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- Posted on Jul 23rd 2009 4:30PM by Drew Berner
His self-titled album of macabre beauty, recently long-listed for the Polaris Prize, is full of eerie sounds and ghoulish lyrics. But when Kirk sings, "You dug me out of this shallow grave/So badly decomposed/And you still took me home" in 'Lay Down in the Tall Grass,' it's really just a shy young man singing about love.
"Some people I've talked to are really put off or disturbed by [the lyrics] but don't see the other side of it," Kirk tells Spinner. "There are love songs. But I think I try to disguise that as much as I can and I end up using heavy, darker imagery in order to sedate the vulnerability I feel when I'm performing. I choose words that I feel empowered singing. If I'm singing a very literal love song, it's hard to sing it in a more plain, direct language, whereas if I use imagery that's more violent or spooky, I feel protected."
That shyness, however, is not limited to his lyrics. "I was always really self-conscious about singing," he says. "It took me a long time to even try singing." Which explains the ghostly tone he adopts when he sings -- it's another mask to hide behind, another way of separating the music from the man.
Kirk grew up listening to traditional pop, but when it came time to create his own sounds he was consumed by a need to distinguish his music from everything else he'd heard. His early songwriting efforts avoided common structures and themes, but his breakthrough came only after he "stopped resisting falling into those familiar patterns and started to embrace my natural inclination to follow the obvious."
The result mines the history of American blues and folk, tracing a line from Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie to Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Tom Waits while creating a sound that references those musical signposts without aping them.
Kirk recorded his first three albums largely by himself, though he admits he didn't quite know how to play some of the instruments that appear on them. But after his first cross-Canada tour with a backing band, he's decided the next record will include creative input from the people he's been playing with each night. "Things seem to be going that way," he says. "I think that's where the excitement is coming from."
But don't expect him to lighten up -- he and his bandmates are firmly committed to keeping to the shadows. "I like that dynamic and that relationship between creating something dark or starting somewhere dark to illuminate a more beautiful moment in a song."