In the 1980s, our vision of the future started to change. Far from the cheery, gee-whiz sci-fi of the past—where science would fix all our problems and bring us all closer together—mounting fears about urban decay, climate change, social isolation, and the sinister side of technology birthed a new prophecy. Movies like Blade Runner, Terminator, and RoboCop presented visions of dead worlds, cities destroyed by humanity’s invention and ambition, and people who had lost all direction and hope.
The music of Timber Timbre has always lived in the uncanny world of genre fiction, at once completely disconnected from our own reality, sounding like transmissions from some strange alternate dimension, and yet also reflecting our own world back to us. Across six albums, they have presented versions of the music of the past—50, 60s, and 70s-inspired folk, pop, and lounge music—twisted with unsettling and expansive soundscapes, and imbued with surreal and supernatural imagery of magic and horror.
But those social issues of the 1980s have never left us, and, especially in recent years, have grown into a kind of collective existential dread. And their soundtracks, stark productions created using the synthetic sounds of then-new synthesizers and drum machines, now feel more real than ever. Timber Timbre’s latest album, Sincerely, Future Pollution, released earlier this year, reflects these fears and, for the first time, sheds the band’s mid-century pop influences in favour of a synth-heavy soundtrack, pulling from David Bowie, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, and 80s film scores.
I spoke to Mathieu Charbonneau, the band’s keyboard player, from his home in Montreal.
1. Timber Timbre started off as Taylor Kirk’s solo project, but it’s evolved quite a bit since then. Can you tell me how the songs came together for the new record?
Basically, Taylor came to us with song ideas that he had worked out on his own. The structures were there, and he had the songs vaguely in his head. We started playing them a lot together, mostly focusing on sounds, particular synthesizer sounds that also influenced him in the rest of the writing. We did a lot of arranging together. That was three months in a space in Montreal working on the songs.
2. You recorded the album at La Frette, a studio in a mansion outside of Paris. How much did that space influence you?
Quite a bit. It’s a really big, old mansion, and we knew it had a bunch of really weird and rare machines and synthesizers. We had been there once on a day off on tour, and we spent the whole day going through cupboards and weird rooms. When we booked the studio, we talked to the owner and we mentioned all these old machines. The Fairlight CMI, which is one of the first keyboard samplers, is this big computer, and it always crashes. There’s under a hundred of these working in the world. He fixed it up, and we spent a lot of time trying to get these weird sounds. And the place is just magical. You don’t want to go anywhere else.
3. The album has a lot more 80s influence than any previous Timber Timbre album. How did that come about?
From the start it was a challenge and a conscious decision to explore the sounds of that era. It was a mystery to us. We all grew up in that era, but that music was maybe untouchable and scary for us. We were always using sounds from the 50s, 60s, 70s. We’re all fans of those tones. But there’s a lot of interesting producing and song ideas that came up in the 80s. Everything blew up in terms of norms—sounds and songs.
We’ve all seen in the last few years: “Oh the 80s is coming back!” But it took 25 years for people to be like, OK what’s going on with these machines? Obviously a lot of stuff in that era wasn’t necessarily good musically, but if you start digging, and you take the instrument for itself, you realize, wow this is a very cool sound.
4. The lyrics on Sincerely, Future Pollution feel very ‘now.’ Is the album a comment on the modern world?
I think so. As we were working on the record [in 2016], everything was going really badly. The record was done, and then the election happened in the States. That was kind of a coincidence. As Taylor was writing the lyrics, no one thought we’d end up with this. But all the other stuff was happening: the refugee crisis, terrorism…. That’s new for the band, for Taylor to write about what’s actually going on. Taylor tried to write about it without being too much ‘of the time,’ but it was just so apparent everywhere, so striking, that it’s hard to write about something else.
5. Timber Timbre’s music has always been pretty somber, but there are moments on the new album that feel pretty dancey. How has that affected live performance?
This was a semi-conscious decision, to have songs like that on the record. We’ve been playing a lot of shows since the release of [our last album] Hot Dreams. The band went from being a trio with no drums to a full-on band, and you see the reaction of the audience. We knew the arc of the new show we were looking for. To have those songs that are a little bit up-tempo is, first off, really fun to play, and you can see that it works with the live show, to have a part where people can dance. It actually works most of the time!
See Timbre Timbre live at Market Hall on November 12. Tickets are $27 in advance (more info).
Photos courtesy the artist.