In 2009, when Timber Timbre released their self titled album, there was a night where I found myself in a Montreal strip club on a quiet Tuesday and I witnessed a beautiful dark haired woman strip to “Lay Down in the Tall Grass.” It was a strange moment. I’d heard the album by then but I’d never considered Taylor Kirk’s menacing lyrics to be sexy. Until then they put me in a discomforting mood. They were words too dark to face reflected back to you. Timber Timbre’s latest and fifth release, Hot Dreams, gets darker and sexier still with their title track and, as if in reenactment of that wonderful Montreal night, accompanies it with a video in a strip club where time seems to slow to a stop. But the darkness is still overpowering. The songs from their new album are funeral marches and laments. They’re predatory, film noir inspired dirge pop. They’re the kind of songs Nick Cave would write if Nick Cave were Lee Hazelwood.
It’s easy to take the darkness of a writers words and twist them into a mythical cloud surrounding the person. When I walked into a Toronto bar to meet with Timber Timbre singer Taylor Kirk, I walked past without recognizing him. Far from the dark and broody pictures that Timber Timbre paints with their music, Taylor was wearing flannel and a touque, drinking beer like an old time hoser at the bar. He was warm but nervous, soft spoken over the Pavement album that played in the background. We spoke of the brewing controversy of their song “Hot Dreams,” Taylor’s reluctant celebrity and his disenchantment with Hollywood.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Bierk
Noisey: Your new song “Hot Dreams” begins with the line, “I wanna dance with a Black woman.” The song seems to be about the desire to feel something new whether that be good or bad. How does “dancing with a Black woman” fit into that narrative?
Taylor Kirk: “Hot Dreams” is about fantasy and exploring and reconciling love and sex, love and fantasy, sex and fantasy. It’s about exploring otherness. Someone asked me if I’d considered that it’s a fetishization of a race and I still don’t know how to answer that question. I consider that we have, with our records and songs, we’ve fetishized certain kinds of music and certain records. I asked this person if he felt that we had fetishized Black music because I think we have and I think we do with this song. I’m trying to write a song about sex and fantasy in what I understand. I think we understand American Black music to be a sexy music so it’s congruent with that concept. I mean, a friend of mine who is very into playing roles and embodying different characters with her writing and her storytelling and her lyrics, which I’m doing to an extent but to a lesser extent, she felt that in the song I must be embodying a jerk. I considered that the line is dangerous but not a damaging thing to sing.
Do you understand why people might have a problem with that line?
Of course. That’s what I mean, I considered it to be dangerous but I still don’t think that it’s destructive or damaging.
You brought up blues music and a white appropriation of it. Do you think that’s still an issue? How do you feel about playing blues music?
I think it’s done. I was thinking more of soul music with the previous comment but I don’t know, I think it’s over, I don’t even think it’s interesting. The idea of white blues was never something I liked or wanted to hear and it was something I avoided. My Dad plays in a blues rock band and I always felt some aversion to blues rock. But at some point I was trying to not sound like myself and trying to embody that sound, just the aesthetic of it.
Do you think you sound like yourself now?
More so. I think with each song I write and each recording there’s less pretence to what I’m doing and there’s less of an affectation.
One thing that I’ve noticed on every album, except Cedar Shakes, is that the figure of the “hunter” always comes up. It’s in "Patron Saint Hunter," "Magic Arrow," "Lonesome Hunter," it comes up on the new album in "Bring Me Simple Men." What is the hunter to you? What does it represent?
With the most recent recording Simone Schmidt wrote the words to that song, or I guess we wrote them together. I considered avoiding those kinds of images and motifs that I had explored previously. But I think that one, along with other kinds of images or references that seemed to be menacing or predatory, I wanted to leave out. I guess this was something I’d been considering previously as a way to offset the vulnerability I felt as a songwriter, as a singer, as a lyricist, mainly. It felt good to sing and disguise what I was singing about in something powerful.
Do you consider yourself a hunter?
