The band, formerly a solo project of Taylor Kirk’s now filled out to a larger, collaborative performance based group, recently released Hot Dreams, an LP which is sure to find its way onto Top Ten lists (and likely the Polaris Prize long list, at least) for 2014. As the band launched themselves into “the touring vortex,” Stylus caught up with Taylor Kirk in a hotel room in gloomy Iowa City for a chat before their Winnipeg Jazz Fest performance.
Stylus: How’s the tour going? How’s the reception to the new album?
Taylor Kirk: You know, it’s really not what I was hoping for. But we haven’t really paid our dues in the United States. I guess this is how it is, generally speaking, for groups who do very well in the big cities, once they get out to the smaller markets, it’s tough. The audiences have been small, but they’ve been really digging it, I think. It’s neat that people actually travel to see shows. The US is so big. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to drive for four hours if that’s as close as they’re going to get. So people who are really into the project will travel for it. But yeah, the shows have been going over very well. Just small audiences.
Stylus: You’ve said in a previous interview that you were really looking forward to playing these songs live. How is that working out, for you?
TK: It’s been going very well. I’m very happy with it. We’ve kind of changed the group, added some members. So it’s a bit of a different format. It’s much more adaptable to all of the material, in fact. Meaning we were able to be more true to the recordings with this set up. It’s been kind of neat in that we’re able to execute the songs, which had been a huge concern in the past. It’s also allowed us to reinvent, or reimagine the older music in a new way. I’ve been playing it the same way for the past four or five years, so…
Stylus: I understand there was a little more collaborative approach to writing for the album this time? And you’ve had Simone Schmidt doing some lyrics. What was different about this album as to previous albums?
TK: It’s funny you should bring that up, Simone’s out with us right now, with Fiver. They’re supporting us on this round. It was really a great thing. It’s always been such a solitary thing for me, it sometimes feels like a bit of a burden, at times. And that sometimes things can be a little too focused that way, like it’s one kind of laser beam focused source for everything. So it was really neat that, I don’t know, that I got up the courage to ask other people to contribute. Like Simon [Trottier] from the group, we co-wrote a couple of the songs. He would just kind of hand me these things, these progressions and be like, “Here you go.” He wasn’t precious about them, and out of that came a couple songs. I was struggling and needed help with words and text and expressing a couple thoughts and ideas, and I’ve always admired Simone Schmidt as a lyricist. So she helped me, and seemed to dial these thoughts like it was nothing. It was really kind of neat. And it still feels uniform and focused, like us.
Stylus: Yeah, listening to the new album, if I hadn’t known you’d collaborated with a few people, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. It really does sound consistent with your previous work.
TK: There was a lot more input from other people. Olivier Fairfield, he came up with some funny bendy Rhodes things, that really made certain songs. Like “Hot Dreams,” he had this warped Rhodes sound that was pretty key. And Matt Charbonneau played synths throughout. So yeah. It’s a lot more than me making records on my own in my basement or whatever.
Stylus: Others have likely touched on this in interviews with you before, but I’d like to talk about the cinematic quality that your songs have, or that are attributed to them. I mean, you’ve got a background in film, but do you approach writing for film differently to writing a set of songs for an album? And how do they differ?
TK: Oh, it seems to be completely different. The experience of working for film, and working for a director, hasn’t actually been one that’s been particularly fruitful. Or rather, fruitful maybe, but successful…. just “maybe.” But it seems like such a very hard thing to anticipate… and the fact that neither of us, meaning the director and the group, have the vocabulary to communicate. And it seems that a lot of the times film-makers think they want something different or they think they want the sound of the group. But really they just want the thing that is obvious, the typical genre of cliches. And that’s totally fine. That always works, and serves the film. But we don’t really know how to do that. It’s tricky. I think once we get into it, it doesn’t really seem pure. Once you’re doing it for somebody else, it’s not as true, somehow.
Stylus: Is it still something you’d like to do, or consider working on, if you were able to establish that communication with a filmmaker?
TK: Yeah, I think so. I actually think, for a group to do it… I mean, if i were to do it myself as a composer and was able to communicate with the filmmaker, that would be one thing. But with the group doing it, like collaborating to make music for a film, I think it would have to be something very open. Like, certain Jim Jarmusch films, they’re scored and they’re thoughtful, but they’re also very weird. It’s not traditional in any way. And that feels like a collaboration more than a true score.
Stylus: Do you have any favourite film scores, or scores that you go back to, that inspire you to work in that direction?
TK: It’s kind of come up, like it’s resurfaced as an interest lately. I thought that I would actually be doing this, if I were to ever have a career in music, when I was younger. I really didn’t think about being in a band. But more recently, a lot of this has come up because of being in Laurel Canyon and Hollywood while making this record. There were all these triggers that sent me back into that kind of music. It’s funny that all this kind of music is starting to be reissued. I think there’s a new interest in general in these old film scores that are being reissued. It’s cool. I think of Rosemary’s Baby, which has been reissued. I really think that’s a clever one. Krzysztof Komeda did neat things. I like Bernard Herman’s score for Taxi Driver. Chinatown we were listening to a lot, I think that’s Jerry Goldsmith who did that. All the big dudes from that era. Merricone, I could listen to that all day long, those spaghetti western scores.
Stylus: As far as lyrics go, do you find you draw from a particular well when writing? Or how does your process work in that department?
TK: Not really, no. There used to be, I guess there’s no real pattern for that. Sometimes, in the past, I’ve gone and just directly taken things from authors and people I was interested in. And so there were a lot of textual things that informed the record and the music. This time, it wasn’t like that. All the ideas were primarily kind of musical ideas. I thought things out that sort of fit. I was thinking more about the delivery. There were only a couple authors I was curious about. I was thinking a little bit about Bukowski and John Fante.
Stylus: I guess being in LA they would come up.
TK: Yeah, you’re right. But really there weren’t a lot of literary reference points. I mostly just read emails and text messages now.
Stylus: I’ve read that with this newest record that you were making a bit of an attempt to distance Timber Timbre from some of the labels that have been thrown at the project. The “moody” and “creepy,” that sort of thing. Why do you think those are labels people have fixed to this, and do you find that helpful, or more of a hindrance?
TK: I don’t know. To some point, with the previous recordings, particularly the last record, was somehow meant to be menacing and spooky. And I was ok with that. But it was too the point of almost being tongue-in-cheek or like a Halloween tape or something. Those kinds of sound effects. I think it’s a bummer that people don’t see the humour, necessarily, in that and it’s seen as something so serious, almost goth. I don’t know. I just think that it’s boring to be pigeonholed. It’s not like this is an upbeat record or anything, or hugely moving in another direction. So I wonder about that. I never hear that about Nick Cave, or the Cure or whatever. This is scary music, but it’s not only that. I hope that this would get the same consideration.
Stylus: Do you have any other projects in the works these days? Anything on the backburner, musically?
TK: At the moment, we’re straight into the touring vortex. There are a few things that were done in the last two years, a few things that will hopefully come out in the next little while that we were working on. But now, back in the vortex of this stuff, that’s pretty much it.
Stylus: Well, great thanks for taking the time to chat today. We’re really looking forward to your Jazz Fest performance.
TK: Me too, it’s been so long since we’ve been in Winnipeg. I really like it there.
Timber Timbre play the Winnipeg Jazz Fest Monday June 16, with a performance at Union Sound Hall.