Chris Kirby – Wonderizer

Album Review:

If Chris Kirby doesn’t manage to get you grooving or at least tapping your toe with “Wonderizer”, in my humble opinion, you have no soul (musically that is).  The newest release (released May 15th), the fourth album, by this Newfoundland based artist has it all, from slow heartfelt jams to up tempo wiggle your butt grooves.  When first opening the album, I was struck by the ‘old school’ style of almost a throw back to the ‘vinyl’ days when you had and “a-side and a b-side”.   The “a” side, encompassing the first six songs he calls the “greasy” side, and on the “b” side he calls this the “honey”.

The Greasy side of the album takes us through some groovin’, hip shakin’ fun that talks of things that we can all relate too.  While listening to “The Breakdown” and looking out my office window, I expected ‘Starsky & Hutch’ to rumble around  the corner in their red and white ’75 Ford Gran Torino!  This song was made for a cop show soundtrack if I ever heard one.  Also on this ‘side’ is one of my favorite’s on the disc in “All You Got” which very much has a Prince vibe too it.

On the ‘honey’ side things get a little ‘smoother’ and starting out with “My Love”, which had me thinking of Terence Trent D’Arby or Jamiroquai we know where the second half of this disc is going to take us, to the ‘sensitive’ side of Chris Kirby.  “I’m Your Man” has Kirby pining over a woman and extolling his virtues to her in a fun and upbeat way.  This half also features the album title, the single “Wonderizer” which is a catchy, finger snapper.

I encourage you all to give Wonderizer a listen, Chris Kirby is a hard working musician that plays his heart out when ever you see him live and has a blast doing it.  He loves music, respects it and feels it.  I think you’ll love grooving to this album!

Wonderizer is available on iTunes and at chriskirbyonline.com

The Interview:

RM: Do you have any other loves other than music?

Music is the only non-human entity that I love. Outside music the things that are truly important to me are my family and friends. 

RM: Who would you most like to open for?

This is a great question. I’ve been watching a lot of footage of D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq lately, and I love the shows they put on, I would love to open for those artists.  Also, I’m not sure how much performing Aretha Franklin does these days, but she is my favourite singer of all time and opening for her would be the highest performance honour I could imagine.

RM: What’s most changed your musical life/career?

Well, you may already know that my last record, Vampire Hotel, was produced by Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar, Wide Mouth Mason). I remember our first phone conversation after I had sent him a bunch of demos. He told me that he thought I should put down the guitar and focus on the piano. I had been performing a small percentage of my songs on piano, but I fancied myself a guitar slinger.  Gordie made me realize that guitar slingers are a dime a dozen, but soul singers playing piano…you just don’t see them much any more.  I took his advice, and now my music is a little more consistent, and I have become a more unique writer and performer.  I still play guitar from time to time, but I’ve started to become known as the throwback piano guy from Newfoundland, which I am enjoying much more than I thought I would 4 years ago!

RM: How were the ECMA’s here in Moncton?  Did you discover any artists you hadn’t heard before?  Who did you enjoy seeing as a fan the most?

The ECMAs are always a fun time, and this year went a little too fast for me.  I had a lot of acts on my “must see” list, but I only got to see about half of them.  But I was lucky enough to stumble across a young singer who I can tell has a bright future,  Caroline Savoie, she is a young Moncton artist with big talent.  Her voice is great and I can see a lot of potential in her stylings. I also got to see Charlie A’Court and Kim Wempe light rooms up. I’m producing both Charlie and Kim’s recordings this year, and I was very pleased to see that their new songs are really turning heads. Lookout for these new projects coming out this year.

RM: If you weren’t singing, what would you be doing?

If I weren’t singing I would be engineering, I have a degree in Electrical Engineering.  For a long time I worked as a software engineer in St. John’s while recording and touring.  It was a very grueling period, but I had been very lucky to work for a company that understood my passion and allowed me some freedoms so that I could balance both careers. I don’t like calling it a “fall back plan” but I do take comfort to know that if I meet with misfortune in the volatile music business, my Engineering degree is sort of my ace in the sleeve.  It takes a lot of the pressure off.

