It started in a cabin in the woods. There, Toronto native Taylor Kirk gave birth to his first recordings, which would eventually give way to his 2005 debut, Cedar Shakes, released under the moniker Timber Timbre. Two more albums—2007’s Medicinals and 2009’s self-titled release—followed, and as Timber Timbre grew, Kirk took on touring band members and moved from strictly at-home recording to splitting recording time between his a cabin, his apartment and a Toronto studio. With his eerie falsetto, he combines his folk sensibilities with inspirations drawn from his own spirituality and the Canadian forests; Timber Timbre especially showcases the intimate, homespun quality that's been Kirk's hallmark all along. Paste recently caught up with Kirk in the middle of his North American tour with The Low Anthem to talk about the evolution of the band, life on the road and the possibility of leaving it all behind.
Why did you decide to use the moniker instead of recording under your own name?
Taylor Kirk: I don’t know. I didn’t really want to present it as a singer/songwriter project, I guess. I like the ambiguity of having a name separate from my name. I really prefer to keep myself out of it as much as possible—I’m not really very interested in presenting myself or my personality through the music, as much as is possible, because of course it is my stuff. They are my songs, I am a songwriter.
Paste: On the new album you have lots of people playing different instruments.
Kirk: Yeah, the other two recordings I did on my own, just at my house or wherever I was. But the most recent one I got some people to help. Mika Posen is playing violin—she’s playing in the band now. The guy who engineered the recording made a lot of contributions—played banjo and electronic portions and things. And there’s a band in Toronto called Bruce Peninsula that came in and wrote vocal parts and did some singing. Yeah, it was nice. I’d never really worked with people before. I was always a solitary—I always had to do everything myself, like a freak. But no, it was nice. I’m a bit of a hack so I really quickly reached my limitations as a musician doing recordings by myself, so it was nice to have some help.
Paste: You recorded this album in your home studio also.
Kirk: Some of it, yeah. Some of it I did on the farm where I grew up, and then some of it I did at my Toronto apartment. And then guitars and voices were all done at a studio in Toronto with an engineer. So yeah, it was kind of half and half.
Paste: Where is the farm?
Kirk: The farm is north of Toronto in a place called Oshawa.
Paste: What do you like about that kind of more intimate at-home recording versus a bigger studio?
Kirk: I guess it’s just nice being on your own and just being completely free to test things. That’s always been really key for me—just trying things out. I think that’s how I’ve been able to learn as a songwriter, as a musician and as a recording artist. But I also really like the limitations of working at home and just deciding to make something with what I have available—with what I have in this room, trying to make a song with what’s at hand. And it’s nice—I think that’s exciting. Sometimes we get to the studio, and the possibilities just go on and on forever. It’s nice to be physically limited in what you can accomplish, and exploit available materials for what you can.
Paste: How do you think your music has evolved from Cedar Shakes until Medicinals and now with the new album? Do you see continuity or do you see them all as very separate entities?
Kirk: I’m not sure if one logically leads to the next. Or, I don’t really see myself that way in terms of honing my craft the way a lot of—I mean, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really see myself that way as a songwriter. I like to try out different things. I like to try out different ideas and experiment as opposed to just trying to hone the craft. Does that make sense? I’m not even sure what the next record will look like or sound like or feel like, really. Yeah, it’s really different. Also as we become a live, touring act, it changes, I think, how I think about writing music. As opposed to—just initially I started making music without the intention of ever sharing it with anyone or certainly not performing it for anyone—just making it for the pleasure of making a recording. Maybe we’ll make a rock ‘n’ roll record next.
Paste: Your music has been described a lot of different ways. How would you describe it and how important are those kinds of labels to you?
Kirk: I don’t really think it’s particularly valuable to be able to box it into a genre. I usually tell people it’s folk music when they ask me, but it’s not. Of course it’s not folk music at all. I think that best describes the temperament of what we’re doing if they’re going to come and see us play. It’s roots music as opposed to—it’s not a rock show. I think folk describes the instrumentation of what we’re doing and the volume of what we’re doing. And I think it’s all—it’s pop music. I think it’s kind of arbitrary how we refer to it.
Paste: Would you describe your music and this latest album in particular as being kind of dark?
Kirk: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s always been there. But on this collection I was dealing with a dark time for me. When I listen to it, it doesn’t sound ostensibly dark to me. I think that everything is kind of more or less in proportion. I always wonder about that. I don’t really think of it as specifically dark.
Paste: Maybe not so much dark as it is eerie.
Kirk: Yeah, that’s something I’m interested in—making something that’s spooky and visceral. That’s exciting to me. Or something that’s haunting, maybe. People ask me about this a lot, and it’s not really my intention to be scary or morose.