In the past I would have considered myself the prey, more vulnerable. Then to wear the mask of the hunter. It seemed to be some kind of equalizer going into the act of performing or putting music out. I guess mainly for performing.
Are you uncomfortable performing?
I’m getting better. It’s taken me a long time to get comfortable. I think I’m used to it. Maybe I’m used to being uncomfortable.
What makes you comfortable?
Do you see yourself as a reluctant figurehead or a reluctant celebrity? Do you think a lot of the things you’ve fallen into, you’ve fallen into them reluctantly?
Yes. It feels very unnatural. Nothing about doing this professionally feels like a natural thing to do except the act of making the thing. Otherwise there’s very little about the rest of it that feels obvious.
So why do you do it?
That’s a good question...I’m used to it. I’m getting used to it.
I’m of the understanding that you’ve been reluctant to form a rock band with bass and drums and guitar, which is the form it’s in now. How did your guard come down to the point where it could be a traditional rock band?
I was more interested in the people I was playing with than the instrumentation. So I found people who were nice to be around and nice to play with, being Mika and Simon. Then we started to work with Olivier, who is a drummer, and I was never interested in playing with a drummer, particularly, it’s not like he would be replaceable. I like playing with him. And it’s the same with Matt. The project has always been a little nebulous in that format that it was in before. It was unconventional, I guess, and it got to be a little bit boring to not be able to always win people over. Where something that is in the rock format, it’s just so much more reliable. It’s undeniable and familiar and it doesn’t demand as much of people to adjust their mind around what it looks like. Optically as well, like what’s happening onstage. People really struggled with that before.
Are you looking to challenge your audience less?
No, it’s more that I don’t want to challenge myself. I never felt it was so strange, what we were doing before, but once we started to play with drums and bass the reaction and response was so much more a polar opposite of the reaction we were getting before, which was exciting and different. The set before was really languid and it was almost experimental at times and meditative and it required a lot of attention and patience and focus. Now it’s innate. It’s rock ‘n roll. Almost.
Photo courtesy of Lucia Graca
The first song on the new album, "Beat the Drum Slowly" seems like a condemnation of our celebrity-obsessed culture, especially concerning film. Is it a condemnation?
It’s more of a lament. I was staying in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and I was around Hollywood and Hollywood film people and it made me lament a time of film making and an aesthetic that I really liked and that I really related to somehow. Hollywood is such a surface thing. It’s not an exaggeration, you really see it when you go there. You can feel it. It feels like a superfluous, self contained thing and it feels like people are really delusional. There was something about being in that place and hearing the stories come up and the mythology that surrounds that place that made me want to go and watch Chinatown. Meanwhile The Hobbit would be opening down on Sunset or the Wizard of Oz movie with these computer generated movies which are, to me, so pathetic and so gross. And the red carpet stuff and all that whole scene, it was annoying.
Just before the album Timber Timbre was released, years ago, I saw you perform at a label party and there was already some excitement about it, there were a lot of people who showed up to see you for the first time. You sat onstage and you played bird noises from a record player for about half an hour and then you walked off. It seemed like a rebellious move. I don’t know if it was rebellious or if you would view it that way, but how connected are you to the performer you were then?
My friend Jonas and I had this collection of Solitudes records on vinyl and we made loops and made essentially a noise set with these things, like ocean waves and birds. It’s funny because I wouldn’t do that now. It was a rebellious thing. I think at the time I really wasn’t interested in playing that space. I had played a lot of big rooms like that and played to people talking through the whole set and to do that solo a number of times is so disheartening. I knew that that’s how it would be in that place so I said fuck it, I’ll do what I want and I’ll have fun with this show and I won’t expose myself. Or I won’t put myself through anything. But it didn’t feel like I was doing a stunt. It didn’t feel like there was that much interest in the project at that time, I didn’t think anyone would be bothered by it. That was naive, I think.
You’re not naive anymore?
I learned that lesson. But no, I’m not naive anymore.
Brad Casey is on Tinder while playing Timber Timbre.