RM: Do you have a favourite musical project that you’ve worked on?

I produced my brand new album, Wonderizer, and I am more proud of this than any other project I’ve worked on.  I feel like this album fully defines me as an artist, and as a human being.  I took great care to select the songs, and was quite meticulous about the production.  Self-producing was quite a challenge because there was always the danger of losing perspective, and being the authority over your dearest friends (my band) is a very delicate situation.  Luckily, we made it through the project with very little frustration. This success is due in great part to the magic that my band brings to the studio, and the talented and gracious recording engineers I worked with.  The end product has exceeded my expectations, and I am beyond excited to show it off.

RM: How hard do you push yourself?

I push myself more than most, I think, I always have.  I think I’m easily bored and I constantly feel like I should be doing something important.  Perhaps this comes from my time juggling two very demanding careers at once (engineering and music).  A perfect example is happening right now: I am in halifax producing Charlie A’Court’s album, while doing promotions for my own album are ongoing (and getting ready to tour in late June)…AND I’m preparing for another recording project which I start producing the day after Charlie’s project is completed.  Oh, and I’m in the middle of selling my house.  Some people think I’m crazy to take on this amount of responsibility at once, but I believe that when you love the work you do, time has a way of serving you.

RM: What are the five things that you can’t live without?

Five things I can’t live without… that’s a tough one. I would say number 1) is family, 2) of course is music.  The rest are impossible for me to put into order: Muppet movies, traveling, and Screech rum (ok, I can probably live without those, but life would be much less fun!).

RM: What’s your motto/advice that you live by?

No excuses, no regrets.

RM: For those that have never heard you…describe your sound?

That’s always the hardest question to answer, I would say to describe my sound, I would do better to describe my influences.  New Orleans Blues and R&B (Dr. John, the Meters, Professor Longhair) plus Motown and classic Soul (Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye), Funk (Johnny Watson, Sly and the Family Stone), and contemporary Pop and Hip Hop (the Roots, John Legend, John Mayer, Mayer Hawthorne).  Also I can’t forget the heavy influence that east coast songwriters have had on what I do, I won’t even begin to name names because that list would go on for days.  That’s a pretty big variety of styles, but you can hear all these influences and more in my music.  I suppose I could sum it all up by saying that I’m a soul singer and my songs focus on deep grooves and meaningful lyrics. 

11. If I picked up your iPod, what would I find in your most ‘recent played’ list?

I recently gave my iPod away, so you’d have to ask the new owner!  But if you turned on the CD player in my van you would either find the most recent Booker T Jones album. It’s been in there for months. 

RM: What do you do in your downtime, to relax, to get away from the music business?

I don’t get much downtime, but when I do I usually head to my hometown of Norris Arm to see my parents and grandparents. 

RM: If you had to give advice to an artist on how to get their career going, what would that advice be?

My advice would be to define what you love about working in music, and tell yourself that everyday.  It’s tough, and it seems to get tougher the more you grow.  But as I like to say, it’s only hard because it’s worth it. You have to love every minute of it. 

RM: Where does the ‘funk’ come from?

I get asked this all the time, I love groove, it speaks to me as much lyrics do…sometimes more.  Somewhere along the line I recognized that funk musicians understand that better than anyone.  I try to blend funky grooves with storytelling and lyrics that mean something, but my main objective when creating music remains making peoples feet tap, butts shake, and so on.

RM: Do you have your music on iTunes, how has downloadable music changed the music industry in your opinion?

I think downloadable music has initiated a new positive music revolution.  This revolution has just started and the irony is that it’s due to the poor audio quality of mp3s!  People don’t buy CDs like they used to, and many people don’t pay for music at all. Everyone knows that this has hit record companies hard.  The good news is now we have more independent artists (including some that used to be on major labels) who are making their own rules, making the music they want to, and recognizing that to stand out they need to make products that are a cut above.  We are going to see better and better recordings, cooler packaging, and the day will come when people are excited to buy records again…and the best part is the artists will still be in charge (at least creatively), so the music will be more important and relevant on both sides of the glass…at least that’s what I see happening. 

