"Being up in the mountains, away from everything, and waking up every morning knowing you're making art in that environment - it was pretty far out, man."

You could quite fairly use the phrase 'far out' to describe a great many aspects of Timber Timbre and their music; with their last full-length, Creep On Creepin' On, they produced one of the most delightfully weird records of the past decade, taking a folk template and applying to it minimalist song structures, eccentric instrumentation and Taylor Kirk's sumptuously rich baritone. So atmospheric is their sound that you really can't imagine it originating anywhere unremarkable; for Hot Dreams, their fifth album, they decamped to the rocky, rural town of Banff in Alberta, Canada, to record songs that had been birthed in markedly different surroundings south of the border.

"I spent some time out in Los Angeles, staying with a friend in Laurel Canyon," says Kirk, from a London hotel. "I'd had all these ideas that came together pretty slowly; some of them date back to when we were touring Creep On. It was good to get out there and kind of make sense of all these odds and ends. It wasn't like a deliberate writing trip or anything, but it was exciting there. I was focused, more so than if I'd stayed home."

Kirk speaks with a voice that's the polar opposite of his singing register; I wasn't expecting to be greeted by such delicate tones, given the depth of his innately sinister croon on record. "I'd come up with some recordings that I wanted to pursue - demos, I guess - and when I got down to trying to figure out what to do with them, it really felt as if I'd written the songs for somebody else's voice; I could hear, like, a Lee Hazlewood, or a Roger Miller, singing on them."

"I kept putting off doing vocal takes, because I knew they wouldn't sound right. In the end, I started to gravitate towards making a record that sounded like an old film score, like something from the seventies - really rooted in that era of Hollywood. I was looking for a kind of Western vibe, that would suit my voice better."

It's hardly surprising to hear Kirk talk of film soundtracking, given that what's underscored most of Timber Timbre's recorded output is a palpable sense of the cinematic; on Hot Dreams, opener 'Beat the Drum Slowly' is a veritable whirlpool of darkness, funeral-march percussion backing nightmarish squeals of feedback.

"I've always been interested in making music for films," he says. "I actually went to film school, and the one thing I feel like I came out of it with was this real desire to write scores. I was convinced that'd be how I got involved in music; I never thought I'd be playing rock and roll."

One of the by-products of this cinematic approach is the band retaining an open mind where instrumentation is concerned; Hot Dreams is a real contradiction of a record, in that it's structurally pretty sparse, and yet incorporates a broader range of sounds than most bands manage. The title track explodes into a saxophone solo late on, whilst off-kilter vintage synths buzz through 'Bring Me Simple Men'.

"Each time we go back to make a new record, we're wanting to reach out just a little bit further than we did last time. A lot of it is just us getting into the studio space and being, like, "oh! There's timpanis here, and there's a harpsichord - we've gotta use this stuff!" It's that really childlike kind of excitement, that there's stuff we can experiment with. There's a lot of tubular bells on Hot Dreams, and that's purely because at Banff Centre, where we recorded, there's a great percussion section; all these concert-based drums. It wasn't like we sought them out, you know?"

It was handy too, then, that nearby Calgary - a ninety minute drive from the studio - plays host to the National Music Centre, a treasure trove of unusual analog equipment. "We spent maybe five days there," Kirk recalls, "just recording all these odd early Chamberlins and Mellotrons. That place was pretty inspiring in itself, just full of so much weird stuff. You could make some seriously strange music there."

Having started out, for all intents and purposes, as a solo moniker for Kirk, Timber Timbre had been established pretty solidly as a three-piece for a while - that is, until the recording process for Hot Dreams began in earnest. "We've been settled in quite nicely for a while now, I think, but there was a little bit of a personnel shift this time," explains Kirk. "Mika (Posen) wasn't with us for the most part; she contributed some strings, but she's been working on a lot of other projects. She's still in the band, and I think she's going to circle back and join up with us later in the year, hopefully, but it did kind of mean that Simon (Trottier) had to step up a little, to fill that gap. This whole record was just me and him, picking through ideas, composing together, co-producing everything; it was a real collaboration."

