Chris Kirby (right) and guitarist Chad Murphy of The Marquee play a riff on the same guitar during a performance last month at the East Coast Music Awards in Moncton, N.B. — Photos by Tary Bradbury/The Telegram
You can call Chris Kirby a jazz musician. Call him funk, call him R&B, call him pop — he fits them all.
When it comes down to it, Kirby is basically a soul man, whatever that includes.
“Soul music can sit on any side, it’s just a matter of how you deliver it,” Kirby explained.
Kirby released “Wonderizer,” his fourth CD, last week. The record is as diverse as Kirby is, and he chose to split it down the middle: the first six songs, with a more funky, vintage feel, make up the “Greasy” collection; the last six make up the smooth, more pop-like “Honey” collection.
The two sections were originally going to be released as separate discs, Kirby said, and were recorded in two different studios: Groove Den and Henge, both in St. John’s.
“I wanted to show a bit of the dichotomy of me as a person and me as an artist,” he said. “In the end, the common vein is soul music.”
“Wonderizer” branches out in another place Kirby’s previous material does not — there’s a definite Motown feel to a couple of the tunes, which Kirby easily pulls off. Those are perhaps his favourite songs on the record, he said.
“It was definitely an objective to make something that was a neo-soul type of thing. I see nothing wrong with putting a neo-soul track next to a more modern pop track,” he said.
“I really, really like to embrace all the music I love and am influenced by. I get bored by staying in one lane.”
Kirby has honed his performance skills over the course of his albums, although his heart is as evident as it’s always been. He sings, his bio states, “as if the fate of his own mother hangs on every word,” and even moreso on the stage — recent East Coast Music Awards performances of “Wonderizer” songs earned Kirby and his band The Marquee (Chad Murphy, Mark Marshall and Craig Follett) captivated crowds and standing ovations.
Kirby, a native of Norris Arm, has six East Coast Music Awards nominations and two MusicNL award wins under his belt, the latter including the 2011 Jazz/Blues Artist of the Year award for his solo disc “Sounds Like Wednesday,” which was never publicized and only available at live shows.
He’s spent a good part of the past year touring, whether solo, with other artists or with The Marquee, but admits his heart lies in songwriting and producing.
He has written and produced for others, most recently Nova Scotia blues performer Charlie A’Court. The two have been friends and co-writers for a few years, and A’Court recently asked Kirby to produce his current project, an album that was recorded late last month.
Despite a busy schedule on the road over the coming months — including a tour of the Maritimes that begins next month — Kirby has plans to spend a fair bit of time behind the mixing console.
The first single from “Wonderizer,” the quirky “Waiting So Long,” was in the No. 7 spot on the East Coast Countdown as of press time, and Kirby and The Marquee released a video for the tune in the spring. Shot in classic home-movie style in grainy black and white and sepia by his brother, Michael, the video features Kirby and the guys of The Marquee fooling around during a basement jam.
Kirby’s got no plans but lots of desire to do another video, and has ideas in the works.
“We plan to release two more singles from this album before 2012 is out, so it’d be really nice to have videos with those,” he said. “The video we did was made for the Internet. The next one we do, I’m thinking we’ll do it to try and sneak our way onto TV programming. I’m not fooling myself into thinking that if I spend $60,000 on a video I’ll be a star on Much More Music, but I definitely want to step up the video production so we can get some people who play videos interested.”
Kirby’s main goal, he said, is to stand out — not hard when you’re a Newfoundland soul artist, and he feels the pressure to do it right. There’s a quote from Ray Charles that Kirby said sums up his career the best.
“I never wanted to be famous; I just wanted to be good,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. I write material that takes me a long time to execute, and I feel like I’m a better musician for that.”
Kirby will perform this weekend at Norris Point’s Trails, Tales and Tunes festival, before touring schools across the province with MusicNL.
Kirby and The Marquee’s “Wonderizer” release party, also featuring Charlie A’Court and The Idlers, will be held at the Rock House June 8. Tickets are $15 at the door and showtime is 10:30 p.m.