For now, though, you can find all of my music on iTunes, and anywhere else you like buy digital music 🙂

RM: What helped shape the Chris we see today on and off the stage?

If you listen to my songs, you hear my life, I don’t leave any skeletons in my closet.  All of my ups and downs have been in my music and released on my records.  I think it’s important for an artist to have at least a hint of their more vulnerable moments in their work.  It is of course cathardic, but it also really enhances our connections with our audience.  My life experiences, triumphs and mistakes, all the people I love, those who I may have hurt, those who have hurt me, things I’ve seen, things I’ve missed, they all continue to influence my on and off-stage personality. Another big thing is my family – I try to live up to the example that my parents and my grandparents have set. A long time ago my father taught me to give my very best no matter what I’m doing, and leave no task unfinished.  I walk into every new gig or project with that in mind.

RM: Do you remember what you were doing when you decided, ‘hey, I think this is what I want to do for a living’?

I sure do remember!  I think I was in grade seven or eight and I had just started playing guitar, my Dad got me out of bed one night to watch this PBS special – it was a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn.  I had never heard of SRV up to this point, nor had I heard of some of the other artists on the tribute show – Dr. John, Buddy Guy, Aaron Neville.  My life was changed. I remember watching B.B.King perform “Telephone Song” and that was it.  I immediately told my Dad: “I want to do that”. 

RM: What’s your biggest pet peeve about touring/travelling to play…what’s your favourite thing?

My biggest pet peeve is when a club owner / promoter doesn’t understand his or her role.  Why would you hire someone to perform at your venue and do absolutely nothing to bring people in to see the act?  Especially when you know this is a new artist? Also, even more frustrating: if I have never been to your town, why would you expect my to supply my own door person, and why would you not mention it until I show up for the gig?!!!  Lot’s of people do get it though, and their cooperation in making the show a success is greatly appreciated. These folks know who they are because I keep coming back 🙂

My very favourite thing is seeing new corners of this planet.  Last summer I performed on the Via Rail train from Toronto to Vancouver.  Saw the Rockies for the first time from a very cool vantage point, and I met so many interesting people from all over the world, and of course I got some great stories from that trip!

RM: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened in your music career, so far, something you’ll never forget?

I have many funny stories from my life in music so far.  The best I can think of is the ongoing saga of Craig (Marquee bass player) and his bad luck with food service. I remember one time we were at a breakfast place in Vancouver, and he was given an omelette with a hair dead centre on top of it. He picked the hair off in the presence of our server, showed it to him, and asked for a new plate. The server took the plate, and Craig threw the hair away. We joked that the server was just going to walk into the kitchen, turn around, and take the same dish back to him. We underestimated – when the replacement omelette showed up, it had a fresh hair in the same spot!!!

RM: What’s next for Chris & the Marquee?

CK: Next for CK&M is some touring. The single “Waiting So Long” is on the radio right now, and the record is just released this month. We hit the road to support the music in late June…we will be touring th east coast the last two weeks of June, finishing up at the Stan Rogers Festival in Canso, NS on Canada Day weekend.

The Show:

Chris Kirby & The Marquee played Moncton’s “Plan B” on Wednesday, June 27th…and rocked the place. The small mid-week crowd were bopping and jumping to Chris and the Marquee’s infectious vibe that flowed through the room.

Chris Kirby & The Marquee – Plan B – Moncton, NB

The crowd, warmed up to the band almost immediately, and you realize just how much fun these guys are having playing their music. Chris even quoted my review when they launched into “The Breakdown” calling it their “starsky & hutch” song, very cool.

Chris Kirby & The Marquee – Plan B – Moncton, NB

Great album, great live show, great all around performance…I encourage anyone to get out and see Chris Kirby & the Marquee live if you can, and to pick up their great new album “Wonderizer”!

Chris Kirby & The Marquee – Plan B – Moncton, NB

Chris Kirby & The Marquee – Plan B – Moncton, NB