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A fresh take on the murder ballad

After listening to his music, you might be forgiven for forming warped assumptions about Timber Timbre frontman Taylor Kirk.

After listening to his music, you might be forgiven for forming warped assumptions about Timber Timbre frontman Taylor Kirk.

Based on his lyrics, you might imagine some sort of recluse, holed up in a secluded cabin, holding seances and playing with his Ouija board.

And based on the music, that cabin - which is probably on the edge of a swamp - is cluttered with strange musical instruments and stacked floor to ceiling with obscure 78 rpm records.

But that assumption isn’t true - not completely anyway.

“It certainly doesn’t reflect my general outlook on life or anything,” Kirk said last week, when asked about his particular brand of Gothic indie folk.

“People are always disappointed and kind of surprised at what a boring, regular, goofy guy I am.”

The dark mood of the songs came out of a very difficult period in Kirk’s personal life.

Once he started writing and performing these songs, he realized how cathartic music could be.

“It felt good to exploit that type of mood, that type of vibe on stage,” he said.

“It helped me offset the vulnerability I felt, dealing with personal things.”

Although a regular, goofy sort of guy, Kirk did start Timber Timbre in a secluded cabin.

Kirk recorded his first Timber Timbre album while working for some family friends in Northern Ontario, near Bobcaygeon.

“They had this big old timber frame building. I made these recordings there in my spare time,” said Kirk.

“I was literally banging on the walls and floors and stuff. They had an old banjo, shakers ... basically just kids toys that had been left behind.”

The resulting album, Cedar Shakes, was released independently and is a bit hard to find, but well worth a listen.

Filled with harmonica, hand-clap and foot-stomp percussion, guitar and oddly endearing vocals - the low budget solo project sounds like a group of friends at an all night jam.

The project was born out of Kirk’s newfound love for folk music.

A friend had lent him The Anthology of American Folk Music - a six-disk compilation compiled by Harry Everett Smith and released by the Smithsonian Institute.

The anthology, originally released in 1952, was a collection of obscure releases issued between 1927 and 1935.

The music was broad in scope - from country blues to Cajun social music to Appalachian murder ballads.

After a few listens to Timber Timbre - especially the recently released Creep On Creepin’ On - it’s easy to see that Kirk identified more with those murder ballads then anything else.

But this is the murder ballad as imagined by Roger Corman or George A. Romero.

In Lonesome Hunter, Kirk sings: “Well, I’m standing holding my head / And I’m staring through a hole in your head / And I been feeling like a zombie baby / I am a zombie coming slow to your bed.”

The accompanying music also has B-movie qualities.

Though definitely influenced by early folk and blues, much of the album sounds as if it were composed by Italian film score legend Ennio Morricone.

That cinematic element, especially in the few instrumental tracks, is something that Kirk has long been cultivating.

“I’ve always been really interested in a few particular filmmakers and the way that they use music,” he said.

“In fact, when I was in college I though that, if I were to have a career in music, it would be in making music for film.

“I never imagined I’d be in a rock band.”

But Kirk has had to put his film score aspirations aside for now.

Since signing with Toronto-based indie label Arts & Crafts, Timber Timbre has been steadily growing in success.

The 2009, self-titled album was long listed for the Polaris Prize and led to a busy touring schedule with Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi and the Low Anthem.

And 2011’s Creep On Creepin’ On has been receiving rave reviews.

But even though Kirk is now very much part of a “rock band,” don’t expect a standard rock show.

Timber Timbre will be coming to the territory this weekend, playing the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson on Friday and the arts centre in Whitehorse on Sunday.

Yukoners can expect to see a lot of multi-tasking from the group, which has expanded to a three-piece band.

Kirk sings while also playing guitar and foot percussion.

Mika Posen is doing some percussion as well, along with synthesizers and violin.

And Simon Trottier has another bag of tricks - specializing in lap steel guitar, percussion and sampling.

Yeah, sampling - sometimes of B movie screams.

“It’s very electronic,” said Kirk.

“But the approach is still deeply rooted in folk music.”

Contact Chris Oke at