If you’re into east coast music, chances are you’ve heard a Chris Kirby song lately. The award-winning producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has songs on recent records by Matt Andersen, The Once, Tim Chaisson, The East Pointers, and many more. His recently released album What Goes Around is his first album in seven years.
I got the chance to talk with Chris about how he first got into making and performing music, what made now the right time to release his first album in 7 years, his new single “Better Not Let Me Down” and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
My mom was my first piano teacher. I didn’t really have a choice at 5 years old when she told me I would be learning piano. It was just another “thing” that I did for most of my young life, but later on I also started learning guitar and that’s when things started to click; all of a sudden I started recognizing patterns and such, and music started making sense to me in a way that I could only explain through playing it. It was like learning a new language that I couldn’t translate to my native tongue. I found myself mystified by and and addicted to it. I played in bands all through high school and university, and after I got my Engineering degree at Memorial University, I released my first album and I’ve been a professional musician ever since.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
When I was a teenager, I remember my Dad waking me up one night to watch something he had found on TV. It was the famous tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan concert with Eric Clapton, Dr. John, B.B. King and more. The program played clips of Stevie Ray in between performances and interviews with the tribute performers. When I saw Stevie play, I was equal parts terrified and inspired. I said, “I wanna do that”. From then on, I was more dedicated to music than anything else. I can’t tell you how many nights I would wake up at 3 AM or so with my guitar still on my chest from practicing before I passed out. I desperately wanted to be a master of my craft the way SRV was. I would say I’m still chasing that. To get back to the question: the moment was that night in front of the family TV, and the people were Stevie Ray Vaughan and my Dad.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So if you had to describe the music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
I love this question. Genres are so limiting for a songwriter. I write music to make people laugh, cry, think, and reflect on themselves or the world around them, while having a good time and getting into a groove. I’m trying to tell the truths I know, but also, I’m trying to entertain listeners – to give them a little escape from everyday life.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
D’Angelo. Prince. Dr. John. Randy Newman. Stevie Wonder. Foy Vance. Aretha Franklin. The Beatles. Ray Charles. As you can tell, I’m all over the map. You could ask me this question once a day and I’d have a wildly different list every time.
Let’s talk about your new album, What Goes Around. It’s your first album in 7 years. What made now the right time to release another album?
I self-produced Wonderizer in 2012, and after I released that I suddenly became in-demand as a record producer. I didn’t even tour that album, but I guess it was a success because it served as a business card for me as a writer and producer, and I got a lot of work from that. I became so busy that I decided to focus on that part of my career instead of performing. I have written and produced award-winning music for some top Canadian artists, and I was happy with that – then I got jealous. I said to myself, “if other artists are playing my songs, and people like them, then maybe I should play some of my own songs again!”
What was the recording process like for it? How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish?
What Goes Around was not easy to make. I felt the gravity of releasing an album after 7 years out of the spotlight. Would people remember me? Would I be relevant in this new landscape of Spotify and Instagram??
The album took 3 years to make. And I made it three times. I started out with a producer, who is fantastic but it just wasn’t fitting right, so I trashed everything and started again. I tried to record it in my new home in Nova Scotia, and I trashed that. I called my old team back in Newfoundland – including my brother Mike (great recording engineer), and my day-1 band, Craig Follett and Mark Marshall. I flew home and we recorded the songs exactly the way I heard them in my head. I had to go back home to do this. Back to my roots. That’s one of the many reasons this album is called What Goes Around.
Your new single is “Better Not Let Me Down”. What’s it about?
I wrote “Better Not Let Me Down” with Michelle Bensimon from the band Caveboy. We were at a writing camp in L.A. in 2016. We landed on election day, and the camp started the next day; we were actually worried that we might need to leave in case a riot broke out. Everywhere we went we felt tension. We didn’t write this song at the camp, but weeks later, we connected over Skype and after reflecting on our time in L.A., this song kinda just came to us.
It’s not an Anti-Trump song. It’s both an account of our experience in L.A. during that time, and a message to people in power (such as the President) not to let the people down. From my outsider perspective, it seems like that message needs to be echoed louder and louder these days.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know what you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed ”Better Not Let Me Down” or did it just come about organically once you were in the session?
I don’t think I knew what the song was going to be about when I flipped my laptop open and called Michelle on Skype. I had this groove I was working with, and some bluesy lyrics. No plot just yet. But we write what we know, and Michelle and I had only one shared experience to date – our time in L.A. So we spent much of our conversation reminiscing on that, and I suppose I should not be surprised that it became the topic we wrote about.
What was the songwriting process like for this song specifically?
I suppose I’ve already begun to answer this question in my verbose answers above – oops! It was written over Skype between me in Newfoundland and Michelle Bensimon in Montreal. I had the riff and loose melody structure. We chatted for about an hour, and all the lyric content just fell out of that conversation. Most of the session was chatting, actually, and the “writing” took practically no time.
Was there any major changes made to ”Better Not Let Me Down” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
The song was originally a pretty roost-sounding blues song. In the studio, we workshopped a few different treatments, until I hit the synth line that opens the song. When I played that, my brother who was recording stopped everything and said, “There it is – that’s the game changer. Let’s record that and the song will build from there.” That’s what we did, and all the pieces just fell into place around that riff.
Is there a track from this album that you feel best represents you, both personally and as an artist?
I would say “Pot of Gold” is most representative of me as a person and artist. It’s a funky, humorous wrapping around the story of a person just trying to reach and understand their partner. I tend to use humour and levity as a defense mechanism in serious conversations. I also think the word play in this song is some of my best work. I’m quite proud of this piece.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
I went to school for nerds – I have an Electrical Engineering degree. My “second job” is developing audio production software for various companies. Currently, I’m “nerding out” on Fast Fourrier Transform implementations, and high-order EQ techniques. Betcha didn’t expect that answer!