The last album they made as a three-piece came complete with an amusingly self-aware title; Creep On Creepin' On was named in acknowledgement of the press' go-to adjective when Timber Timbre are the topic of discussion. It's something that's permeated the band's image to an unavoidable degree; much of their work is of a consistently eerie nature, both sonically and lyrically, and even their biggest mainstream exposure to date - the use of 'Magic Arrow' on Breaking Bad - had the song soundtracking an intruder as he crept around Walter White's house.

"I mean, it's definitely there," says Kirk, when I raise the issue, "it's there in the subject matter, and in the way I explore my own songwriting. The thing is, it's kind of funny how, you know, nobody ever calls Nick Cave creepy, do they? And I feel like he's tapped into a lot of the same stuff that we have. I did try to move away from that on this record; I shied away from anything that felt too heavy, and I hope people notice that shift. Things aren't so macabre this time."

It isn't the only thing that's changed on Hot Dreams; Kirk's own journey as a songwriter continues apace, and his old disdain for rehearsals and multiple takes has given way to what you might argue is a more professional outlook. "We were definitely a bit more meticulous this time," he concedes. "A little more careful. We tried not to rush to the finish, although I still feel like we moved through the process pretty quickly. I still hate to rehearse, it's still a bummer, but we have more of a rock group now, so we were really eager to sit down and think about how we could really try to build a live show around this record. It's been exciting, because we're actually able to pull off a lot of the older recordings in a way that's much closer to how they were before. The definitive versions, really, whereas in the past, it was something very different; we were putting a different spin on our own material."

It wasn't that Hot Dreams necessitated the assembly of a full live band, though; the progression was another happy accident, born out of Kirk's desire to work with a local musician. "Actually, what happened was that I was wanting to play with this guy called Olivier Fairfield. He's drumming with us now, and he's just an extraordinary player, and a great collaborator. I wasn't even interested in drums per se, but I came to realise that it was really exciting to have a drummer with us, just because people want that from a live show. I know I do, and I think that was something that maybe bummed people out at our shows; it felt like a little bit of a shortcoming. The transformation in the response from the crowd was incredible, and we knew there was no going back. It's too exciting not to keep it this way, with the full band."

I opened my review of Hot Dreams, for this site, by reflecting on the fact that I couldn't really call to mind any bands that you could comfortably consider to be genuine contemporaries for Timber Timbre; they're an incredibly singular outfit, seemingly untouched by current trends and the influence of their peers. Kirk insisted, though, that they do take some of their cues from modern artists, if only in terms of mood and tone.

"I've certainly always paid a lot of attention to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; they're my main point of reference, I guess, if we're talking about other bands. Michael Gira, too - I really love that Swans stuff. Simon is a massive fan of Sunn O))), and Earth. I know there's similarities there, a lot of loud, droney music, but I think it's more to do with digging stuff that's dark, you know? I mean, Portishead, too, and Broadcast. Those bands all seem to have something atmospheric bubbling just beneath the surface."

Kirk's predilection for esoteric lyrical content continues on Hot Dreams; he seems to be able to switch pretty sharply between being thematically abstruse and strikingly direct. "Some of it's pretty simple, pretty explicit," he says. "'The Three Sisters', that's just about rock faces. I'm not sure I was aiming for deeper meaning there. A lot of the feeling I got from Laurel Canyon made it into some of the other stuff on the record, the kind of lore of the place. I think what I've always focused on is picking up on the backdrops to my own life, and the images that come with them, and turning them into something more interesting; that's where that sense of drama comes from."

Hot Dreams is available on March 31st via Full Time Hobby. Timber Timbre play the following UK dates in April:

  • 16 - Scala, London
  • 17 - Roadhouse, Manchester