Paste: Does any of your music have a religious significance?
Paste: Your logo resembles a double cross.
Kirk: Yeah, it’s an appropriated shepherd’s cross. I sing a lot about religion. I think a lot about religion. Music has always been a really spiritual thing for me.
Paste: What are some of your other influences when you’re writing and making music?
Kirk: It can be endless. I don’t know that there’s anything that doesn’t influence what I want to do—lots of kinds of music or lots of kinds of art or literature. I think the last recording in particular was influenced a lot by music, other music, and music that I had spent time with in my formative years. I didn’t realize until after, but it’s largely an album about music, in a way. Which is something I wasn’t really super happy to discover, that I would do that—make music referencing other music so heavily. But that’s just where I was at with that—trying to recreate the essence of certain things that were meaningful to me when I was discovering music.
Paste: Who were some of those musicians that influenced you in your early years that you can hear in that album?
Kirk: Some of my favorite things that I realized that I would go back to or that I would hear in my own songwriting coming out and the things that I always find exciting and inspiring are, I think, timeless, or music that sounds like it could come from any time. I just think of things like Roy Orbison or Nina Simone or Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis.
Paste: Who are you listening to at the moment?
Kirk: On the road we’ve been listening a lot to Nick Cave lately. I’d never really been a huge fan of music, but people start asking me—people assume that I was really into him. And [I] have been since I recently discovered him, and I recently discovered The Smiths. I’ve never really listened to the Smiths before—I’d never been able to. What else is good? Liars. You know Liars? Really into them lately. I think they’re really interesting, what they’re doing. And Portishead—spent a lot of time with the most recent Portishead recording.
Paste: You’re currently on tour with The Low Anthem. How’s that going?
Kirk: Wonderful. They’re really—really beautiful music. I think we set them up quite well. It seems like a nice fit—they’re also very spiritual music, I think. And we’re also playing with a band called the Barr Brothers, who are from Montreal, which is where I’m living now. Well, they’re not from Montreal but they’re based out of Montreal. It’s really terrific, beautiful music that I hadn’t been aware of before. And they’re all really lovely people, too.
Paste: What’s been the best part of the tour so far?
Kirk: I think maybe we hit the peak last night. Hopefully tonight will be pretty good too—we’re playing at a church in Vancouver. Sorry, not last night, but the night before we played in Portland at the Doug Fir. It’s a really terrific club, really neat. It’s a club, lounge and motel all in one. It seemed like something out of a David Lynch film or something—really neat atmosphere, and everyone sort of hit their stride the other night in Portland. And it was nice to be warm, too. We escaped the spring thaw in Montreal and Toronto. We started the tour in Mexico, which was a highlight as well. Arts & Crafts has an office based in Mexico City, and they were holding their one year anniversary.
Paste: And you were in Austin for SXSW. Had you played SXSW before?
Kirk: No, I hadn’t. I’d never even been. We had a great—I think it was really successful. I think if I ever go back there I’d like to go as a spectator. It was just so insane. It’s nuts.
Paste: When you wrap up the tour with The Low Anthem you’re opening up for Broken Social Scene in Europe?
Kirk: Yeah, we have a few dates with them abroad and then a I think of bunch of shows on our own as well. But before that we’re doing a tour of Quebec opening for Patrick Watson, so we’re also pretty excited about that. Yeah, we’re busy. I think we’re going until June and then hopefully we’ll start recording something new.
Paste: What cities are you most looking forward to while touring?
Kirk: I’m really excited we’re playing in Paris, opening for Richard Hawley. And I really like what he does, and I haven’t been to Paris in a long time, in probably ten years, I guess. And I was only there a few days—I like Paris a lot. And Amsterdam, I’m really excited to visit Amsterdam with Broken Social Scene. I think that’ll be a lot of fun. I think we’re going to Ireland as well. I’ve never been to Ireland—I’m Irish, have some family there. So it’ll be nice to see the homeland.
Paste: Then you’re hoping to get back in the studio when you finish up the tour?
Kirk: Exactly. I wish I could be working on that now, but it’s good to be playing again, too. We had a break for a couple of months over Christmas.
Paste: When do you hope to see the next Timber Timbre album?
Kirk: Hopefully the fall. That would be nice. I hope to have it out this year, but we shall see.
Paste: What do you see for the future of Timber Timbre and your career as a musician?
Kirk: I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. I’m pretty certain that I’ll be at this for a long time, but I don’t know. I’m not so crazy about performing. I’m not sure about the longevity we have touring as musicians. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world. I’d much rather be out in the woods somewhere making records and cutting grass or something—chopping wood.