Talking to Taylor Kirk

Timber Timbre is known for their spooky sound, but there’s more to their music than creepy effects, chilling instrumentation, and haunting vocals.

A ghastly scene with Timber Timbre (photo courtesy of artist)

I corresponded with chief singer/songwriter Taylor Kirk to get get the inside scoop…

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Me: I find that sometimes, the deeper into music I get, the harder it can be to describe it. If you met someone in a bar who was totally unfamiliar with your music and they asked you what it was like, what would you say?

Taylor Kirk: Yes, I think the same is true for me. It’s dancing about architecture. There’s never really going to be a succinct universal vocabulary for this, is there? I usually just keep it simple; blues, doo-wop, country, soul, pop, rock’n’roll. Any of these are fine.

One of the things that most distinguishes Timber Timbre is the spooky vocals. Was this way of singing always your approach or was it something you adopted specifically for Timber Timbre?

I’m not that spooky, am I? I was just trying to sound like Otis Redding. Or Nina Simone. Aw, shit.

Where do you look to for inspiration for songwriting (both in general and specifically with Creep on Creepin’ On)? How does this latest album differ from your older material?

Most often I’m inspired by music, and making recordings of music about music. I don’t have to look hard or far for inspiration, though. It’s quite habitual now, collecting ideas, melodies, stories, images, terms of endearment, elegies, etc. These songs came out of a really exciting period for me – a lot of touring and traveling, and new experiences. In fact, I thought this material was overall more fun than previous work. Funny even.

The subject matter in the lyrics threatens to paint a somber picture, but the piano parts are often so upbeat. Is your music inspired more by a dark place (as one might think by reading through the lyrics and listening to the style of the vox), or does it come from a lighter side? I chuckled when I first heard the name of your latest album. Do you consider humor/irony/dramatic effect to be an integral part of your music?

Until recently, I’ve never really been a fan of humour in music – even in the form of irony or kitsch, believe it or not. But I suppose as a songwriter, becoming more earnest might involve more of my personality sneaking into songs, and I’m just not all that serious. Most definitely, the album title is meant to incite a chuckle.

Is there a Carson McCullers tie-in with “Lonesome Hunter”? If so, have you read the book and why did you alter the title?

Yes, a friend leant me that book years ago, describing it as a masterpiece. I was sold on the title and the illustration on the cover, but then it was lost in a move… Anyway, I only ever got half-way through that one, to be honest. But the title was so poetic and relevant to my sentiment for that song… I didn’t think anyone would mind or notice.

Could you reveal some of the more unusual things you used to achieve the odd sound effects in the new album? (Is that someone screaming in “Too Old to Die Young”?) What effects do you use on your vocals?

Yeah, we did one evening of screams. It was really cathartic. At night, after dinner and a few bottles of wine, we turned out the lights in the studio and one by one we went down and did our best shrieks. Mika is a really good screamer.

Simon is the wizard behind a lot of those odd sounds so you should ask him. We did some funny things with tape. We’re not really the type of people who fetishize tape or anything, but it was fun and interesting to play with tape-machines and old delays. Nearly all of the vocals were bounced off of two-inch tape to achieve the slap-back delay. And then we’d push and pull on these old delay units to create some warbles and modulations, mainly on string parts, to make those sort of sea-sick sounds.

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Check out my write-up of the song “Lonely Hunter” here on NPR Music.

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