Timber Timbre's Taylor Kirk Refuses to Give in to Modern Despair

Timber Timbre's Taylor Kirk Refuses to Give in to Modern Despair

The singer talks about the band's new record 'Sincerely, Future Pollution' and how the U.S. election inadvertently influenced it.
May 2, 2017, 2:22pm

Illustration by Dougall Dawson The through-line of Sincerely, Future PollutionTimber Timbre's latest released on Arts & Crafts and City Slang— is the impermanence and precariousness of modern civilizations, Taylor Kirk told me. "I had the sense of this great distraction, the fragility of these dystopic modern, urban civilizations, the idea of things being bigger and more complex, bubbling and brewing underneath the city," said the songwriter and vocalist. "Things feelings very fast." Some of these sentiments are expressed in the bridge of "Western Questions," possibly alluding to cynicism and fear permeating the status quo. "Hollywood halo, the UFO light oozing from every screen. Western questions, desperate elections, campaign Halloween." In earlier days, Kirk was responsible for instrumentation when in the recording studio. With the new album, he sang and produced, while Mathieu Charbonneau, Simon Trottier and Olivier Fairfield handled everything else. "To me that's why it sounds so good because [I wasn't] there fucking it up," said Kirk. Such an arrangement might explain the album's departure from the Americana genre, including Hot Dreams, the group's last record, put out about three years ago and shortlisted for a Polaris Music Prize. And if that holds water, Sincerely, Future Pollution is a far cry from Timber Timbre's self-titled. Timber Timbre's wheelhouse was typically steeped in the folk, blues spirit, drawing on the occult and uncanny, at times. The integration of the strange in much of the band's music is a result of Taylor Kirk's affinity for the supernatural. "I was always obsessed with magical objects, certain charged kinds of images, art, rituals," he said. That obsession is reflected in the opening line of "Magic Arrow," a track from the self-titled: "Mystic pam, gem and tarot, A few escape your magic arrow."

Kirk grew up in Brooklin, Ontario—a small, rural community situated north of Whitby—attending mass every week with his parents. These visits became fodder for his fascinations. "I met a lot of Mormons growing up and I was always sort of curious about these superstitions. My mother was very superstitious." It was the United Church environment that spurred him to become a musician. Kirk recounted seeing a kid his senior playing a cover of "Heart-Shaped Box" and feeling so moved by it. "I could feel it in my body, and couldn't believe this guy possessed the knowledge to be able to do that. I demanded he give me guitar lessons in that very basement." When he began working on Cedar Shakes, a woodsy, independently produced album that came out in 2006, he was listening to Alan Lomax's folk anthology, a collection of field recordings of gospel ballads and folk music throughout the south. It's no surprise that Kirk was also inspired by Talk Talk, namely Laughing Stock and Spirit of Eden, two albums that are "alchemic," as he described. I asked him how he would characterize Timber Timbre's latest music. He compared it to the Vangelis score on Blade Runner. "There was something about the sensation," said Kirk. "There was something very cold and menacing, but also very hopeful, or promising." "Skin Tone," an instrumental on Sincerely, Future Pollution, epitomizes this. I presume Kirk is content: he told me he strives to steer clear of recycling a particular sound. This record is a testament to that. "I'm not crazy about groups that sound more and more like themselves or like this one thing," he said. "I'd rather do something different each time, rather than keep refining. With this record there's less of a fetishization of Americana, this type of music I had been fixated on in the past. The palette, the instrumentation is very different for me. These were not sounds that were ever really part of my lexicon."

Sincerely, Future Pollution dials in synths and heady basslines, channeling music from the 80s. Quintessential Timber Timbre elements are still present, though, like Kirk's crooning voice and steely accompaniment. Sharp, expertly placed guitars licks and pulsating rhythms still course through. The album is brooding, menacing, and yet reassuring, a delicate balance that hangs over most of the group's oeuvre. Though some tracks may be somewhat inspired by events coming out of the U.S., it's not to be mistaken for a de facto political record. The fallout of the election of President Donald Trump was simply difficult to ignore, said Kirk. "The album seemed to mean something else after the election actually happened—those few small references really came forward. I've enjoyed the privilege of being a musician who can be left to myself so I can work my shit out," he said. "Somehow it just seemed impossible, this time, to remain completely clear of [politics] because you couldn't not talk about it. I think there was this frequency of anxiety that was just everywhere all the time. And I think that sort of burst my little bubble I typically work in." Julien Gignac is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.