When it’s suggested that Timber Timbre’s latest album, Hot Dreams, makes a great backdrop for dark-hearted days when the last thing you want is human contact of any kind, singer-guitarist Taylor Kirk takes a minute to process things and then quietly agrees. If his solo project turned band’s fifth full-length is most likely to resonate with those who love their alone time, that’s perfectly logical, considering the person behind it.
“That’s funny—I never really thought about it that way, but it makes sense that it would translate that way,” the soft-spoken Torontonian says, on the line from his home. “Someone told me, or suggested through some professional assessment or relayed professional assessment of me, that I am an introvert. There was a book published recently that became a very popular big seller—I forget what it’s called, but it’s about introverts, and how being that way is really opposite from the way that people are conditioned or encouraged to be in society.
“I really identify with that,” Kirk continues. “But I never really thought about all the things that can complicate your life when you are introverted, and how a certain level of stimulation can make things really hard, really difficult. Things can be exhausting when that need to retreat is really prevalent.”
Overcoming the introvert within has been a long process. These days, Kirk finds himself selling out iconic places like Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall, racking up Polaris prize and Juno nominations, and having his songs placed in shows like Breaking Bad. When he started Timber Timbre, however, everything was indeed a challenge, with nothing being more daunting than getting on-stage.
“It was really hard at the beginning,” he reveals. “It all seemed extraordinary to me that it was happening, and that anyone would want to come and be a part of what I was doing. To hear me, or to watch me perform. Except that I didn’t actually perform—I would go on-stage and play. That was all I could do—to just get on-stage and play the songs and try to get into it and enjoy it. Except that I wouldn’t engage very much, and I wouldn’t say anything to audiences. I was just more a bit of a thug who stood there staring at my hands as I played the songs.
“I think what’s happened is that now I’ve gotten used to it,” Kirk continues. “It’s not that I’m hugely comfortable with it. It’s more that it’s normal now—I’m used to being uncomfortable.”
The Timber Timbre changes haven’t stopped there. Past records have seen the project labelled as a spook-folk oddity, this eventually leading Kirk to note that he was tired of being described as a “ghoul” by music critics and fans. Hot Dreams rebrands Timber Timbre as more of a dark-hued pop band for record collections that are heavy on Nick Cave, the Tindersticks, and Mark Lanegan. The cinematic “Resurrection Drive Part II” sounds like it’s from a time when men wore hats and smoked filterless Camels in glorious black-and-white, while the languid “This Low Commotion” plants Lee Hazlewood somewhere deep in the Texas desert on a moonless summer night. Beautiful little touches abound, including the wavering tape manipulation on the cello-burned “Bring Me Simple Men” and the opiate-dosed sax solo on the title track.
Despite Hot Dreams walking a downbeat path, Kirk looks back on the record’s creative process with fondness. He has great memories of escaping the dreariness of an Ontario winter to write in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, a spot that’s apparently as magical today as it was in the sun-saturated ’70s. He’s also happy that he’s no longer the only person involved in the songwriting.
“Making music has always really been a solitary process for me,” he says. “This was the first time that I ever opened it up to other people. When I was writing it, I was kind of around this person that I was seeing, in Laurel Canyon, and that really influenced things. Then Simone Schmidt—who is my bandmate—and I actually wrote some things together. It’s not like my past songs were particularly radical, but for some reason, what we did this time seems somehow more obvious.”
Songs would morph in interesting ways once Timber Timbre got into the studio, with Kirk once again bouncing ideas off those around him.
“It’s hard to say how things changed, but you could take something like ‘The Three Sisters’, which at some point was almost like a piece of doom metal, like Earth, or Sunn O))),” he recalls. “That way was so much fun to play, and that’s how we thought we would produce the song. But it ended up being something quite different, something that would feel like the end credits of a movie like Taxi Driver.”
Those familiar with Taxi Driver are well aware that the film tells the story of a relentless introvert who’s never entirely comfortable with those around him. Kirk is happy to report that, just as he’s made tremendous progress coming out of his shell on-stage with Timber Timbre, he’s also a different person off-stage than he was in his younger years.
“I think it’s a case where you learn tricks,” he says with a laugh. “And then, as you are fooling other people, I think you start to fool yourself.”
Timber Timbre plays the Commodore on Tuesday (June 10).